Q&A: Carpets

  • November 8, 2011 9:14 am
THE QUESTION
Hi,
I’m pregnant and was considering having the old wall-to-wall carpet ripped up in my living room and what will eventually be the baby’s room, to cut down on dust mites (he or she will initially be sleeping in my bedroom, which has hardwood floors).  I’m wondering, however, if the risk of possibly stirring up PBDEs in the carpet backing is the greater of two evils in this situation.  I will be out of town for 5 or 6 days and the carpet could be removed during this time.  The carpets are at least 15 years old, though.  I’m wondering if PBDEs are still a threat if the carpet is just sitting or if it is worse to stir them up.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Thanks,
Kim
THE ANSWER

Hi Kim,
Thanks for writing and congrats! Ah, carpets. It’s a tough call. That 15-year-old carpet has offgassed by now, but that’s a lot of years of grime, dust mites, and more. And ripping it up and out will release an unknown chemical cocktail–including, as you mention, flame retardants. Ultimately it’s your choice. I’d have to know more about what the carpet is, who made it, how it was installed, and what your space is configured like to say more.
If you do decide to have it ripped out, make sure you get all of your furniture out of the room and seal off the rooms where you store it; you don’t want the dust from the carpets settling on your bed or chest of drawers. Then, make sure there  is ample ventilation and that you have your place cleaned after the carpet is torn out by someone who specializes in post-construction clean up. The cleaners should have a vacuum with a HEPA filter and do meticulous wet-wiping of all nooks and crannies, baseboards, and more. If you can stay out for longer than six days and use air filters, all the better.
Next — what are you planning on replacing the carpet with? If you can leave the floors bare–and refinish them if need be with the greenest solution you can find–all the better. Then you can put down a few washable throw rugs.  If you want to put back in wall-to-wall carpeting, wool is preferable to synthetic fabrics, avoid chemical stain guard treatments, and be careful with the backings. Installation with tacks/nails is safer than with glues containing questionable chemicals. Ventilate any room with a new carpet for a while before letting baby sleep in it.
Here’s an excerpt from Planet Home on carpets:
Your child’s floor is best left bare. Padded play mats are tempting to break the falls of kids learning to walk, but they’re almost always made of synthetic rubber that off-gasses into the room’s air. Cotton rag rugs that can be thrown into the washing machine are ideal for kids’ rooms. Wool rugs without backing are also a good, washable option. Chose natural latex skid pads rather than PVC or other plastic versions. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting in some rooms in your home, set the children up in a room that doesn’t have it. Do not install new synthetic wall-to-wall carpeting with a glue adhesive. Avoid all rugs and carpets that are treated with stain repellents, mildew treatments, or other chemicals. Ask questions when you’re shopping. Deep pile rugs–even pure-grow wool ones–aren’t something you want in a kids’ room, as they’re dust-mite and pet-dander motels. And no matter what is on the floor, vacuum often with a machine containing a HEPA filter.
Hope this helps!
Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Sealing Particleboard Furniture (Including Cribs)

  • September 22, 2011 8:07 am

THE QUESTION:

My superintendent is coming by today to set up the crib for baby #2. Last time around, I recall that you warned me not to put the kid in a (standard commercial) crib without applying some kind of sealant to keep it from . . . off-gassing, was it?

If so could I trouble you to remind me what that product was?…Thanks so much….
AK

THE ANSWER:

Thanks for the great question; lots of expecting parents have had similar inquiries. I answer this in The Complete Organic Pregnancy–and again in Planet Home!–and have excerpted a few paragraphs from the former below. Congrats on #2 and good luck!

When setting up a nursery, keep in mind that items you might want from small organic stores will take longer than you think to be shipped.  Allow plenty of time, or you’ll be running through Buy Buy Baby in labor with a plastic changing table in your shopping cart.  All the furniture in your nursery, and ideally the entire house, should be made of solid hardwood with a nontoxic finish.  Avoid particleboard and plywood, which are held together with toxic formaldehyde-based glues, as well as plastic.  We realize that plywood is ubiquitous.  If you have something that’s made of plywood, you can seal it with Safecoat Safe Seal, a water-based low-gloss sealer for highly porous surfaces.  Or speak to a Safecoat salesman about the best product for wood you want to seal.

Our basic advice is that you really won’t need half the stuff everyone insists you and your new pumpkin-sized roommate will need.  We prefer to spend more money on fewer items.  If you’re having trouble finding certified or recycled wood furniture for your baby, try to buy secondhand, or inherit hand-me-downs.  Americans use about 27 percent of the wood commercially harvested worldwide.  Much of it is harvested in an unsustainable (not naturally regenerating) manner, making the burden on forest ecosystems that much greater.

The Complete Organic Pregnancy on Bob Vila

  • September 16, 2011 12:16 pm

Many thanks to Bob Vila for mentioning The Complete Organic Pregnancy in an article about a green nursery challenge!  See the excerpt below, and/or check out the whole article here.

“As for the paint, I read ‘if you can smell it, it’s probably bad for you’ in “The Complete Organic Pregnancy.” The authors advise latex rather than alkyd- or oil-based paints, and suggest looking for paints labeled zero-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds),  no-VOC, or VOC-free, as they are “almost completely free of carcinogens.”

Q&A: Beanbag Chairs

  • July 21, 2011 9:10 am

THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

Can you recommend a beanbag (or beanbag-like thing) or a place to look for a beanbag? It’s for my son’s room. I’ve been looking online but don’t trust these sites selling “eco-friendly” bags made with recycled foam. That sounds bad, no? My gut says to steer clear of styrene, too. I wonder if you may be able to point me in some other good directions.

Thanks, R.

THE ANSWER:

Dear R.,

What an excellent gut you have. Trust it. There really is no telling what that foam is and what flame retardants might be in it. And I also wouldn’t willingly put styrene in my kid’s room. It can be hard to suss out what is in any given beanbag chair. The first thing to consider is the outside–I’d go for organic cotton here if you can. No stainproofing needed/wanted (those chemicals aren’t pretty, either; they’re the same thing that is in non-stick pans). But preferably something you can toss in the washing machine when it gets dirty.

The second thing to consider is the stuffing, which is what you were talking about re the foam and the styrene pellets. There are many eco-friendly ways to stuff a beanbag chair. The first thing that comes to mind is buckwheat hulls. I have a neckroll stuffed with this and the texture always reminds me of a beanbag. The second is actual beans, though this might be too heavy. There are other hull-like things that eco-futon stores tend to make pillows out of including kapok.

Next up is how to find an organic cotton cover filled with buckwheat hulls. Some people do make them (I just did a quick online search). Many people making conventional beanbags allow you to upgrade to choose organic cotton and buckwheat or natural latex for the filling–safe, safe, and safe. Ask what the certification on the organic cotton is. Or call a local futon store and see if they will make you one. If you cannot find something you want or like, you could make one yourself. That way you really control the filling and can use things like old t-shirts.

Or you could have someone make one for you. Sourcing organic cotton canvas and buckwheat hulls is pretty easy. If you don’t have a local seamstress (what’s the word for a male seamstress? tailor? I’m tired today!) near you, Etsy is a great way to go. I turned to Etsy for a similar project over the winter, and had a small organic sleeping bag made for my daughter.

I’m not comfortable recommending one store over another without further research, but here’s a good Mothering.com forum thread on the topic. And here’s a good place where you can buy wholesale organic buckwheat hulls.

If you’re reading this and do have a good product to suggest, please post in comments.

Hope this helps.

-Alexandra