When I had my first baby I started looking around for a non toxic play mat. I’d heard about EVA foam play mats giving off a toxic gas, formamide, into the air. So, not only were these play mats extremely un-environmentally friendly, they were also contributing considerably to indoor air pollution directly where babies are supposed to play. I started looking at the alternatives on the market, but unfortunately none of the other foam mats I could find were any better. Here’s a little summary of my findings:
PVC play mats
PVC is one of the single most toxic plastics for both our health and for the environment. The production of PVC plastic is extremely harmful to the planet and also to the workers involved, and it doesn’t end there. PVC gives off up to 160 toxic gases into the immediate environment around it, and is extremely dangerous when put in mouths. What does it mean when PVC foam claims to be non-toxic? It usually means that it is free from phthalates, a substance banned in baby items in the UK in the 1990s. But are phthalates the only toxic substance in PVC material? Sadly, the answer is no, there is a multitude of other harmful ingredients in this type of plastic. There’s a really useful blog post written by Mommy to Max (full blog post here), which has looked into various research papers on the subject “even without phthalate plasticizers, the lifecycle of PVC has inherent toxicities that cannot be avoided and plasticizers – phthalates or not – will still leach from PVC products.”
EVA play mats
EVA foam is known to give off a toxin called formamide into the air around it, and therefore these mats often come with a disclaimer stating they contain a toxic substance. Even EVA play mats which claim to be free from formamide will not be completely without it as there are certain limits allowed for this toxic substance and if you are below these limits, then you can claim to be non-toxic.
Polyurethane play mats
So could polyurethane foam be a safer alternative? Our research did not fill us with confidence that it is a safe material for babies to be playing on. Polyurethane is a plastic derived from petrochemicals. It contains isocyanates and is a known respiratory toxin, which babies and young children are especially sensitive to. Polyurethan often has diisocyanates which can cause further respiratory and skin damage, and are carcinogenic to humans.
My continued search for a non-toxic play mat
Yikes!! As a new mother to a small baby this was a lot to take in. It made me sad for all the parents who are made to believe that these products are safe and free from harmful chemicals, and sad for all the babies who also know no better.
So what was my solution to finding a truly non-toxic baby play mat?
The best baby play mats, in my mind, needed to be padded, waterproof, non-slip, easy to move and store and, above all else, truly non-toxic.
In the short term, I made do with an old padded quilt I had from my own childhood. Cotton on the outside, with padded wadding on the inside, this provided the softness we needed, but proved totally useless when my baby started to move around, as he would just drag the mat across the floor with him as he went.
So I set about doing more research into the best materials to use to create the ultimate eco baby play mat. It took years, and a lot of sampling, testing, re-designing and many, many, many discussions with manufactures who couldn’t understand why we needed such a pure product. Finally, we found a manufacturer who was happy to work with us to develop a new formula for natural rubber foam (the material we use as the base of our mats). The problem with traditional natural rubber foam is that it contains some nasty chemicals, including acetone, in order to turn the rubber into foam. And to my shock, this traditional formula actually passes the EU safety regulations for baby products! Because they are only testing for certain chemicals, they do not test for everything – a company could submit a product containing 80% acetone and it would still be passed through regulations as they are not even looking for or testing for that chemical.
Pure Earth Collection, working with the factory, eventually managed to develop a unique formula for the natural rubber base that contained no nasty chemicals, but without compromising on quality or durability.
I’m really proud that after years of research and development, the Pure Earth Collection team has now created a truly non-toxic baby play mat that is also practical and will look great in any home.