Certifications: GOTS, Oeko-Tex, and GREENGUARD

I just finished the post on cribs, crib mattresses, and crib sheets and realized I referenced a lot of certifications.  When I first started looking into nontoxic items, I was confused by all these standards.  So, I did a bit of research and it turned into this post.  Of course there are many other certifications and standards, and maybe one of these days, I’ll get to looking into a few more.  For now, I’ll just cover the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification (used for textiles), the Oeko-Tex Standard (also used for textiles) and the GREENGUARD certification (used for indoor products/furniture).

GOTS Certified Organic

GOTS is a standard set by experts around the world to ensure that organic textiles are, in fact, made of organic materials and do not contain many heavy metals, allergens, and other harsh chemicals.  Sounds basic, but unfortunately, many textiles labeled as “organic” may not be made entirely of organic materials.  For example, perhaps only 10% of the cotton used to make a piece of clothing is organic and the other 90% of the cotton is conventionally grown.  This article could be advertised as organic, but it would not carry the GOTS label.  Additionally, even if an article of clothing is made with 100% organic cotton, it could have many harsh chemical additives applied to it – dyes, fragrances, bleach, phthalates, etc., or it could be made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

When an item carries the GOTS label grade “organic,” it must contain at least 95% certified organic fibers.  A product with the label grade “made with organic” must contain at least 70% certified organic fibers.  GOTS prohibits the following ingredients in textiles: toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde, aromatic solvents, functional nano particles, GMOs and their enzymes, and azo dyes that release carcinogenic amine compounds.  It also regulates all accessories (zippers, buttons) to the article, e.g., no PVC, nickel, or chrome is permitted.  It is so strict that it requires organic textiles to be separated from conventional ones at at all stages of the processing.

The Standard doesn’t just ensure that the final product meets these specifications.  It covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading, and distribution of its textiles.

One of the coolest things about GOTS is that it also regulates “social criteria.”  Manufacturers certified to GOTS must pay their workers a fair wage, ensure working conditions are safe and workers’ hours are not excessive, and use absolutely no child labor.

You can look up whether a company is GOTS certified by using the GOTS public database.  If you cannot find the company you are looking for, it’s possible that only its manufacturer is listed in the GOTS database.  (For example, I emailed Kate Quinn Organics, and they told me their manufacturer is in the database, but they are not.)

For loads more information, check out the GOTS website.

Oeko-Tex Standard 100

The Oeko-Tex Standard is an independent certification system testing textiles for “harmful substances.”  (It doesn’t specifically regulate organic textiles.)  When a textile is certified to the Oeko-Tex Standard, it means that it has met certain criteria: it contains no illegal substances (carcinogenic colorants), it only has a certain amount of other legally regulated substances (formaldehyde, heavy metals, phthalates, etc.), and it only contains a certain amount of substances that are known to be harmful but are not yet regulated at all (pesticides and allergenic dyes).

The Oeko Tex Standard is far more strict than legislation in the U.S., and the amounts of these chemicals allowed in certain products depends on the article’s use.  There are four “product classes,” each of which has its own limits for various substances.  For example, Product Class I regulates textiles that are made for babies and toddlers up to 3 years old, e.g., underwear, bed linen, soft toys, etc.  As you can imagine, this class has the strictest requirements for testing.  Product Class II regulates articles that are intended to have a large part of their surface in direct contact with the skin, e.g., again, underwear, bed linen, shirts, etc.  Product Class III covers textiles that are intended to have no (or little) part of their surface in direct contact with the skin, e.g., jackets and coats.  Product Class IV regulates materials for decorative purposes – table linen and curtains, textile wall and floor coverings, etc.  All component pieces of the article must comply with the requirements – the outer textiles of course, but also any buttons, zippers, sewings, etc.  For more info on this, you can check out Oeko’s website.

GREENGUARD Certification

The GREENGUARD certification ensures that indoor products release lower levels of chemicals into the air in our homes.  The certification applies to building materials, finishes, furniture, cleaning products, and electronic equipment, and it limits the emission of harmful chemicals like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, and phthalates.  GREENGUARD certified products include baby cribs, mattresses, countertops, paints and adhesives, insulation, and wood flooring.  The GREENGUARD website has an awesome Nursery Checklist that points out some of the best ways you can avoid toxins in your baby’s room.  A few points covered by the checklist:

  • Low-VOC paint.  Get this (I just learned this from that checklist), there are two things “low VOC” can refer to: (1) the amount of VOC’s in the chemical content of the paint or (2) the amount of VOCs that are emitted by the paint.  Who knew?!  So, GREENGUARD recommends using low-VOC emitting paint because these paints release fewer VOCs into the air.  Paints with low VOC chemical content can still release harmful VOCs.  Cool, right?
  • Furniture.  Wood finishes and upholstery can release harmful chemicals, particularly formaldehyde.  So opt for solid wood whenever possible, rather than pressed wood furniture.  (I know, I know, the crib and bassinet I chose both have MDF pieces…)  If it’s not possible to have solid wood, GREENGUARD recommends letting the furniture off-gas for two weeks in an outside space (or just somewhere you won’t be breathing the air that much).
  • Mattresses.  New mattresses – especially crib mattresses – are often made with a lot of harmful chemicals which will continually be released into the air.   (Naturepedic (the mattress we have) is certified to the Greenguard Gold standard, which is a specific standard offering stricter certification criteria for “sensitive individuals” like children and the elderly.)
  • Cleaning.  Clean with low-emitting products.  GREENGUARD has a database to help find such products.  They also recommend cleaning with baking soda and vinegar.  I’ve actually started a draft post on nontoxic cleaning products, which definitely includes these staples.

This blog post has forced me to wrap my head around many complexities in the industry.  I hope it helps you make better decisions when it comes to choosing products for your family.


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Nursery Essentials: Crib, Mattress, & Sheets

There is so much information out there on baby cribs  it is OVERWHELMING.  And it’s overwhelming even if you are NOT concerned with toxicity.  Throw chemicals from wood, paint, and glue in there, and you have information overload.  I’m not going to run through 800 different types of cribs and all of the toxins in each.  I created this blog to make things easier for others.  And if you’re like me, you’ll probably read 100 different blog posts and then settle on the few you feel is your best fit for guidance.

So, the absolute least toxic (nontoxic) cribs out there seem to cost quite a bit of money.  If you have $600 plus to spend on a crib, they would be worth it.  I’m not trying to cut corners by not reviewing all these options, but they’ve been written about a lot, and it is relatively easy to find a nontoxic crib at that price-point.

Crib & Bassinet

My choice was the Babymod’s Parklane Crib.  I also purchased the Babyletto Bowery Bassinet.  Babymod and Babyletto are both part of the Million Dollar Baby company (MDB).  Neither the crib nor the bassinet is entirely nontoxic, but they appear less toxic than others.  For their price point (about $300 for the crib and what came to $250 for the bassinet), these were the best options for us.

The crib is made of solid wood – New Zealand pine – except for a thin piece of MDF (medium density fiberboard) on the bottom panel of the pull-out drawer.  People caution against MDF because it contains formaldehyde.  I was not overly concerned with this, since it’s a small piece and my little one is not sleeping directly on the MDF.  If you wanted a crib without the MDF, you can check out the Olivia model.

The bassinet also has MDF on the bottom.  While the babe is closer to this MDF (with only the mattress in between) than the MDF in the under-drawer of the crib, I still went with it given MDB’s assurances that their formaldehyde levels are undetectable.

One thing that REALLY irked me about the bassinet is that it came with a polyurethane foam mattress, compliant with CA TB 117, and had a sticker on it that something to the effect of “while we try to make safe products, there are chemicals in this mattress, known to the state of California, to cause harm.”  They listed the types of harm; I just don’t remember.  I wish I had taken a picture of the sticker.  Anyway, after ALL my research on them, after all the emails with the company to ensure I’d be happy with their product, I ended up with a mattress that had been treated with flame retardants.  I wrote them a scathing email, and I custom ordered a mattress and sheets from Naturepedic (which ended up doubling the price of the bassinet).   MDB actually discusses this topic in a post on their Q&A forum.  Not sure their response makes me feel any better, but thought it was worth noting.

I do love the bassinet, though.  It is quite large and very sturdy.  Initially, I thought it too large, but it turned out to be perfect because our little one could sleep in it for much longer.

Info regarding the crib and bassinet (from MDB website, MDB’s Q&A site, and emails to me):

  • The same finish is used on the bassinet and the Parklane Crib.  All elements for these products are within maximum allowance.  The test results for the lead levels are less than 1 mg/kg while the limits ranges are from 25 to 1000 mg/kg.
  • The cribs are lead, formaldehyde, and phthalate SAFE (not free of these substances).  The formaldehyde levels are undetectable.
  • Paint is considered safe when it has toxic materials under 300 parts per million (ppm).  In order to claim low toxicity, products must have no more than 90 ppm.  Our products come in at less than 10ppm
  • In order for Latex and Flat finish paints to be considered Low-VOC paint, the paint would need to be <250 g/l, for an Oil-based and All Other Paint it would need to be <380 g/l.  In order for all paints to be VOC-Free paint, they would need to be <5 g/l.  We use these numbers as reference for Low or Zero-VOC, published by US EPA for the VOC emissions standards for architectural coatings.  So far there are no standards set for VOC amounts. With that being said, any manufacturers could state that their paint is Low-VOC or even Zero-VOC.  The VOC amounts are different due to different manufacturers, different paint suppliers/formula.  The majority of our products’ test results were under 380 g/l.  Due to the sensitivity of our supplier’s info, please note that unfortunately we will not be able to provide the actual test reports.  But the overall test results are as mentioned.

Crib mattress

I went with the least expensive Naturepedic mattress, and that still rang in about $270.   Their mattresses don’t contain any flame retardants at all, but still meet all flammability requirements because they choose less flammable materials (organic cotton) and do not use polyurethane foam.  Their mattresses are certified to GOTS and Greenguard Select.  Another reason I went with them is because I read great reviews about their customer service.  I personally experienced this when ordering the custom-made bassinet mattress, and although I haven’t had any issues with our mattress yet, it’s nice to know if I have any, I’ll be working with a great company.

NaturalBabyMama recommends Lifekind mattresses as well.   (See her “Things I wish I registered for…” post.)   I looked briefly into their mattresses, but they are really expensive – about $500 a pop, and that’s the sale price.  Check out her post, though, for why she wishes she had gone with Lifekind.

Crib sheets

I ordered Coyuchi crib sheets.  Nearly all of their cotton products are GOTS certified.  (A note on their FAQs page says that some unique items, like the Cozy Blanket, are not GOTS certified but Okeo-Tex certified.)  Their cotton is sourced from India and Turkey and their cotton products made in India, Turkey, Germany, and Portugal.  As mentioned, for the bassinet, I went with Naturepedic sheets because I needed them custom sized.  Their custom sizing for the sheets did not cost anything more than their regularly sized sheets, which I found pretty impressive.

I also bought organic QuickZip sheets for the crib.  I don’t think they are GOTS certified, but I’ve emailed the company.  I haven’t used them yet since I’m not sure about the quality of the cotton, but if it turns out it’s solid, I will look forward to it.  They look like they are the easiest sheets everrrrr to use!

Travel Crib

Okay, maybe not a nursery essential, but we are on the topic of cribs!  I originally registered for a Graco Pack N’ Play.  Then I realized it was made with polyurethane foam that had been treated with flame retardants, so I returned it.   That said, CA TB 117 changed in December 2013, and when I emailed Graco asking if their play yards contain flame retardants, they told me that if you get one that was manufactured after January 1, 2014 and does NOT have the CA TB 117 tag, there will NOT be flame retardants in the play yard.  Hooray!  (But too late for us, since I needed the travel crib before then.)

We went with the Baby Bjorn Lite Travel Crib.  It does have a mattress made of polyurethane foam.  This kinda freaked me out so I went online to check it out.  Baby Bjorn is clear that all of their products are certified to the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Class 1 (baby product class – most stringent).  This standard prohibits the use of flame retardant chemicals (e.g., Tris, PBB, TEPA, TCEP9, etc.) in products made for children and prohibits harmful substances.  So, I feel okay about the polyurethane mattress.  Also, their newer models have the mesh material all the way down the crib, instead of just half-way.  When we got ours, the bottom piece of the crib was not mesh and not breathable.  I remember thinking: “Why isn’t this whole thing mesh?!” Apparently, others thought the same and Baby Bjorn made the change.

I later found out that Nuna has something similar, so for my parent’s home, we went with the Nuna Sena.  Nuna’s fabrics are also certified to the Oeko-Tex Standard, and they also just started making these products without flame retardants.  If you want one without flame retardants, though, be sure to email the company.  (Their customer service is AWESOME.)


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Car Seats and Flame Retardants

I didn’t learn about the flame retardants (FRs) in carseats until after we had purchased the Chicco Keyfit30.  Even if I had known about them, I probably would have gone with the same one.  The thing is, it seems there might be a couple companies out there without harmful FR, but these are usually incredibly expensive, and it seems there is no guarantee that the seats don’t contain these FR.  Then, there is the safety issue.  As of June 2014, Consumer Reports ranked the Chicco Keyfit30 as the highest rated infant carseat.   I couldn’t find any info from Consumer Reports on any of the other models that say they don’t use FR, except the Orbit Baby G2, and Consumer Reports did not give its safety measures a glowing rec.

It’s easy to go to Consumer Reports and find out what they say.  It’s a heck of a lot harder to figure out which companies are using which toxins in car seats.  Orbit Baby’s statement is direct and to the point: their fabrics are certified to the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and their car seats do not contain brominated and chlorinated flame retardants and chemicals.  But then, in 2011, HealthyStuff.org did a study and found such toxins in the Orbit Baby car seats.  Orbit responded emphatically that their seats do not contain these chemicals and that HealthyStuff’s methods were imprecise and unreliable.  Diono has also stated their Storm and Rugby models of the Radian R series do not contain  any FR – not in the fabrics or in the foam.  But… there are reports that people have had their seats tested and found that these models DO contain FR.

Clek is another company stating that as of February 2014, none of their carseats contain bromine or chlorine-based FR.  They use a “fluoro-based” FR and fabrics from Crypton Super Fabrics, which “repel moisture, bacteria and stains” and contain no formaldehyde.  The fabrics are also Green Guard Select Certified.  When I emailed them and asked more about the FR they use, they told me they “do not know that exact fire retardants that are used and only know of the ones we do not use that are harmful…”

Of course, in 2012, Britax and Graco committed to making car seats without these harmful chemicals.  The result seems to have been that they substituted other harmful toxins in place of the old ones.  Sigh.  I recently emailed these companies to ask if they are still using FR.  On June 16, 2014, I heard back from Graco, and they pretty much gave me a non-response: “… our finished products comply with the applicable substance bans…. ‘no one size fits all’ flame retardant…. proprietary compounds…” blah blah.  (If you want the full response, I’ll post it, but they gave me no real info.)  I’ve emailed Britax twice but have yet to hear back.

So, what can we do?  Well, it just so happens that Duke University is testing all kinds of foam for chemicals.  You just cut a piece of the foam you want tested and mail it in.  They only accept so many samples per month, so if you go to their website and fill out the form, and they tell you they’re not accepting samples at this time, wait until the first of the next month and try again.  Here is the website to learn more about the study and how to submit the samples: http://foam.pratt.duke.edu/home.

Also, HealthyStuff.org has started to test car seats again.  They are fundraising now, so if you’re feeling generous, you can donate on their site.

Until enough tests are done (whether through Duke or HealthyStuff), it’s hard to know which companies have the fewest toxins in their seats.  It does seem like if you have the money for it, Clek and Orbit (possibly Diono) are making the most progress in that area and might be the way to go (assuming you’ve checked out their safety ratings as well – I have not done this!).


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