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How to Create an Eco-Friendly Nursery

Here's how to design a space that's both environmentally and baby-friendly.
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Updated
February 21, 2022
cozy baby nursery in home
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Going green isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for baby too. If you’re expecting, you’re probably wondering about all the ways to keep baby safe in those first few years of life. When it comes down to it, ecofriendliness is all about doing what’s best for Earth and its humans—even the smallest ones. Many eco-friendly products limit the use of toxic chemicals involved in the manufacturing process, making them better for baby’s health and wellbeing. After all, baby won’t just be sleeping in the nursery: Your little one will be playing, learning, growing and discovering there too, so you can expect they’ll put their hands (and mouth!) on just about everything in sight.

Thankfully, creating an eco-friendly nursery can be easier than you think. Below, read some of the expert-recommended tricks for creating an eco-friendly nursery filled with sustainably sourced items, plus some clean, green brands to browse as you’re designing baby’s room.

Eco-Friendly Certifications to Look for

When creating an eco-friendly nursery, you of course want to fill it with items deemed safe for baby and Mother Earth. Many green products come with a certification that indicates they’ve been evaluated by a third party and have passed certain environmental and safety criteria. The top three to look for include GREENGUARD Gold, OEKO-Tex and GOTS.

GREENGUARD Gold

When it comes to buying a crib, a mattress or other piece of furniture for baby’s nursery, check to make sure it’s GREENGUARD Gold certified. Of all the certifications, this one is perhaps the most important. “It’s the highest standard of safety, testing for over 10,000 chemical emissions and VOCs, and undergoing rigorous scientific testing to meet some of the world’s most stringent chemical emissions requirements,” explains Rachel Foster, a design expert with Modern Nursery, an online marketplace for nursery products with a focus on ecofriendliness.

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Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are potentially harmful gasses emitted from certain solids and liquids, including paints, paint strippers, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, cleansers, disinfectants and pesticides, among others. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the concentration of VOCs can be higher indoors than outdoors.

GREENGUARD Gold-certified products help reduce indoor air pollution, have a decreased risk of chemical exposure and work to create healthier indoor spaces overall. Plus, GREENGUARD Gold takes health-based criteria into account, meaning the products need to be safe for use indoors at schools and healthcare facilities.

OEKO-Tex

When you’re shopping for fabricked products, look for OEKO-Tex labeling. The certification comes from 17 independent European and Japanese institutions that, together, set standards for safety in the textile and leather industries to make certain all products are high-quality, sustainable and safe to use. The certification has six different labels: Made in Green, Standard 100, Leather Standard, SteP, Detox to Zero and Eco Passports.

Global organic textile standard

On the hunt for organic nursery items? Pay attention to the Global Organic Textile Standard certification, better known as GOTS. It covers the entire organic supply chain—from harvesting to manufacturing to delivering the product to consumers—and guarantees the product was environmentally processed, verified by a third party, was made using ethical business practices, is high-quality and safe to use. Products that can be GOTS-certified include garments, home textiles, mattresses, furniture and more.

How to Create an Eco-Friendly Nursery

There are several ways to put together an eco-friendly nursery, whether you opt for sustainable furniture, organic bedding or natural, nontoxic decor and toys. However you choose to design your nursery, remember to take it one step at a time and tap your healthcare provider with any specific product safety concerns or questions. Here are some elements of baby’s room that you can customize for green living.

Crib mattresses

According to Foster, when it comes to ecofriendliness, baby’s crib mattress is arguably the most important. “Organic mattresses made with safe interiors provide the best sleeping environment for your child,” she says. “You’ll want to choose the core of your mattress carefully and cover it with an organic, waterproof mattress protector and organic muslin sheet for breathability.” (Don’t forget to check if your crib mattress meets Consumer Product Safety Commission’s safety requirements.)

For crib sheets, look for brands that don’t use harsh dyes and chemicals and are OEKO-Tex and GOTS certified. Remember to always wash those sheets (and baby’s clothes) before they’re used.

Cribs and other furniture

When buying a crib, along with verifying it meets sleep safety standards, make sure it doesn’t have any toxic finishes, since “babies tend to teeth on their cribs as they learn to stand,” explains Foster. For this reason, cribs that are GREENGUARD Gold certified are great options. Consider getting a convertible crib that will grow with your child, Foster adds, so it’ll have a longer life cycle.

For any additional furniture in the nursery, like a rocker, glider or changing table, avoid items made of plywood, laminate or permanent press fabrics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these could have higher levels of the formaldehyde, a potentially harmful gas found in certain materials and household products. Instead, look for items that use clean fabrics and finishes, are sustainably made and marked as:

  • UF-Free: Made without urea-formaldehyde glues and foam
  • ULEF: Meet ultra-low emitting formaldehyde requirements
  • NAF: Meet no added formaldehyde requirements

Flooring

You might not think of your floors as one of the first places to look in terms of ecofriendliness, but baby will spend a lot of time down there! Luckily, you don’t have to redo all your floors prior to baby’s arrival. To ensure they’ll be roaming on a safe surface, get an eco-friendly rug or play mat, Foster says. Look for zero waste companies and floor coverings made with sustainable or organic fibers, nontoxic dyes and chemical-free, environment-friendly processes. Her favorite brands? Lorena Canals for rugs and ToddleKind for playmats, which she says “also provide enough cushioning for any wipeouts while baby gets comfortable on their feet.” (Check out more eco-friendly baby brands below.)

Paint and wallpaper

If you’re looking to paint your nursery during pregnancy, look over the ingredients before you select a paint. If you see things like turpentine, formaldehyde or any animal products, put the can back. Instead, look for something that’s marked as zero-VOC, which means the paint base is free of VOC. Still, before getting started, always get the greenlight from your OB, as paint pigments could still contain low VOC levels, even if the base doesn’t.

If you’re covering part or some of the nursery in wallpaper, make sure the paper you select is similarly free of chemicals—like vinyls, PVC and VOCs—and breathable, so it can keep mold and mildew at bay.

Decor

Once you have the color scheme and overall aesthetic of the nursery in place, you may want to add some toys as finishing touches. Wooden toys can be a great option here, as long as the wood, finishes and any paint is certified as safe for little ones—toys are guaranteed to end up in baby’s mouth at some point or other!

Air quality

One of the best ways to combat indoor air pollutants and reduce baby’s chances of getting sick is with a baby-safe air purifier. According to the EPA, portable air purifiers can be a great resource for improving indoor air in a singular room, like baby’s nursery. Just be mindful of the kind you choose—most air purifiers are considered safe to use around babies, but not all. The EPA recommends avoiding ones that are ozone-generating, as they can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation in children and adults alike.

Eco-Friendly Nursery Brands to Shop

Now that you know how to create an eco-friendly nursery, you might be wondering where to start. It may seem daunting at first, but there are plenty of baby (and adult!) brands committed to sustainability, environmentally conscious practices and, above all, the safety of Earth’s smallest inhabitants. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best eco-friendly nursery brands to peruse.

Not only is Newton Baby’s crib mattress GREENGUARD Gold certified, but it also has a plush, dual layer cover for added comfort. Plus, thanks to the brand’s innovative technology, it’s 100 percent breathable and reduces the risk of suffocation. An added bonus? The crib mattress has no foam, glue, latex or springs, so it’s hypoallergenic and completely machine washable.

This online marketplace features a dedicated section for eco-friendly nursery products, broken down by category. Shop for gear, furniture, bedding or decor and rest easy knowing the items are free of toxins and sustainably sourced.

When shopping for disposable diapers, wipes, skincare and cleaning products you can feel good about, The Honest Company is an easy choice. The brand, created by Jessica Alba, holds itself to a strict standard when it comes to sustainability. It strives to use the newest plant-based ingredients, is always innovating on ways to reduce waste with their packaging and even has a “No List,” which details over 2,500 chemicals and materials that the brand doesn’t use in its products.

If you’re looking to go green with cloth diapers, Bambino Mio is one of the best brands to shop. Their diapers are made from bamboo, cloth and polyester—and the brand offers transparency into the pros and cons for each. All their products are OEKO-TEX Standard 100 and Intertek certified, meaning they’ve passed global regulations that ensure the fabrics have been tested for harmful substances and meet the safety criteria.

Babyletto is a beloved nursery furniture brand, offering cribs, mattresses, changing tables, storage, eco-performance seating and more. It’s made sustainability a priority by using sustainably sourced materials, investing in recycled fabrics and purchasing carbon credits to offset their carbon footprint. Moreover, 99 percent of the brand’s products are GREENGUARD Gold certified. It even has a GREENGUARD Gold certified crib collection to give you peace of mind that your little one is sleeping in a healthy indoor environment. Foster’s favorite Babyletto product is the Kiwi Glider (also a Best of Baby award winner!). “The eco-performance fabrics on this glider make it spill- and spit-up proof—and each chair’s fabric is made from around 50 recycled plastic bottles,” she says.

This brand makes mattresses for babies, older kids and adults. Each of their organic mattresses is made with naturally nontoxic, 100 percent certified organic and sustainably sourced materials. Their mission? To produce organic mattresses, pillows and bedding at an affordable price, while maintaining environmentally conscious and ethical business practices. The brand is a Certified B Corporation and Climate Neutral and Fair Trade certified, which are some of the most prestigious certifications when it comes to ecofriendliness.

Clare Paint is GREENGUARD Gold certified, meaning it’s been tested for over 360 VOC and hazardous chemicals. Plus, to make it easier to shop, the brand offers personalized expert color recommendations and mess-free color swatches you can test with. The cherry on top? They deliver straight to your door.

If you’re opting to wallpaper the nursery, look to Spoonflower. The brand takes its environmental responsibility very seriously. To conserve water and fabric waste, they print on demand and only use clean inks, dyes and other ingredients. Not to mention, all their fabrics are Earth-friendly, free of harmful chemicals and don’t have flame-retardant applications—and they recycle any unused fabrics by selling them to local artists.

Oeuf sells everything from baby clothes to toys and nursery furniture—all with an environmental focus. The brand’s furniture is made with sustainably sourced wood, while the clothing is made with GOTS-certified Pima cotton. Oeuf also works with partners in Peru and Latvia under fair-trade principles, ensuring that everyone is treated with equity and respect.

This brand makes heirloom-quality toys that are both beautiful and sustainably made. Milton & Goose sources high-quality natural materials and tests all products with a third-party CPSC-approved lab. All products are tested for lead, heavy metals, phthalates, nontoxic paints and finishes and more. Shop the brand’s wooden play kitchens, play food, dollhouses and more with the peace of mind that everything is safe for your little one.

Choosing nursery items that are safe and well-made is a key step to creating an eco-friendly room for baby, but ultimately one of the biggest factors of ecofriendliness is longevity. Look for products that can grow with your family or be cleverly repurposed in order to reduce waste. “We love when pieces become heirlooms and when they have more life left in them after your newborn grows into a big kid!” says Foster. “Investing in high-quality pieces means that they will last not only through this child’s use, but for any future siblings [as well]. You can even hand a good-quality piece down to relatives or friends, or save them for when your kids have kids!”

About the expert:

Rachel Foster is a design expert with Modern Nursery, an online marketplace for nursery brands and products with a focus on ecofriendliness. She is a part of a team of Modern Nursery experts with over 30 years experience with interior design and sustainability. They help families create chic, eco-friendly, sustainable and long-lasting spaces for little ones to prosper in.

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