How I banned flame retardants from our playroom – Part II

Our new nontoxic daybed and wool carpet

Did you know that toddlers have higher levels of flame retardants in their bodies than adults? One of the reasons is that toddlers are busy crawling on chemical-laden carpets and couches, mouthing items that have fallen on the floor and picked up the dust that gets released as carpets and furniture are used.

I felt there was really no point getting rid of our well-loved sectional if we weren’t also going to take out the synthetic carpet, which no doubt was also heavy with flame retardants. For those of you in the market, synthetic materials like nylon are destined to be sprayed with flame retardants (I’ll use the abbreviation FR from here on out) in compliance with CA law, because they are not flame retardant by nature. This applies not only to the carpet itself, but to the carpet padding as well.

I’m not a huge fan of carpets aesthetically, but I have found them to be very baby-and toddler-friendly, and I’d gotten used to the soft cushion for our playgroup attendees. I did consider having a bamboo, or better yet, cork, floor installed, then putting an area rug over that. Cork isn’t good for high-sun areas like our playroom and the bamboo option seemed to be just as pricey and much less soft. So we decided to go with the carpet.

I went on a search for carpets that didn’t have FRs in them, and soon discovered that the fail-safe way to get one was to order a wool rug, which is naturally flame retardant and therefore didn’t need to be pumped with chemicals. They also tended to be more expensive than the synthetic, stain resistant (thanks to even more chemicals) alternatives.

We scoured local stores, including one that considers itself to be eco-friendly thanks to its carpet recycling initiative. While I applaud recycling, I’m also concerned that recycling carpets with chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive disorders, hyperactivity and autism-like symptoms isn’t the most healthy practice.

Finally we found a well-priced remnant (read: leftover roll that’s been marked as clearance) from a high-end local store that advertises regularly on NPR. I was working with one of their salespeople, not one of the family members who owns the store. He repeatedly expressed ignorance about the use of FRs, and, getting sick of my broken record request for documentation that the carpet and pad contained no FRs, he said, “Look, I’ve worked with many families who order our standard rug pad and no one complains of wheezing or coughing or anything.”

If one good thing has come out of my repeated pestering of salespeople, I hope it’s that I had the opportunity to educate them. But it concerns me that I seem to be the only one out there doing this. Not that I want everyone else to rip up their carpets and have new couches made – limited budgets and resources make my choices neither wallet nor eco-friendly. But what is the alternative? Knowingly expose my children and their friends to unthinkable conditions? I couldn’t justify it.

After researching several carpet padding options, including one that’s made from recycled furniture and carpet scraps (yup, those original products contained flame retardants), we finally realized that a pure wool carpet pad was the only way to go. And the most expensive. So we ate the cost – about $3/square foot each for the carpet and the carpet padding.

I have to say we were a bit shocked when our carpet – installed with nails only and claimed to contain only non-toxic, water-based glues in its binding – ┬álet off a new carpet smell, much like the new car smell that indicates the presence of phthalates, other harmful chemicals I avoid like the plague. But we sighed, kept our little one out of the room, and left the windows open for a few days. It’s getting much better.

Picking a carpet felt like a double-blind experiment where neither I nor the salespeople could be sure of exactly what we were getting. But we did our best and we’ll hope for the best. Here’s to a healthier future for all our children!

What steps have you made to eliminate flame retardants in your home? How have salespeople reacted to your requests?