Childcare providers are focused on caring for kids and helping them get the best start in life. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether childcare necessities contain harmful chemicals.

While our study on toxic flame retardants in day care nap mats found that foam nap mats can be a significant source of the chemicals in childcares, there is good news too! By removing toxic flame retardants from nap mats, we can reduce the levels of chemicals in the childcare. (A short factsheet on the study is available for download here.)

Nap mat manufacturers and policymakers must ensure that flame retardants aren’t used in nap mats and other products. But until that happens, here are some answers to frequently asked questions on childcares and flame retardants.

Why are there flame retardants in nap mats?

Nearly all nap mats were made with flame retardants in the foam until several years ago, when a key flammability standard was changed by the state of California. Now, makers of most nap mats do not include flame retardants in the foam.

What are better ways to achieve fire safety?

Resources can be found on fire prevention and planning for child care centers here.

How can childcares reduce exposures to toxic flame retardants?

As this study shows, the best way to reduce indoor levels of toxic flame retardants is to choose products that are free of them. Besides nap mats, flame retardants can be found in other children’s products, such as changing pads, as well as in foam furniture, including child-sized and full-sized chairs and couches. These items are all available free of flame retardants, and furniture is often labeled indicating whether flame retardants are used or not.

You can also reduce children’s exposure to flame retardants by:

  • making sure children wash hands frequently, especially before eating
  • regular damp dusting of all surfaces, including bookshelves, toy storage areas, etc.
  • providing good ventilation with outdoor air when possible

What are other ways to maintain a healthy childcare environment?

Unfortunately, flame retardants are not the only hazard in childcare environments. Providers also need to learn about preventing exposure to lead and other metals, harmful plasticizers, pesticides, and other toxics. The Eco-Healthy Childcare Program has excellent resources on these other hazards, including a checklist for childcares.

Where do I find mats and other products that don’t contain toxic flame retardants?

Most mats currently on the market do not contain toxic flame retardants in their foam. However, nearly all are encased in vinyl, which typically contains chemicals called phthalates that can disrupt hormones. We found only one brand, Community Playthings, was free of flame retardants and phthalates in both the foam and the cover.

For most products, including nap mats, there’s no way to know for sure whether the product contains flame retardants because companies are not required to tell us what chemicals they use. We need policymakers and companies to protect our health and stop the use of toxic flame retardants.