When I think of a playroom the image of a pristine nursery from Peter Pan pops in my head. Then I look over at my own playspace for my girls, and it looks well, different. So many of us with kids get the struggle of creating a safe environment for our kids to play. Not only safe in the aspect of removing items they can hurt themselves on, but also safe in the sense of their whole bodies and minds.
Kids are often playing close the floor, with toys in their mouths. This means we need to be extra cautious of the areas we create for play and remove as many of the items that contain toxins as possible.
Here’s a run down of how you could improve or create a dedicated play space for your kids that is also a healthy indoor environment.
Many kids spend most of their play time on the floor in some way. As they get older, the amount of time on the floor gets less and less, but those first years are mostly on the floor. This is why I think your choice of flooring is one of the most important parts of creating a safe and healthy playroom.
Often times, carpet is the base we have to work with. And while carpet CAN be a healthy option (I cover more about the toxins in carpeting in my book, Healthy Nursery Happy Baby), more frequently its slathered in chemicals and toxins to preserve it.
Don’t start ripping out your carpet just yet though! You can work around it until you’re ready to make a more permanent switch. Adding an area that is make of organic, natural material is the best way to start. You’ll also want to make sure to vacuum frequently to avoid the dust from carpet traveling into the air and throughout your home.
Here’s my master list of safe and healthy flooring options for your playroom:
FRESHEN UP STUFFED ANIMALS
Stuffed animals are notorious for harboring dust and dustmites. It can be impossible to clean them up (or even sneak them into the hamper), but it’s an important aspect to keeping the playroom clean and safe.
In the past I’ve actually found that getting rid of and donating as many of the stuffed animals as possible can actually help. It seems we have a lovey from every minor event and holiday around here, so we kept only the really important ones and donated the rest. With the stuffed animals we had left I routinely washed them in hot water and dried them on the hottest setting. Adding some dryer balls and a few drops of lavender made them extra fluffy and smell wonderful.
Another method you can try (especially if it’s a stuffed animal not recommended for the washing machine) is to occasionally spray them with a natural dustmite deterrent made a spray bottle of water and 5-10 drops of Lavender Essential Oil and Rosemary Essential Oil.
REMOVE SOME PLASTIC
Plastic is full of toxins and as we are finding out more and more is really affecting the systems and overall health of our population. Plasticizers which are in most plastic toys with a few exceptions have been known to disrupt the endocrine system, affect the nervous system and increase the risk of cancer in children and adults alike.
The toys with the highest risk potential would be the soft plastics and the plastic that goes into the mouth or those with small pieces coming off.
It may sound impossible to remove plastic from the playroom, but it doesn’t need to feel overwhelming. First simply take out the toys that aren’t played with or used as much. From there remove things as you see fit, but you don’t have to do a mass overhaul.
To be honest, we’ve found and learned that less toys can actually create a better play environment for kids. Janet Landsbury and Peaceful Parents Confident Kids site is one of my favorites in regards to creating a play environment where kids thrive.
And if you're looking to replace some of the toys, I love the store on Life Without Plastic to find toys that are safe and natural for kids.
Often toyrooms and playrooms are in the basement or in the attic. While these spaces are often large and open rooms, the location of them within the house may require a bit of extra caution.
Also when it comes to basements and attics, make sure that there is no exposed insulation, which can contain additional toxins. The particles from insulation can end up in the play area if left unconcealed.
Do you know your current Radon levels?
If you are creating a space to play in a lower level, I highly recommend testing for Radon. Tests are inexpensive and easy to use, and sometimes your State Health Department will even provide you with a free one. You can get all the information you need about Radon in my self-study course.
AVOID PRESSED WOODS
Pressed woods are often times made with wood particles, sawdust and shavings that are glued together. The strong adhesives that keep these together usually contain toxins, one of which being Formaldehyde.
Anything other than solid wood is generally not as safe for the indoor air quality when it comes to furniture.
If you have pressed wood furniture already, the important thing to remember is that the warmer and more humid the environment, the more those toxins are off-gassing. Try to keep the room at a humidity percentage closer to 35% and make sure the room doesn’t get too hot.
NATURAL LIGHT & OPEN WINDOWS
hat’s right, a playroom with lots of natural light is ALWAYS a plus. Keeping the room bright is not only a natural mood enhancer, but also good for the environment of the room. If you CAN choose a room with windows that open and let light and air inside.
An important thing to remember is MOST windows filter out the healthy rays of the sun as they enter our home. This means while natural, unfiltered sunlight is a good disinfectant to our rugs, carpets and personal items, it is not being disinfected through windows.
With that being said, when you open the windows and let light in through screens, this could be a good way to sanitize in a more natural way. Open windows will also let air flow through the inside of the room keeping it well-ventilated.
As kids get older their creativity soars and they often times become interested in arts and crafts. I love letting them create and make things without my input and see what they come up with, but I also don’t want to hand over supplies that aren’t safe for them to use.
Most art supplies and materials are safe to use, but there are some key ways you can double check and make sure what your child is using is indeed safe.
Look for these two labels which will ensure that art supplies like crayons, markers and paints be safe as mandated by the ACMI. The AP label (approved product) ensures it is non-toxic. And the CL label (cautionary labeling) means it may cause harm if used improperly.
Another tip? Keep items like paints (which can have trace amounts of VOCs stored in sealed containers (like these rubbermaids from Target) to avoid any toxins off-gassing into the playroom air.
Keeping toys put away inside of cabinets and baskets will help prevent dust build up and in turn prevent some unhealthy things from infiltrating your playroom. Studies have shown that dust in homes contains more than just a little dirt. It can contain chemicals from cleaning products, pesticides from outdoors and bacteria from our shoes.
Other ways to keep dust at bay is to maintain a routine cleaning schedule of vacuuming with a HEPA filter vacuum and wiping down dusty areas with a wet cloth when needed.
BONUS: GET OUTSIDE!
Creating a natural place space outside is one of the best gifts you can give to your child. Nature outdoors has endless possibilities for the mind of a child. Natural sunlight that is unfiltered and fresh air are beneficial to both mind and body as they develop and grow. If it’s at all possible, take a space outdoors and make it a safe place to play for your child as they grow.
I am a Certified Professional Home Inspector and Certified Building Biologist through the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors and International Institute for Building Biology. I have trained with Internachi as well as the Water Quality Standards Academy and the EPA.
I am passionate about helping homeowners create their own healthy living environment through consultation and real estate inspections. I want to help families start their kids out with safe and healthy living spaces to help shape their own healthy habits and lives.
I am also a healthy house contributor for LiveWell Collective, Mind Body Green & Radio MD.