How to Make Wood Safe for Babies: A Guide for Furniture, Toys and More

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That special moment when you arrive home with your new baby is one that few people ever forget – in spite of the challenges ahead!

The time leading up to the birth will have been spent ‘baby-proofing' the home. But how many will have considered the hidden dangers?

Some of the things we bring into our homes carry potential health risks that we often take for granted. One of the biggest problems is Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are toxic fumes released by certain chemical ingredients in paints and varnishes, or even in fabrics.

These can cause allergic reactions, breathing problems, and skin irritation. Some are also responsible for damage to the central nervous system as well as certain cancers.

Though the likelihood of any problems occurring is low, it pays to be aware of the issue and to plan accordingly.

So here are a few ideas of what to look out for when it comes to wood:

Child Safe Paint for Furniture

Depending on the wood type described here, using older furniture is a great idea, from an economical perspective as well as an environmental one.

Sometimes this needs a coat of paint to freshen it up. However, we need to think about what's in that paint – especially if used on a crib or any furniture for a nursery.

There's a huge range of ‘child-safe' paint for use on furniture, in any number of colors.

To qualify as being safe, this product has to pass strict criteria and be classified as ‘toy-paint', with zero VOCs.

Baby Safe Wood Finish

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Rather than painting, some people prefer the natural look of the wood.

To bring out the grain and protect it, there are a number of ‘finishes' available, but some are definitely not safe for your little one!

The danger is to assume that natural = safe.

Oils can be used to finish wood, bringing out the grain and providing a beautiful finish. However, vegetable-based oils can become rancid.

Babies are famed for putting things in their mouths or sucking any item within reach. And rancid vegetable oil is something you'll want them to avoid.

Likewise, Boiled Linseed Oil, which has toxic additives, should never be used for traditional wooden toys, cribs or furniture that your precious little one may have contact with.

Tung oil, polymerized linseed oil, wax, or resin finishes are recommended but be sure to allow time for them to ‘cure' properly. Ideally, try to select those which are deemed safe for food use.

Child Friendly Wood Treatment

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Aside from oils, wax, and resin, there are many other wood treatments available.

Thankfully, as consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious, the range of eco-friendly alternatives has increased.

This means that fewer products have harmful chemicals in them, making them safer for use in the home.

When choosing a suitable wood treatment, look for one that is water-based and preferably with zero VOCs. Many examples are low-odor and quick-drying, which means that they won't be giving off toxic fumes and vapors that may harm your child.

They can be clear, as well as coming in a variety of shades to allow you the choice of style, without having to compromise on safety or style.

Baby Safe Wood Sealer

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Often overlooked, this is another potentially hazardous area. Some people choose to use a sealer to prolong the life of the wood.

This is usually (but not always) when the wood is unfinished, allowing for a smoother surface on which to apply paint or finish.

Unfortunately, traditional sealers sometimes contain petro-chemicals and have been known to also contain arsenic.

However, there is a wide variety of safe alternatives on offer, and if you can even have a go at making your own! The products to look out for here are ones that have Zero-VOCs, are non-toxic, water-based and which contain no solvents.

As a final note, the wood itself needs to be chosen as carefully as any of the above products. Pressure-treated lumber, pallet wood, ‘composite' materials like MDF etc, all carry their own hazards and are also not all sustainable materials.

Some of these contain toxic chemicals or may have been fumigated to deter pests.

By keeping these points in mind, you can now have peace of mind, knowing that your home is a safe environment for your new arrival.

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