I get an email about those foam puzzle piece mats about once a week. If you have emailed me recently about it and I didn’t respond it’s because I have been rolling this one around in my brain for a while and I don’t have a “best” case scenario to offer you. But what I can do is talk about what they are made of and whether that fits into your definition of “safe”. I will also provide some alternative suggestions in a variety of price points.
In general, MOST foam play flooring / mats are made with a material called EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) which is a foam rubber compound. For a while now it has been viewed as a healthier alternative to PVC and the process of making it excludes the use of chlorine which can produce carcinogenic compounds called dioxins. This is part of why PVC is something to avoid. Healthy Child Healthy World discussed EVA in an article back in October of 2008, giving EVA the thumbs up as an alternative.
Despite the fact that EVA foam does emit an “off-gassing” type smell, I cannot find information to disprove EVA’s safety as a material for use with children. Now, this doesn’t mean I am recommending you run out and buy them. There are three things to consider, I’ve discovered in my investigating:
- PVC/Phthalates? Some companies who make these foam mats for kids will only go so far as to say that their product “meets the ASTM standards (American Standards for Toy Manufacturing) and are phthalate compliant.” Step2 told one of our readers that “Some components that are used with our ‘Playmats’ may contain small traces of pvc.” I don’t know if that means accessories or components of the mats themselves. But they will not go so far as to say they are phthalate free. I will be following up with them on this as soon as I get a moment to hop on the phone.
- Microban. I’ve found a few brands of these play mats that boast they use Microban. Let’s not forget my position on the use of Microban and the extreme disillusion it creates for parents and caregivers. Microban does not protect your child from germs or illnesses, it protects the product from mildew and discoloration. Microban also does not disclose what its made of so the possibility of its use of Triclosan is a possibility. You can decide whether you want to avoid it or not.
- Flame Retardants. Many of the EVA Foam flooring companies use EVA foam that has been treated with flame retardants. Some have and some haven’t… this is where the information gets a little sketchy and I’m still trying to determine if it’s an issue for all EVA foam matting. There is some suggestion that EVA Foam in its original state is inherently flame resistant. What I can’t determine is whether the foam is treated in addition to that. On the plus side, when EVA foam does burn it doesn’t have the same toxicity as PVC – no chlorine, dioxins, etc. I’m still looking into this part.
So there you go. I do believe EVA foam can be recycled and reused but it may be very tricky to find a place to bring it who’ll take it for recycling. From an environmental standpoint, EVA isn’t going to save the planet. So this one is up to you.
What Products Are Safe?
This is where your judgment as a consumer and a parent will come in to play. I’ll provide you with a list of brands that I feel are acceptable as far as safety goes and I’ll give you a few more eco-friendly suggestions if that’s the direction you wish to go.
EVA Foam Options
- Skip Hop Playspot Interlocking Foam Tiles – These claim to be PVC, Phthalate and BPA free and made of EVA. They are cute, colorful and moderately stylish compared to most but they do come at a higher price.
- One Step Ahead Wood Floor Foam Mats – According to One Step Ahead these are PVC and Phthalate free. They look cool… but they do mention the off-gassing smell that I worry about. They say in the description “Don’t worry its safe, we tested it” but we have all heard that before. They make the traditional alphabet puzzle mats too. (Note: I emailed One Step Ahead to confirm the lack of PVC/Phthalates and was told that “Yes, the item meets all US Federal Laws and regulations and has passed all testing. and Yes they are free of PVC and Phthalates.“)
- Soft Tiles Interlocking Foam Floor Mats – Made of EVA and website claims they do not use any phthalates or BPA.
- Wool Rugs – Wool is a safe choice (if you don’t have allergies to it) and eliminates the potential for off gassing carpet materials and padding.
- FLOR Carpet Tiles – These are modular carpet tiles so its not permanent and you can move it when you need to. They have stylish colors and patterns. FLOR carpet tiles are made with renewable and recycled content and are recyclable.
- Skip It – Save yourself some money and just properly child proof your home. Rhoost your sharp corners and gate off areas that are unsafe for baby and toddlers. I’ve got 2 boys and never used any type of floor padding other than the area rugs we already have. They get hurt more outside than anywhere else!
Have something to add? Tip? Let me know in the comments or via safemama [at] gmail.com!