Last updated on August 14th, 2022 at 02:00 pm
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 I can 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.
Even though 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. This doesn’t mean I recommend you run out and buy them. There are three things to consider I’ve discovered in my investigation:
- 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. .
- Flame Retardants. Many of 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. I can’t determine whether the foam is treated in addition to that. On the plus side, when EVA foam burns, 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 Options Are Safe For Playroom Mats?
This is where your consumer and parent judgment will come into 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 – Made of EVA. They are cute, colorful, and moderately stylish compared to most, but they do come at a higher price.
- Soft Tiles Interlocking Foam Floor Mats – Made of EVA and website claims they do not use any phthalates or BPA.
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Safer Alternative Options To Foam Play Tiles
- 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 childproof your home. Rhoost your sharp corners and gate off unsafe areas 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!
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