FAQ: Safe Play Room Flooring: What’s Best?

By Kristie Turck •  Published 08/24/10 •  5 min read

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Alternative Options

Have something to add? Tip? Let me know in the comments or via safemama [at] gmail.com!