You’d think that regulations and certifications for crib safety would be seriously robust, but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned doing all this research for Leaf Score, it’s that we can’t currently rely on regulators to have our backs. Even the best certifications for cribs aren’t as strict as I’d like, given that they allow the presence of some known toxic chemicals. So, what can we do as engaged consumers looking to source a truly non-toxic crib for a growing family? 

Sadly, there’s no simple answer. Instead, my best advice is, rather counterintuitively, to eschew those companies making a big song and dance about non-toxic certification and instead look for a crib made with solid hardwood or softwood and absolutely nothing else. OK, so maybe some food-grade linseed oil as a finish, but that’s it. 

If you are tempted to buy a crib that includes any composite wood components, plastic pieces, or is painted or stained, certifications are very important, however. I’ll discuss the most relevant ones below, after first looking at the current regulations governing cribs in the US.

Crib Regulations in the US

All cribs sold in the US should be compliant with regulations as laid out by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and some will also comply with standards laid out by the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association (JPMA), and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). 

The JPMA currently certifies more than 2,000 products in 24 product categories, including cribs. For JPMA, each crib is sample tested annually, and after a material change, at an independent laboratory to guarantee it meets the highest safety requirements. The JPMA Certification Program is foundationally built on ASTM standards, which are developed with input from engineers, manufacturers, consumer advocates and consultants. 

ASTM standards are a federal requirement pertaining to juvenile products, known as Section 104 Rules. While JPMA has been around for many years, it seems that more and more crib makers, such as DaVinci, are phasing out JPMA certification in favor of more robust certification by Greenguard Gold.

All cribs still have to comply with CPSC standards, however, and these standards also focus on the structural safety of a crib, rather than the potentially harmful chemicals sometimes present in wood finish, wood composites, and glue, with the exception of some rules around lead and phthalates. As such, it doesn’t necessarily make much financial sense for a company to obtain JPMA certification in addition to Greenguard Gold Certification, when they have to comply with CPSC standards anyway.

The CPSC have updated their standards over time based on reports of safety issues with cribs. An example of this is the implementation of a ban on drop-side cribs in the US, due to infant fatalities and injuries caused by malfunctioning hardware. 

CPSC regulations govern both full sized cribs (16 CFR 1219) and mini-cribs (16 CFR 1220). These standards were adopted on June 28, 2011, implementing the new rules about drop-side cribs, as well as requiring crib bars to be more robust, and for hardware to demonstrate durability and better performance than before. 

As part of the CPSC’s efforts to improve crib safety, the Federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) was proposed and passed. CPSIA lowered the permissible concentration of lead in paint from 0.06 percent (600 ppm) to the new limit of 0.009 percent (90 ppm) effective August 14, 2009. 

What does this mean when you’re looking for a crib? If you’re buying a crib second hand or considering using a crib passed on by friends or family, find out when it was made (so you can tell if it adheres to standards post-2011) and if it has been subject to any safety recalls. You can check CPSC crib safety recalls here.

While few and far between, crib recalls do happen. For instance, in May, 2015, the CPSC recalled Baby’s Dream cribs and furniture manufactured in Chile between March 2014 and 2015, because the levels of lead in paint were in excess of the CPSC’s limits.

The CPSIA also meant changes in allowable levels of phthalates, which are endocrine disrupting toxic chemicals commonly found in plastics and plastic coatings in cribs. Despite industry lobbying, the CPSIA adopted new rules stating that the plasticized components of full-size cribs must not contain more than 0.1 percent of the following eight phthalates: 

  • di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)
  • dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
  • benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP)
  • diisononyl phthalate (DINP)
  • diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP)
  • di-n-pentyl phthalate (DPENP)
  • di-n-hexyl phthalate (DHEXP)
  • dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP).

The CPSIA also laid out new rules about labelling, specifying that as a Durable infant or toddler product, full-size cribs must be permanently marked with specific labeling information, including tracking labels, on the product and on the packaging. In addition, the CPSIA required cribs to have additional product markings and a product registration card attached to the crib

Full-size cribs, like all products that are designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger, must also be tested by an accredited third party laboratory accepted by the CPSC for compliance with the full-size crib standard and all other applicable children’s product safety rules, including:

  • Lead content in paint
  • Lead content overall
  • Phthalate content.

Anyone manufacturing or importing a crib to the US is now required to issue a Children’s Product Certificate specifying each applicable rule and indicating that the product complies with those rules.

Of course, CPSC compliance is not the only thing to look for when buying a crib, and the vast majority of U.S. manufacturers and importers are only required to test children’s products once per year. 

Given that a lot can happen in a factory in a year, and the fact that the standards laid out by the CPSC are fairly basic, focusing on the most overt risks to infants such as from structural impairments or outlandishly high levels of lead and phthalates, you’d do well to seek out greater reassurance when buying a crib. For that, you may want to look for third-party certifications such as CARB II and Greenguard Gold (with one major caveat, which I’ll explain below).

Crib Certifications

CARB II for Cribs

If your crib is made with composite wood, be sure to look for CARB II certification. This certification was created by the California Air Resource Board (CARB), part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates formaldehyde emissions in composite wood. In 1992, CARB concluded that formaldehyde is a carcinogen and set about limiting formaldehyde emissions. Companies making products that had lower levels of formaldehyde emissions than the CARB standards could then claim CARB compliance.

Over the years, CARB upped its game, devising CARB II – a stricter standard than, you guessed it, CARB I. This is a must for any composite or engineered wood crib as it prohibits formaldehyde in amounts greater than 0.05 parts per million for hardwood plywood veneer core and hardwood plywood composite core; for particleboard, the limit is 0.09 ppm; and for medium density fiberboard (MDF), it is 0.11 ppm.

Because California is a huge economic region, most crib manufacturers create products that conform to California rules and regulations, including CARB II. So, even if you don’t live in California and are not buying a crib made there, look for the certification or ask the manufacturer directly. CARB II is a good indication that a company cares about safety, but this standard is less strict than Greenguard Gold Certification.

Greenguard Gold

A good number of crib manufacturers now claim Greenguard Gold Certification. This was formerly known as GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certification as it was designed with stricter standards, accounting for increased vulnerability in certain populations (namely children and seniors), as well as for products intended for use in schools and healthcare facilities. 

Greenguard Gold is referenced by both The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Building Rating System. The program has established test methods and emission limits for building materials, furniture, and furnishings, electronic equipment, cleaning and maintenance products, and medical devices for breathing gas pathways. The idea of Greenguard Gold is to help reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure. 

Greenguard Gold Certificaiton is, as you might expect, more robust than Greenguard Certification, which doesn’t place limits on anywhere near as many toxic chemicals. Products that achieve Gold standard are subject to a review of the manufacturing process and are routinely tested to ensure adherence to strict emission limits. These standards include low limits on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, styrene, and so forth, but they do not certify that a product is free from such chemicals. 

If a crib is certified Greenguard Gold, it must also comply with the requirements for the State of California’s Department of Public Health (CDPH) “Standard Method for the Testing and Evaluation of Volatile Organic Chemical Emissions from Indoor Sources Using Environmental Chambers, Version 1.2 (2017)” (also known as California Section 01350).

One thing I like about Greenguard Gold is that it acknowledges that a product, such as a crib, likely contains several VOCs, not just one. As such, the standard has limits on individual VOCs and Total VOCS (TVOCs). 

As a quick comparison, Greenguard Gold mandates that a crib or other item of furniture cannot contain more than 220 µg/m3 of TVOCs compared to a maximum of 500 µg/m3 for Greenguard Certification. For formaldehyde, Greenguard Gold sets a limit of 7.3 parts per billion (ppb) compared to 50 ppb for Greenguard. Standards are also higher for total aldehyde at 43 ppb vs. 100 ppb, and for individual VOCs, Greenguard Gold limits these to 1/10th TLV compared to 1/100th TLV, with TLV being ACGIH® Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) set by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. TLVs are the airborne concentrations of chemical substances to which the ACGIH believes nearly all workers may be exposed repeatedly, on a daily basis, for a working lifetime, without adverse effects on health.

Limits for hexane are based on the California Proposition 65 Maximum Allowable Dose Level for inhalation of 3,200 μg/day and an inhalation rate of 20 m3/day, at a maximum of 1,760F µg/m3. Should you feel so inclined, you can find the complete testing method for Greenguard Gold here and see specific VOC limits here.

A few key VOCs and limits you might want to pay attention to are:

  • Benzene – 1.5 µg/m3
  • Epichlorohydrin – 1.5 µg/m3
  • Ethylene glycol – 200 µg/m3
  • Toluene – 150 µg/m3
  • Vinyl acetate – 100 µg/m3.

These chemicals are often present in cribs made with composite wood, or painted or stained, or that have plastic components such as teething guards. Epichlorohydrin is a VOC found in some soy-based or water-based glues used in place of formaldehyde, so if a company makes a crib with MDF or other composite wood, claims they use formaldehyde-free glues, but don’t have Greenguard Gold Certification, I’d be suspicious about the potential for epichlorohydrin off-gassing.

While Greenguard Gold is progress, some products made with fiberboard and formaldehyde, lead-containing paints, and other troublesome chemicals can still meet Greenguard Gold standards. As such, your best option by far is to simply choose a solid hardwood or softwood cribs that pose no risk of chemical exposure. 

It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that a Greenguard Gold Certified crib is better than a crib that isn’t certified, while the truth is that some companies, including Green Cradle, don’t bother getting Greenguard Gold Certification for products because they’re firmly against using any of the chemicals Greenguard Gold testing looks for. Instead, cribs made with sustainably sourced hardwood, that are either unfinished or finished using food-grade linseed oil are far healthier for indoor air than a certified crib that may still contain some level of VOCs.

What other certifications might you want to look for, then, if an unfinished hardwood crib isn’t for you? 

Lead-free or Lead-safe?

Unfortunately, US regulators have not fully banned (added) lead in cribs or children’s toys. I say added because there can be trace amounts of lead in natural materials. 

While all cribs sold in the US have to comply with the CPSC’s 16 CFR 1303 regulation, this doesn’t mean that any given crib won’t expose your infant to lead in paint, stains, lacquers, and other components. The best way to minimize risk is to get an unfinished hardwood or softwood crib or one finished with food-grade linseed oil (not linseed oil contaminated with a drying agent, as drying agents can contain heavy metals such as lead).

Over the years there have been several safety recalls for cribs based on high levels of lead. If you’re buying a crib second hand, be sure to check the CPSC’s safety recall list for that particular crib model. 

Other Crib Certifications

In addition to safety and toxicity certifications, it’s always nice to see companies show care for their workers, as well as for the wider environment and children everywhere. For consumers, it’s good to look for cribs that are made with wood from trees grown in the US or Canada and that is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. This certification ensures that the wood comes from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.

So far, just one crib seems to be certified to Cradle to Cradle standards (and Gold standard too!). Unfortunately, this crib is made in the Netherlands by Rendem and there seems to be no information available about how to actually purchase the crib. You can see more about this crib, which is made in an incredibly environmentally friendly way and is truly non-toxic here.

A small number of cribs are also Fair Trade Certified™, such as Pottery Barn Kids cribs. This means that the cribs are manufactured in a Fair Trade Certified™ facility where safety standards help protect workers from exposure to hazardous chemicals and make sure workers are not overworked, are paid a reasonable wage, and that no child labor or other type of exploitation goes into making the crib where your own child will sleep. In addition to supporting labor rights, Fair Trade Certification also makes it more likely that your crib will be produced by people doing their best work, which means quality will be higher and the crib is more likely to perform well and keep your family safe.

Certification such as Fair Trade™ is especially important if you’re buying a crib not made in the USA, Canada, or Europe. Most cribs are made in Asia, particularly in China and Vietnam, where government regulatory oversight may be lacking, and where working conditions may be less than satisfactory. If a company doesn’t list where the crib is made, ask. And, while you’re at it, ask for a statement on the company’s manufacturing process and ethics. The more we can encourage companies to be honest, transparent, and accountable, the better for everyone.

As an example of the importance of safe and fair working conditions, consider this story in the Salt Lake Tribune which exposed how Chinese workers in furniture factories for well known American companies were exposed daily (for up to 70 hours a week) to toxic levels of carcinogens like benzene, toluene, and other chemicals commonly used in varnishes and paint applied to cribs. As a result of improper safety conditions, some of the workers have developed myelodysplastic anemia, a disease that progresses to fatal leukemia. In this particular case, workers were even told that the coatings they used were safe because they were water-based, but the reality was that one of the water-based acetone solutions (made from bananas) contained 0.1% benzene, 29% toluene and 32% xylene, demonstrating that ‘water-based’ isn’t always what you think.

In general, then, choosing a safe and non-toxic crib doesn’t necessarily mean relying on manufacturers’ claims of non-toxicity or looking for a crib that is Greenguard Gold Certified, CARB II certified, or that carries any other specific certification.

Instead, the safest cribs are likely those that meet CPSC standards for structural safety and that are made with naturally eco-friendly and non-toxic materials. Put simply, buy a no fuss hardwood or softwood crib, check that the company doesn’t use any stains, finishes, or lacquers, other than food-grade linseed oil, and give the crib a good ‘smell test’ once you get it home. If it smells of chemicals (not just of linseed oil), chances are that it is off-gassing VOCs. In which case, contact the manufacturer and demand an explanation, then either return the crib or give the crib several weeks to off-gas so it is less problematic once your baby arrives.