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If there’s one thing your newborn does almost as much as sleeping and eating, it’s excreting. So, you’re going to want a suitable place to change their diaper. This means a safe spot like a change table, and a comfortable, non-toxic change pad with an eco-friendly cover (or five! Let’s be honest).
Before you buckle in your baby and snap those diaper snaps though, there are a few things you’re going to want to know about change pads, including what to avoid in a change pad and why.
What to look for and what to avoid in change pads
Change pads are, to all intents and purposes, a slightly contoured version of most crib mattresses. To keep your baby safe, change pads usually have two curved sides, with some models sporting four contoured edges. These are intended to help prevent your baby from rolling off the table. Some change pads also have a strap and buckle to help secure your baby, offering extra peace of mind in those first few sleep-deprived weeks and months.
Despite these safety features, you should never leave a baby unattended on a change table. Ideally, you’ll also keep a hand on them at all times, even when rummaging around for a fresh diaper in the shelves below (which is why a well-stocked change table with everything to hand is an absolute must!).
As for the bulk of the change pad itself, good options include:
- organic cotton,
- natural latex,
- or hemp pad with a polyethylene cover.
- At a pinch, a polyester change pad that is free from flame retardants and other chemicals and that has a polyethylene cover is a decent option that is less toxic and a little bit better in terms of the environment than a polyurethane foam pad.
Change pad materials – PVC, PU, TPU, what?
Most change pads are made with polyurethane foam and a PVC cover or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) cover. Of these, TPU is arguably the least troublesome, as we saw in last week’s look at toxic chemicals in crib mattresses.
TPU is similar to polyurethane, but is more water resistant, does not contain crosslinks, and has hard and soft segments that make it more durable, elastic, and resistant to stretching and stains than polyurethane. Compared to PVC and polyurethane, TPU is less likely to degrade and crack, meaning that the waterproof covering of a change pad will stay waterproof for longer.
TPU is made from polyether, polyester, or polycaprolactones, while polyurethane is made from polyols and isocyanates. In general, TPU could be considered less toxic than polyurethane, given that it doesn’t contain problematic isocyanates and polyols. TPU is, in fact, used in biomedical applications and is considered an inert material, depending on exactly how it was created. This is also why it’s used in many disposable diapers and cloth diaper covers for the waterproof outer layer.
If there are monomers and catalysts left over from the polymerization reaction(s) and other processes used to create TPU, there’s a chance that these could pose a risk of toxicity. Also, other chemicals may be added to TPU which could compromise its safety, and the degradation of TPU may produce unsafe degradation products, including toxic gases and dust. As with polyurethane, burning TPU produces irritant toxic fumes, meaning that any change pad made with TPU will probably have been treated with flame retardants.
Plastic is currently the only viable way to completely waterproof a change pad, but not all plastic is the same. Different types of plastic have different levels of toxicity for human health and the environment. If you’re faced with a choice between polyurethane, PVC, and TPU, TPU is probably your best option for a waterproof change pad.
What about polyethylene covered change pads?
Your best bet for a green and non-toxic change pad is a polyurethane-free change pad with a wipe-clean, food-grade polyethylene cover. Naturepedic, for instance, use polyethylene for the waterproof cover on their organic cotton change pad.
Polyethylene is considered food-safe and is an effective way to truly waterproof a change pad. This type of polymer is both the simplest of all commercial polymers and the most popular type of plastic in the world. Polyethylene is the plastic used to make grocery bags, toiletry bottles, sandwich wrap, and even bullet proof vests. The strength of the plastic depends on its molecular structure, which basically consists of a long chain of carbon atoms with two hydrogen atoms attached to each carbon atoms. Once this chain begins to branch off into other chains, the plastic becomes softer.
While it’s often touted as being non-toxic and entirely safe, polyethylene is still a synthetic material produced using potentially problematic chemicals. The chemical reaction required to create polyethylene typically involves a transition metal catalyst, like TiCl3, or titanium trichloride, and co-catalysts such as group III metals like aluminum. The type of low-density polyethylene used for waterproof change pad covers does not, however, typically contain bisphenol-A (BPA).
Like all plastics, polyethylene will eventually degrade with exposure to sunlight, heat, and moisture, and it may release toxic gases when this happens. Polyethylene also breaks down very quickly if washed with warm water, so you should never machine wash a polyethylene change pad or cover.
Given the high risk of mold, mildew, bacterial, and fungal infection in a change pad, however, I’d recommend choosing a pad with a polyethylene cover. You can then cover the pad with a puddle pad and organic cotton change pad cover for added protection (both from off-gassing and any accidents). It is also a good idea to air out a change pad for at least a few days before use.
The best eco-friendly non-toxic change pads
Many change tables come with an in-built or removable change pad, usually made with cheap polyurethane foam that is likely doused in flame retardants and covered in phthalate-heavy PVC. If possible, opt for change table without the pad (we’ve ranked our favorite non-toxic change tables here) and then choose one of the following two options. If anyone knows of another good change pad, please get in touch as these are the only decent options I’ve found after a lot of research!
Highlights: Both GOTS and Greenguard Gold certified, and free from vinyl, PVC, phthalates, PFCs, and flame retardants.
The Naturepedic change pad is a contoured pad made with organic cotton filling and cover and a wipe-down polyethylene surface. It is GOTS certified, Greenguard Gold certified and is free from vinyl, PVC, phthalates, flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and other troublesome chemicals.
The Naturepedic is somewhat waterproof, but I wouldn’t let liquids pool on it and would definitely recommend using a puddle pad and cover to keep it as dry and clean as possible as you can’t wash the whole change pad. The two best options I can find are Holy Lamb and Home of wool. I got mine second hand but believe they were from a local baby and kids store, so if you have an eco-friendly store like that near you, ask if they have puddle pads there!
The polyethylene surface meets food-safe standards and the pad comes with snap-screws to secure it to a dresser and a safety buckle to keep your baby in place and safe. The 4-sided contoured design also helps your baby stay securely in the middle of the pad.
This change pad fits most change trays and tables and measures 16.5 inches by 31.5 by 4. It is made in the US and Naturepedic are a great company with a solid reputation for quality products and good customer service, making this easily my top pick for an eco-friendly, non-toxic change pad.
Naturepedic is offering LeafScore readers 15% off their purchase using coupon code LEAFSCORE15 at checkout.
Highlights: A Greenguard Gold certified option that’s more affordable than its competitors, much better than conventional foam pads, but not quite as eco-friendly as some of the competition.
Certainly not as eco-friendly as the Naturepedic, but far more affordable at just $29.95, the DaVinci contour changing pad is miles better than a conventional polyurethane foam pad and is Greenguard Gold certified. Made with 100% polyester fiberfill, this pad has a PVC-free waterproof cover made with food-safe polyethylene, is free from polyurethane foam, vinyl, and chemical flame retardants, and has a safety strap.
The pad has extra firm quilted padding and contoured walls for security and comes with a 1-year warranty. And, naturally, it fits pretty well with any DaVinci changer dresser. Because of the quilting, liquids do tend to pool a bit and can stain, so use a puddle pad and extra cover. The two best options Ifor puddle pads I can find are Holy Lamb and Home of wool.
Eco-friendly change pad covers
Most change pads come with a suitable cover, but you might want to get a few extras for convenience. After all, few things are messier than newborns! If you’re looking for extras, consider the following options.
Highlights: Machine washable and dryable while being made of 100% organic, GOTS certified cotton.
Made with soft Jersey Knit with premium elastic for extra stretch and a safer, snugger fit, this change pad cover comes plain or patterned. It is made with 100% organic, GOTS certified, breathable cotton, is machine washable and dryable, and fits standard 16″ x 32″ change pads.
Soft and plush, this change pad cover is also made with GOTS certified organic cotton and has a textured waffle border and super soft French Terry center. The cover is available in three colors and contains no pesticides or harmful dyes or other chemicals. It measures 16″ x 32”, to fit standard rectangular US changing pads, is made in India, and is machine washable.
Highlights: Like most of its competitors, Moonsea produces their products using GOTS certified cotton free of harsh chemicals. This particular set comes in a bundle of two, ensuring a backup on hand in a time of need.
This change pad cover measures 32” by 16” by 5”, making it suitable for a standard change pad, flat change pads, bassinet mattress, and cradle mattress. It is made with GOTS certified organic cotton and comes in an affordable 2-pack in white, pink, blue, or navy.
Change pad covers
Every baby will at some point pee or poop on their change pad. As such, change pad covers are essential. These can be quickly removed and thrown in the laundry and help protect the pad itself (which is typically not washable) from getting soiled. A good set of change pad covers reduces the risk of bacteria and other organisms growing in and on the pad.
Most change pad covers are made with conventional cotton. This is a water-hungry crop that is typically treated with a heavy barrage of pesticides. The fiber is then bleached and dyed, meaning that by the time it makes contact with your baby’s skin (and your skin), a conventional cotton cover can contain an array of potentially toxic chemicals. The best way to avoid any unnecessary worry is to choose organic cotton change pad covers that haven’t been bleached or dyed with problematic azo dyes or other such chemicals. And finally, it’s also handy to have a smaller wool puddle pad to provide an additional barrier between change pad and pad cover.