For many parents, choosing a car seat is one of the first big tasks on the baby preparation to-do list. It’s a big decision, and a really important one. When I first started researching baby gear, I was truly overwhelmed. There are dozens and dozens of options on the market, and I had to somehow narrow them all down and make a choice!? I had never used a stroller or car seat before, so I didn’t know what to look for. Physical safety is of course, the first priority, but finding healthier, non-toxic car seats was also important to me in my decision-making process.
Why Do We Need Non-Toxic Car Seats?
Car seat manufacturers are required to meet government flammability regulations (FMVSS302) to reduce injuries in the event of a vehicle fire. To meet these regulations, manufacturers often use harmful, halogenated flame retardants (brominated or chlorinated flame retardants) that can be transferred to children through the fabric on the car seat, and have been known to cause health issues. However, manufacturers can meet government flammability standards without using these toxic flame retardants; there are a growing number of responsible manufacturers who have chosen to use healthier, gentler flame retardants that have no known toxicity issues. This is where non-toxic car seats come into play!
Non-Toxic Car Seats for Newborn Babies:
Unless you happen to live within walking distance of the hospital (or birthing center, etc.), you will need to have a car seat ready and installed before being able to take your baby home because it is required by law. Choose from two types of car seats for newborns:
- Infant Car Seat (aka Bucket Seat): An infant car seat is a rear-facing, portable car seat that usually attaches to a base in your car and also can attach to a stroller, making this option very convenient for the first several months of baby’s life. When you’re driving around and your baby falls asleep in the car, you won’t probably want to have to remove them from their car seat (and wake them) to transfer them to the stroller. Infant car seats can easily to attach to a stroller, meaning that your baby most likely won’t wake up in the process of being transferred. This is why most parents choose to start with an infant seat. You can use an infant car seat until your baby outgrows the seat height or weight limits, which usually happens around 10-12 months of age. However, Consumer Reports issued a report recommending that parents switch to a rear-facing convertible car seat before age 1 for added protection. Note: if you decide to get an infant seat, make sure to choose a stroller and car seat that are compatible with one another.
- Convertible Car Seat for Newborn Babies: After your baby outgrows their infant car seat, the next seat you’ll need is a rear-facing convertible car seat. Convertible car seats do not attach to a stroller, so you would need to remove your baby from the car seat and transfer them to a stroller or baby carrier. Some parents choose to skip the infant seat altogether, save money, and get a convertible seat for their newborn from the beginning. It comes down to preference, but in my experience, infant car seats are worth the extra money in those first 4-6 months simply for the convenience.
Infant Car Seat Buying Tips:
Buying a car seat is an important purchase. Here are a few notes and tips about buying and using car seats:
- All approved car seats are required to meet the same safety standards, though some might come with additional features that make it easier to correctly install your car seat. Easy installation is a huge factor in choosing a car seat, because over 70% of car seats are installed incorrectly. The best car seat for you is one that you can install safely in your car, every time. A safely installed car seat can reduce the risk of death in road injuries by at least 71 percent.
- Don’t buy a used car seat. Once a car seat has been involved in an accident, it should no longer be used. Unfortunately, you will never know the car seat’s full history when buying secondhand. Car seats also have expiration dates, so there’s one more reason to avoid buying used.
- If possible, you should visit a store that allows you to try out various car seats in your car. You’ll learn very quickly which would fit well in your car. Note that the center backseat is the safest place for a car seat.
- Make sure that your car seat is installed correctly. Read your car seat manual cover to cover. Get to know your car seat and its safety standards and guidelines. Check out this helpful installation checklist by SafeKids. If you need assistance, you can have a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) check your installation and walk you through your car seat’s safety features. There are numerous companies that provide this service, but you must make sure that anyone giving you advice is a certified CPST.
- Children should remain rear facing in their car seats as long as possible – until they outgrow their convertible car seat’s height or weight limit. Car Seats for the Littles also debunks some common myths about rear-facing your child. Here’s a helpful video that illustrates the safety benefits of extended rear-facing your child.
- Register your car seat with the manufacturer, so that you can be notified of any possible recalls. It’s unfortunate, but it does happen, even to the best manufacturers.
Best Infant Car Seats for Newborn Babies:
Taking safety, baby’s comfort, and use of toxic ingredients used into consideration, here are some of the best infant car seats currently on the market.
- Britax B-Safe 35 Infant Car Seat and Britax B-Safe 35 Elite Infant Car Seat: Britax is one of my favorite car seat companies because their seats are very sturdy. What’s more, since 2013, they have been working to eliminate flame retardants containing bromine, chlorine, or other halogens from all components used in their car seats, while still meeting government flammability standards by using phosphate-based flame retardants. Both the B-Safe and the B-Safe Elite offer side-impact protection, though the Elite version offers an additional layer of protection. The Elite version also offers a few perks such as a no-rethread harness (which makes adjusting the harness a bit easier as your baby gets taller…and taller…) and an easy-to-remove cover. Both seats are on the heavier side, making them a little less portable than the UPPAbaby Mesa or the Maxi-Cosi, for example. But I do like that they are sturdy and I highly recommend Britax. You can purchase an extra base for a second car as well, making it easier to get around with your baby.
- Nuna Pipa Infant Car Seat: I’m happy to report that Nuna has made a conscious effort to reduce harmful chemicals in their car seats. While they have moved away from using Oeko-Tex fabrics in their car seats, the Pipa infant car seat does not contain harmful flame retardants in areas that your baby could come in contact with (i.e. the fabric).
It features side impact protection and an easy installation (using their two-step “five-second” process), a generous canopy that eliminates the need for a car seat cover – and is overall a comfortable and fantastic infant car seat. All of these reasons together make the Nuna Pipa Infant Car Seat rank at the top my list of non-toxic car seats. For the best price on the Nuna Pipa, shop at Giggle.
- UPPAbaby Mesa Infant Car Seat: The UPPAbaby Mesa is relatively new to the market, but is growing in popularity. This lightweight (10-pound!) car seat features side-impact protection, a no-rethread harness, and UPPAbaby’s Smart Secure™ system for an easy and safe installation. UPPAbaby does not use halogenated flame retardants, and meets government flammability standards without the use of these harmful chemicals, making this one of my favorite non-toxic car seats. This is the car seat we used, and I was mostly happy with it, except for the fact that I was unable to use the belt-path installation in my car because the seat kept getting loose. UPPAbaby customer service was very helpful and suggested that I switch to using a LATCH install, which was much better. Overall, I am happy with this seat and recommend it to new parents.
- Maxi-Cosi Mico Max 30 Infant Car Seat: Featuring a rebound protection bar, machine washable self-wicking fabric to keep your baby cooler (and happier) in their car seat, and side-impact protection, the Maxi-Cosi is a great choice. It’s also one of the lightest car seats available, which helps when you’re lugging your little one around town. The Maxi-Cosi is a pretty plush and comfortable car seat, which might help your baby to feel more comfortable in the seat.
Please note that this is NOT a non-toxic car seat, and it does contain chemical flame retardants. However, it is a safe and comfortable car seat that is still worth considering. You can purchase an extra car seat base and matching stroller frame for the Maxi-Cosi as well.
- Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat: This is one of the most popular infant car seats on the market because it’s very easy to install. The seat is made with EPS energy-absorbing foam for improved impact protection. The only bad news is that Chicco still uses halogenated flame retardants, which are harmful and toxic. If they were to remove these chemicals from their products, I’m sure the Keyfit Infant Car Seat would move to the top of my list. So, as you consider which car seat to purchase, just remember this is NOT a non-toxic car seat, but from a safety and installation perspective, the Chicco is top-notch and I still recommend this car seat for that reason. However, I believe there are better, safer options from companies like Britax and Nuna that have made an effort to eliminate such harmful chemicals. Chicco also makes the Chicco Keyfit Caddy Stroller Frame for this car seat.
Unfortunately, I can’t confidently recommend Graco, Evenflo, Cybex, and Peg Perego car seats because they were rated of “medium to high concern” in Ecology Center’s study of chemicals in car seats, and there are other great, safe non-toxic car seats listed above. Orbit Baby is not on this list because they sold off their baby product lines, and discontinued using Oeko-Tek certified foam in their car seats in 2014. The company would not disclose the flame retardants being used in their products.
Non-Toxic Convertible Car Seats:
- Clek Foonf: The Clek Foonf is an amazing seat to consider if it’s within your budget. Made in North America but designed to meet European standards, the Foonf accommodates extended rear-facing up to an impressive 4 years of age (the standard in Europe) or 50 pounds. The seat is easy to install and boasts side-impact protection, an anti-rebound bar for rear-facing installation, and a steel and magnesium structure for added safety. The Foonf is a non-toxic car seat; the company uses GREENGUARD Certified fabrics that are free of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, also making this a Gentle Nursery top pick. This seat is less than 17 inches in width, making it easy to install three seats side by side (aka “3-across”) in many vehicles. I highly recommend the Clek Foonf and know many families who are very happy with this seat. Clek also offers a recycling program for its car seats – wow! Truly one of the best non-toxic car seats available.
- Britax Advocate ClickTight: This is one heavy-duty car seat, and in my opinion is one of the safest car seat options on the market. The Advocate has a steel frame and boasts Britax’s 3-layer, maximum level of side impact protection. And, the seat is extremely easy to install. Britax added the ClickTight installation feature to their convertible car seats, making it trivially easy to install your car seat. Simply adjust the recline, open the front panel of the seat, buckle the seatbelt snug across the belt path, apply a little pressure, and finally close the panel. Then voila, you have a super tight install on your car seat. I love this seat, and recommend it to everyone. As mentioned above, Britax has also made and effort to phase out flame retardants containing bromine, chlorine, or other halogens from all components used in their car seats. The only downside to this car seat is that it is on the larger side. Britax also offers the following models in its Click-Tight family: Marathon ClickTight and Boulevard ClickTight. If these are out of budget, you could also consider their traditional convertible seats that don’t have the ClickTight feature: Roundabout, Marathon, and Boulevard.
- Nuna RAVA Convertible Car Seat: Another great, easy-to-install convertible seat, the Nuna RAVA is a wonderful seat to consider! Much like the ClickTight, the RAVA skips the LATCH install system and uses the seatbelt, making it very easy to safely install your child’s car seat. The RAVA also offers side-impact protection with energy-absorbing foam, an all-steel frame, and a 50-pound rear-facing weight limit (giving you 10 more pounds rear-facing than the Britax and Chicco seats), meaning the seat will last you longer. It also has built-in cupholders, which your little one might appreciate. It’s on the pricier side, but certainly worth considering.
- Chicco Nextfit Convertible Car Seat and Chicco Nextfit Zip: Even though they have not eliminated halogenated flame retardants, and are therefore not non-toxic, I still list Chicco car seats because of their safety features and ease of installation. The Nextfit Zip also wins points with parents because of its machine-washable, zip-off seat pad. There are many times I’ve wished my Britax had this zip-off seat pad!
There are less expensive car seats available for purchase, but I think that safety, comfort, and use of harmful chemicals are important factors to consider. For that reason, the non-toxic car seats I’ve listed here are on the more expensive side.
Remember, the right seat for you is one that you can safely and easily install and that fits your child well.
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