A car seat is the only baby product that we as parents are required by law to use. So, unless you happen to never travel by car, you’ll be required to use a car seat for your baby. It’s mandatory, and for good reason: car seats save lives. Because they are designed to protect our children, choosing a car seat is an important decision – and investment. But, how exactly do you choose the right car seat for your baby and your car? I remember being overwhelmed when I first started researching car seats. There are so many different brands on the market, and I didn’t know how to narrow them all down and make a choice. Going into it, I knew that physical safety was the top priority. And my baby’s comfort mattered too. But as I began digging deeper into my research, I discovered that most manufacturers were using toxic flame retardant chemicals in children’s car seats. Chemicals that I don’t want to expose my children to – especially not on a surface they make contact with for prolonged periods of time. This is what opened my eyes to the importance of considering chemical safety when buying a car seat, too. While there may only be one car seat on the market that doesn’t contain any flame retardant chemicals (so far), there are a growing number of manufacturers using potentially safer flame retardant chemicals in an effort to bring us non-toxic car seats.
What's in this article?
Why Do Children Need Non-Toxic Car Seats?
To answer this question, let’s dive a little deeper into the main source of the problem: hazardous chemical flame retardants.
Car seat manufacturers are required to meet federal motion vehicle flammability regulation FMVSS 302 to reduce injuries in the event of a vehicle fire. In theory, this is a worthy idea, right? However, there is no evidence that many of the chemicals being used to adhere to these requirements provide any safety benefit in the event of a fire. In fact, there is widespread concern that these regulations are exposing children to more harm and health hazards than they are actually doing any good. According to the Ecology Center’s 2015 Study on Chemical Hazards in Car Seats:
Flame retardants may also contribute to injury when they burn. For example, when foam containing pentaBDE burned, it produced twice as much smoke, seven times as much carbon monoxide, and 70 times as much soot as foam without flame retardants. 
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But despite this sad truth, this is the current law, and car seat manufacturers must continue to meet these standards. To do so, many manufacturers use low-cost but harmful, halogenated flame retardants. The Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org Car Seat Studies have found popular car seats to include brominated or chlorinated flame retardants such as Chlorinated Tris, TCPP, Bromine, HBCD, and TBC, among others in car seats manufactured as recently as 2014. Their 2015 study even found six unidentified brominated compounds in car seats made by Graco, Eddie Bauer, Cybex, Evenflo, Harmony, and Orbit Baby.
These flame retardant chemicals are associated with numerous health risks.
Exposure to halogenated (brominated or chlorinated) flame retardants have been associated with a wide range of impacts on animals and humans. These include immunotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, impairment of fetal and child development, interference in thyroid, liver, and neurological function, and cancer. 
And irresponsible car seat manufacturers are exposing our babies to these chemicals!
Because of the way these chemicals are applied to the foam and fabric of car seats, they break down and can be present in the air and dust inside vehicles. Babies and children can become exposed to these chemicals through ingestion of dust, inhalation, or through physical contact. And with how much time children spend in their car seats – and how sensitive their systems are – this exposure is concerning.
There’s some good news, though.
First, manufacturers can meet government flammability standards without using chlorinated or brominated toxic flame retardants; there are a growing number of manufacturers who have chosen to use phosphate-based chemicals, which are considered to be safer than chlorinated and brominated chemicals at this time (though further studies are still needed). This is promising! Manufacturers are moving away from these nasty chemicals because parents are voting with their wallets. For example, HealthyStuff’s testing detected no chlorinated flame retardants (such as Chlorinated Tris) in any of the 2016 model car seats they tested. (Chlorinated Tris is a known carcinogen that was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970’s and was used in car seats as recently as 2014!) This is a positive trend!
And most exciting of all, in June of 2017, Uppababy introduced the first-ever naturally flame retardant car seat. The Uppababy Mesa Henry contains no chemical flame retardants. (More on this below.) Uppababy is the first manufacturer to step up to the plate and do what’s right. UPPAbaby FTW!
Infant Car Seats vs Convertible Car Seats:
Unless you happen to live within walking distance of the hospital (or birthing center, etc.), and can walk your baby home in their stroller, 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 and infants:
- Infant Car Seat (aka Bucket Seat): This is a rear-facing, portable car seat that attaches to a base in your car and can also attach to a stroller, making this option convenient for the first several months of baby’s life. Infant car seats can easily connect to a stroller, so your baby could stay in their car seat while you transfer them to the stroller (and if they’re sleeping, most likely, staying asleep in the process). 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 recommends that parents switch to a rear-facing convertible car seat before age 1 for added protection .
- Convertible Car Seat: After your baby outgrows their infant car seat, which typically occurs before 12 months of age, they’ll need a rear-facing convertible car seat. Convertible car seats are not portable and 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 and save money by using a convertible seat from birth. 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.
Car Seat Buying Tips:
Buying a car seat is an important purchase. Before we get into which car seat to buy, 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 when choosing a car seat, because over 70% of car seats are installed incorrectly . The best car seat for you is one that fits your child and 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’ll never know the car seat’s full history when buying secondhand. Car seats also have expiration dates.
- 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 features and guidelines. Check out this helpful installation checklist. 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.
- 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 .
- Register your car seat with the manufacturer, so that you can be notified of any possible recalls.
Non-Toxic Infant Car Seats:
Infant car seats are typically used for babies younger than 12 months old, based on the seat’s height and weight limits. Taking into consideration safety, comfort, and use of toxic chemicals used, here are some of the best infant car seats currently on the market.
With any infant car seat, I also strongly suggest buying this breathable car seat canopy. I have two of them and never use the infant car seat without one!
UPPAbaby Mesa Infant Car Seat: The UPPAbaby Mesa is a relatively new car seat, 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 has two models of this car seat: the traditional Mesa car seats and the Henry, which contains no flame retardants.
The UPPAbaby Mesa Henry is the first car seat on the market that uses no flame retardant chemicals. It does so by using wool instead of chemicals. And, what’s great is that this chemical-free claim has been verified by the Ecology Center after extensive testing. The Henry model costs $50 more than the standard Mesa car seat and is worth it in my opinion.
In its standard Mesa car seats, 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 have 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.
The Mesa is compatible with UPPAbaby’s own line of strollers. Since it’s a newer car seat, you’ll find less compatibility with other stroller brands at this time. Baby Jogger discontinued making adapters for the Mesa.
Overall, I am happy with the UPPAbaby Mesa car seat and recommend it to new parents. Even more so now that the Henry model was released. I <3 you, UPPAbaby!
Britax B-Safe 35 Infant Car Seat and Britax B-Safe 35 Elite Infant Car Seat: Britax is another 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. (Remember, these are considered better than halogenated flame retardants, but further testing is needed.) 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.
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. Another one of Maxi Cosi’s convertible car seats tested very well in the Ecology Center’s car seat report. You can purchase an extra car seat base and matching stroller frame for the Maxi-Cosi as well.
Non-Toxic Convertible Car Seats:
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, position the car seat in your car, 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. Remember, being easy to install is really important and this seat is foolproof. I love this seat, and recommend it to everyone.
Britax offers two other models in its ClickTight family: the Boulevard and the Marathon. The Britax Marathon ClickTight in Vibe (the most economical model in the ClickTight family) received the Ecology Center’s highest rating because the seat tested negative for any halogenated (brominated or chlorinated) flame retardant chemicals. It was also found to not contain any flame retardants in the seat’s fabric. As mentioned above, the company has made an effort to phase out flame retardants containing bromine, chlorine, or other halogens from all components used in their car seats. While the study only tested one car seat, the company has been recognized by the Ecology Center for their commitment to using safer flame retardants, and only as needed. Yay, Britax!
Britax also offers the Boulevard ClickTight. The main difference between these three models is the side impact protection; the Advocate has 3 layers of side impact protection, the Boulevard has 2, and the Marathon has 1. The Marathon also lacks the Click & Safe Snug Harness Indicator, and has 2 less headrest positions than the other two models. For these reasons, I prefer the Advocate.
|Side Impact Protection||Quick-Adjust Headrest||Click & Safe Snug Harness Indicator|
|Britax Advocate ClickTight||3 layers||14 positions||Yes||Buy Now|
|Britax Boulevard ClickTight||2 layers||14 positions||Yes||Buy Now|
|Britax Marathon ClickTight||1 layer||12 positions||No||Buy Now|
Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 Convertible Car Seat: Along with the Britax Marathon Clicktight, the Pria 70 Convertible Car Seat received the highest recommendation from the Ecology Center. The Blue Base model is the one that was tested, and it was verified to not contain any brominated flame retardants and no flame retardants in the fabric of the seat. The Pria features side-impact protection and self-wicking fabric that helps keep your child cooler in their seat. Forward-facing, it can be used up until your child weighs 40 lbs., and rear-facing it can be used until your child weighs 70 lbs. The seat fabric is removable and can be washed in the washing machine (love this feature!). The seat comes with a cup holder and an optional car seat canopy (though the reviews are mixed).
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 top pick in my book. 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! To me, this is one of the best non-toxic car seats available, though the Capri model received only a moderate recommendation from the Ecology Center for what I perceive to be minor concerns (flame retardants in the velcro or on the warning label).
What about Chicco Car Seats?
I have struggled with whether or not to include Chicco on my list of recommended car seats. I love their car seats for their safety features, ease of use, and safe installation. Car seat technicians rave about Chicco’s Keyfit Infant Car Seat because it’s so easy to install – and that is a major factor in my book when it comes to choosing the right car seat for your child. To me, physical safety ranks higher than chemical safety.
That said, Chicco still uses brominated flame retardants in their car seats. The Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat tested positive for HBCD or a related brominated flame retardant. According to the EPA, HBCD has been found to have “persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic characteristics”. Since there are other easy-to-install car seats listed above that don’t use these chemicals, I have kept Chicco off my list.
If you are still interested in a Chicco car seat, despite their use of brominated chemicals, please read on for my reviews.
- Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat: [Not recommended] 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 bad news is that Chicco still uses brominated flame retardants. If they were to remove these chemicals from their products, I’m sure the Keyfit Infant Car Seat would move near the top of my list. So, 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 UPPAbaby that have made an effort to eliminate such harmful chemicals.
- Chicco Nextfit Convertible Car Seat and Chicco Nextfit Zip: [Not recommended] Chicco also makes popular convertible car seats that are lauded for 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.
A Final Word About Non-Toxic Car Seats:
While there’s still a long way to go, the market is changing.
Parents are voting with their wallets. Manufacturers are starting to respond to parents’ requests to remove harmful chemicals from car seats. Journalists are exposing the dangers of these chemicals. Lawmakers are paying attention.
We as parents don’t want to expose our children to unnecessary chemicals that have an array of health hazards including hormone disruption, cancer risks, mental impairment, or reproductive damage.
Here’s what you can do:
- Buy a healthier car seat. Vote with your wallet. Don’t support the brands that use brominated flame retardants. According to the Ecology Center’s car seat study, these include (but may not be limited to): BabyTrend, Chicco, Cosco, Diono, Evenflo, Graco, Joie, Nuna, Recaro, and Safety1st. If you have one of these car seats, vacuum regularly with a handheld HEPA vacuum.
- Sign the petition. The Ecology Center’s Toxic-Free Car Seats petition challenges manufacturers to develop safer policies and implement an action plan to eliminate hazardous chemicals in their products.
- Contact your representatives. Let your elected representatives know that you support legislation that overturns these unnecessary fire safety regulations.
- Spread the word. If you found this article helpful in your search for non-toxic car seats, please share it with other families! Spread the word about the petition and ask your friends to sign it. Encourage others to follow your lead and contact their elected representatives.