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Car seats are safety devices designed to protect our children, so choosing a car seat is one of the most important product decisions you will make. But, how exactly do you choose the right car seat for your baby and your car?
There are two key aspects to consider: physical safety and chemical safety.
Physical safety is always the top priority when buying a car seat. When considering physical safety, you’ll want to look at how easy it is to install the car seat and what extra safety features it has. Does the car seat fit well in your car? Can you get your child into the seat easily, every time? How long will your child be able to use the car seat?
Chemical safety, on the other hand, refers to the presence of toxic chemicals such as hazardous flame retardants and fabric treatments. Chemical safety matters, too. In addition to physical safety, you’ll want to pay attention to the chemicals that a car seat will expose your child to. Babies and children have developing bodies that are especially susceptible to the dangers of these toxic chemicals.
Thanks to the growing research on car seat chemical safety, led mostly by the Ecology Center’s study on chemicals car seats, there are a growing number of manufacturers that are making car seats without flame retardants, and car seats made using potentially safer flame retardant chemicals. That means that you have some wonderful non-toxic car seat options to choose from.
To help you choose the right non-toxic car seat for you, let’s talk a little about why you should be cautious about which flame retardant chemicals are used in your child’s car seat (if any), and go over the results from the December 2018 Ecology Center Car Seat Toxicity Report.
Why You Should Be Concerned About Flame Retardants
While car seats are made for children, they are subject to automotive regulations.
All car seats sold in the United States 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. However, to meet these standards, many manufacturers use low-cost halogenated flame retardant chemicals. There are three major problems with this:
Problem #1: 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. 
Because of the way flame retardant 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. Considering how much time children spend in their car seats – and how sensitive their systems are – this exposure is concerning. Car seat companies are exposing babies to these chemicals in their car seat — an item kids make regular and direct contact with, often for prolonged periods of time.
Problem #2: They may not even be necessary.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) itself can’t justify the use of these flame retardant chemicals. The NHTSA “never evaluated the effectiveness of the federal motor vehicle standard in children’s car seats. The agency also said it was unaware of any records, data or studies that indicate the current flammability standard is relevant or provides any fire safety benefit in a child’s car seat.” 
Problem #3: These chemical fire retardants may be ineffective.
There is no evidence that many of the flame retardant chemicals companies are using to meet these flammability standards 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. Flame retardants emit carcinogens when they burn. Additionally:
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, this is still the current law, and car seat manufacturers must continue to meet these standards.
There is some good news, though.
Manufacturers can meet automobile flammability standards without using toxic flame retardants. Companies are beginning to manufacture car seats that contain no flame retardant chemicals at all, and there are many more who use phosphate-based chemicals instead of halogenated flame retardants. (Phosphate-based flame retardants are believed to be somewhat safer than chlorinated and brominated chemicals at this time, though further studies are still needed to prove their safety.)
The Latest Car Seat Toxicity Test Results
The latest study done by the Ecology Center, released in December 2018, examined 18 car seats for harmful flame retardant chemicals. For the first time ever, the study also tested for per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) on the car seat fabrics (fabric treatments that make the fabric stain resistant). I love that they are looking at more chemicals that we as parents would want to avoid exposing our kids to.
Non-Toxic Car Seat Study Highlights
- 83% of the car seats tested still contain flame retardant chemicals that may be hazardous
- For the first time, the 2018 study presents phosphate-based flame retardant chemicals as potentially hazardous until proven otherwise; car seats with these chemicals were rated of “moderate” or “high” concern
- 50% of the seats tested contain PFASs and the Ecology Center indicates that these chemicals are unnecessary
- Not enough testing is being done on the chemicals that are used in car seats
- Since the last study in 2016, PBDEs and Chlorinated Tris have been phased out by manufacturers
- A growing number of manufacturers are making car seats without flame retardant chemicals and addressing the harmful chemicals in their car seats
- The Ecology Center calls upon all manufacturers to make car seats that are free of flame retardants, and believes this can be done at the price point of $100-$150
The Top-Rated Non-Toxic Car Seats: Reviewed
Since 83% of car seats tested were found to contain potentially hazardous flame retardant chemicals, it should be no surprise, then, that the seats that received the best rating are the ones that contain no added flame retardant chemicals.
Please note that while the 2018 study may have only tested one version of each car seat due to budgetary restrictions, I have included their sister models when applicable. For example, the Clek Fllo Mammoth received a Low Concern rating in 2018, but I have also listed the Clek Foonf Mammoth because they are made with the same fabric.
LOW CONCERN Car Seats: Non-Toxic Car Seats
The car seats that received the “LOW CONCERN” highest rating in the latest Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff Car Seat Study were found to have no flame retardant chemicals or fluorinated chemicals. These three car seats received this rating:
Which seat was tested? UPPAbaby Mesa in Jordan
UPPAbaby was the first company to introduce a car seat that does not contain any flame retardant chemicals.
The UPPAbaby Mesa in Henry and Jordan are made with a wool/polyester blend that is naturally flame resistant and does not require added chemicals to meet automotive flammability requirements. Both the Henry and Jordan fabrics have been rated by the Ecology Center as being of “low chemical concern”, receiving their highest rating in the 2018 and 2016 car seat studies.
As you can imagine, the UPPAbaby Mesa is a non-toxic car seat that is growing fast in popularity. In addition to being made without flame retardant chemicals, this lightweight (10 lb!) car seat features side-impact protection, a no-rethread harness, and UPPAbaby’s Smart Secure system for an easy and safe installation using LATCH or belt-path.
And while 50% of the seats tested by the Ecology Center were found to contain PFAs, the Merino wool Mesas did not contain any PFAS. Before you buy, please note that UPPAbaby has two versions of the fabric on the Mesa car seat. The standard Mesa car seats (Jake, Denny, and Taylor) are made with polyester fabric and use phosphate flame retardants. (These seats received a “Moderate Rating” in the 2018 study.) The Henry and Jordan models are made with Merino wool blends and received the “Low Rating”. They cost a little more than the standard Mesa car seats but are 100% worth it in my opinion.
Overall, the UPPAbaby Mesa is one of my favorite non-toxic car seats. This is the car seat we used with both boys, 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. This might be car-specific and 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, including the Vista and the Cruz in Jordan. Since it’s a newer car seat, you’ll find less compatibility with other stroller brands at this time; for some reason, Baby Jogger stopped making adapters for the Mesa.
I have been very happy with the UPPAbaby Mesa car seat and recommend it to new parents. Even more so now that the flame-retardant-free versions were released. If you’re truly looking for a non-toxic car seat, the Mesa is a fantastic choice.
Which seat was tested? Nuna Pipa LITE Infant Car Seat in Fog
This is Nuna’s first car seat that is made without any flame retardant chemicals (but they have since gone on to remove flame retardant chemicals from all their *NEW* car seats).
Weighing in at only 5.3 lbs., the Pipa Lite is the lightest car seat on the market. The materials used in the seat do not contain any flame retardant chemicals and meet government flammability standards naturally. However, the company would not be specific with me about how they meet these regulations. All they say is that the materials used are sourced because of their ability to be naturally flame resistant.
The Pipa Lite also features side-impact protection and uses lightweight foam that is lightweight, resilient, and reduces the force transferred to the baby by absorbing and diffusing energy. The only downside to the car seat is that it cannot be used with only a belt-path installation. So, if you plan to use it on an airplane, you will need to travel with the base. If you plan to use your car seat on an airplane, I would instead opt for the UPPAbaby Mesa in Henry or Jordan, because the UPPAbaby can be used without its base.
Clek Foonf and Clek Fllo in Mammoth Merino Wool
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Which seat was tested? Clek Fllo in Mammoth
Clek is another one of my favorite car seat brands. We have a Foonf in Mammoth and are very happy with it!
Clek is an innovative Canadian car seat manufacturer and was the first to introduce convertible car seats without flame retardant chemicals. Any of their seats in “Mammoth” fabric are made using merino wool and are naturally flame resistant. These car seats contain no flame retardant chemicals in any of the components of the car seat.
Made in North America but designed to meet European standards, Clek’s convertible car seats accommodate extended rear-facing up to an impressive 4 years of age (the standard in Europe) or 50 lbs. The seats offer side-impact protection, an anti-rebound bar for rear-facing installation, and a steel and magnesium structure for added safety.
The Foonf has a rigid LATCH system and three different recline positions, while the Fllo only offers a belt-path installation and offers one recline position. The Fllo weighs about 10 lbs. less than the Foonf, and also sits a little lower in the car. (My son actually loves the height on the Foonf, as it allows him to better see his reflection in our car seat safety mirror.) Both seats are 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 Clek’s wool car seats. They aren’t as easy to install as our Britax ClickTight, but it is a wonderful car seat brand and their Mammoth seats are made with the best materials. My youngest was also very happy moving from his UPPAbaby Mesa to his Foonf. Please note that their non-wool car seats received a moderate recommendation and contain phosphate-based flame retardants. If you are shopping for a new car seat, I would spring for any of the Mammoth seats over one of Clek’s other fabrics.
Clek also offers a recycling program for its car seats – wow! Be sure to check Albee Baby for their Clek Foonf and Fllo Mammoth inventory.
Note: Clek introduced their first-ever infant seat, the Clek Liing; look for that in Mammoth as well.
MODERATE CONCERN Car Seats
The car seats rated being of “moderate concern” are those that use phosphate-based flame retardant chemicals and have up to one component that contains bromine. If you are shopping for a non-toxic car seat but the wool seats listed above are out of budget, the next best option would be a car seat from this section.
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Which seat was tested? Maxi-Cosi Mico 30 Infant Car Seat in Bright Rose (this color is currently unavailable)
The Maxi-Cosi Mico 30 features a rebound protection bar for added safety, machine washable self-wicking fabric to keep your baby cooler (and happier) in their car seat, and side-impact protection. 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 during car rides. You can purchase an extra car seat base for the Maxi-Cosi infant seats as well.
I spoke with Maxi-Cosi and they have indicated that they apply the same processes and standards to the manufacturing of all their Maxi-Cosi brand car seats. Based on this, I would feel comfortable shopping for any of their other car seats in any fabric choice, though I have to say I prefer Clek, Nuna, and Britax for convertible seats over Maxi-Cosi.
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Which seat was tested? UPPAbaby Mesa in Taylor
The standard version of the UPPAbaby Mesa is made with phosphate-based flame retardants, and was not found to have any per-fluorinated chemicals. It is an excellent car seat, though for $50 more I prefer the UPPAbaby Mesa wool car seat without flame retardants.
Which seat was tested? Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB in Circa
Britax makes a heavy-duty car seat, and in my opinion it’s one of the safest car seat companies on the market from a physical safety perspective. This is why I wouldn’t write off Britax just yet. Additionally, Britax recently introduced their SafeWash fabric in Otto, which is washable and does not contain any flame retardant chemicals or PFAS.
Britax offers two other models in its ClickTight family: the Boulevard ClickTight and Marathon 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 fewer headrest positions than the other two models. For these reasons, I prefer the Advocate in Safe Wash Otto; just make sure you have enough room in your car as this seat is very bulky.
All ClickTight models come with the option to include the anti-rebound bar for added safety. Please be sure your seat comes with this – or buy it individually.
|Side Impact Protection||Quick-Adjust Headrest||Click & Safe Snug Harness Indicator||Shop|
|Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB||3 layers||14 positions||Yes||Buy Now|
|Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB||2 layers||14 positions||Yes||Buy Now|
|Britax Marathon ClickTight ARB||1 layer||12 positions||No||Buy Now|
I would feel confident using any Britax car seat due to the company’s commitment to safety and eliminate flame retardants containing bromine, chlorine, or other halogens from all components used in their car seats. Their travel system is a great option if UPPAbaby and the Pipa Lite are out of budget.
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Which seat was tested? Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Car Seat in Shadow
Made by Dorel Juvenile, the company that manufactures Maxi-Cosi car seats, the Safety 1st Grow and Go seat tested well. It was found to contain no PFAS and only one component with bromine. This is a good option for a moderately priced 3-in-1 convertible car seat. It can be used in three stages:
- Rear-facing 5-40 pounds
- Forward-facing 22-65 pounds
- Belt-positioning booster 40-100 pounds
The Grow and Go features side-impact protection and a washable seat pad fabric.
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A true budget convertible car seat, the Cosco Scenera is especially popular for air travel. I personally purchased one for air travel and had to return it because it was too bare-bones for me and actually looked uncomfortable. It also does not have side-impact protection (hence the super low price). It is also owned by Dorel Juvenile, the same company that manufacturers Maxi-Cosi and Safety 1st.
That said – there are many parents that use the Cosco Scenera for air travel and for everyday use (after all, all car seats have to pass the same physical safety standards), and I’m pleased to see that it tested ok in the study on non-toxic car seats.
HIGH CONCERN: The Most Toxic Car Seat Brands
The car seat brands that received the lowest recommendation from HealthyStuff’s Car Seat Study include:
- Baby Trend
- Eddie Bauer
- Nuna (but they have since stopped using flame retardants in most of their car seats)
I would recommend avoiding these brands if possible since there are safer alternatives listed above.
Car Seat Toxicity Ratings Overview: The Results You Want to See
Recommended Car Seats: Three seats received the highest rating of “Low Concern”. These three seats were found to contain:
- no flame retardant chemicals,
- no components containing bromine,
- and no fluorinated substances (e.g. fabric treatments).
|Seat Tested||Type||Fabric Type||Flame Retardant Chemicals?||Components Containing Bromine||Fluorinated Substances?||Shop|
|UPPAbaby Mesa (Jordan)||Infant||Wool blend||None||None||No||Buy Now|
|Nuna Pipa LITE (Fog)||Infant||Wool blend||None||None||No||Buy Now|
|Clek Fllo (Mammoth)||Convertible||100% wool||None||None||No||Buy Now|
Car Seats of Moderate Concern: Seven additional seats received a “Moderate Concern” rating, meaning that they contain phosphate-based flame retardants (which may or may not be safer than halogenated flame retardants), and up to one car seat component that contains bromine. Three of these seats were found to contain fluorinated treatments in the fabric.
Choose from this list of car seats if you are on a budget and the seats listed above are out of your price range. Unfortunately, there isn’t a seat without flame retardants that is under $349 unless you find an occasional sale. I often post about sales in my Facebook group and on my email list as well.
|Seat Tested||Type||Fabric Type||Flame Retardant Chemicals?||Components Containing Bromine||Fluorinated Substances?||Shop|
|Maxi Cosi Mico 30 (Bright Rose)||Infant||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||1||Yes||Buy Now|
|UPPAbaby Mesa (Taylor)||Infant||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||0||No||Buy Now|
|Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB (Circa)||Convertible||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||0||No||Buy Now|
|Britax Roundabout G4.1 (Luna)||Convertible||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||0||Yes||Not Available|
|Clek Foonf (Thunder)||Convertible||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||0||Yes||Buy Now|
|Cosco Scenera NEXT (Moon Mist)||Convertible||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||1||No||Buy Now|
|Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 (Shadow)||Convertible||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||1||No||Buy Now|
Car Seats of High Concern: These car seats were poorly rated, as they were found to contain bromine in two or more components in the car seat. This is not ideal because it increases your child’s exposure to brominated chemicals in areas such as the car seat straps and shoulder pads. Only two of these seats were not found to contain fluorinated chemicals.
If you own one of these car seats, please see my advice below on how to reduce your child’s risk of exposure to these chemicals.
|Seat Tested||Type||Fabric Type||Flame Retardant Chemicals?||Components Containing Bromine||Fluorinated Substances?|
|Baby Trend EZ Flex-Loc (Morning Mist)||Infant||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||4||Yes|
|Chicco KeyFit 30 (Regatta)||Infant||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||4||Yes|
|Eddie Bauer XRS 65 (Viewpoint)||Convertible||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||4||No|
|Evenflo Nurture (Blake)||Infant||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||5||Yes|
|Evenflo SureRide DLX (Paxton)||Convertible||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||4||Yes|
|Graco Contender 65 (Piedmont)||Convertible||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||3||No|
|Graco SnugRide Click Connect 30 (Kyte)||Infant||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||2||Yes|
|Nuna Pipa (Graphite)||Infant||Synthetic||Phosphate-based||6||Yes|
What if Your Car Seat is on the Toxic List?
Don’t stress if your car seat is on the toxic list. If you own a car seat that was rated of high concern, here’s my advice:
- Wash the fabric regularly. If (and only if) your car seat fabric can be washed, I would wash it per the manufacturer’s washing instructions. You can also leave the seat outside in the sun for a couple of days to speed up the off-gassing of chemicals.
- Vacuum your car and car seat regularly. Use a handheld HEPA vacuum to clean the inside of your car regularly. Also, keep a microfiber cloth in your car to wipe down any settled dust (because dust is one avenue for exposure to these chemicals).
- Consider replacing the car seat.
- Ask yourself how long you’ll be using it? I would advise you to consider how long you will be using the car seat before deciding to replace it. For example, if it is an infant car seat and you will be moving up to a convertible car seat within a couple of months, I would probably not replace the infant car seat. (However, I may switch to the convertible car seat sooner than I would have otherwise.)
- How much would it cost to buy a non-toxic car seat? Keeping your budget in mind, does it make sense to switch to another car seat?
A Final Word About Non-Toxic Car Seats
While there’s still a long way to go, the market is changing.
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 or even PFASs. (Or 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 car seat companies. Email car seat companies and let them know that you are not buying their products because of the chemicals found in their car seats. Let them know you want them to introduce a non-toxic car seat without flame retardant chemicals for less than $200.
- Contact your representatives. Let your elected representatives know that you support legislation that overturns these well-intentioned but harmful 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! Encourage others to follow your lead.