Play mats: How are their materials made?
As consumers, we are understandably concerned about the chemicals and synthetic materials that go into making the products we use, wear and eat. Rightly so!
When we become parents this desire for health and safety is heightened, and protecting our precious baby becomes our number one priority.
Things we haven’t previously thought about suddenly catch our attention. Unless we live off the land, away from other people and society, it is difficult to avoid everything that has the potential to be harmful to us.
The best thing we can do is be informed, and make educated decisions from this information.
Last month, we looked at the different materials used to make childrens playmats - Play mat material choices: The pros and cons - foam, fabric, silicone and rubber to name a few.
When searching Toddlekind’s website you’ll read phrases like: Made with the highest quality PVC or Free from formamide, phthalates, and BPAs.
But what do those words and abbreviations mean, and more importantly, why is it important that it’s not in your child’s play mat?
You may have heard (or read) abbreviations like EVA, BPA, and PVC, but are not entirely sure of what it stands for, how it’s made or if it's something your play mat is made from.
Today, let's explore some of these words, and get familiar with them.
The types of foam materials used to make play mats are Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Polyurethane material (PU), or Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate (EVA). We have previously talked through their pros and cons - Read Here - but what are they?
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Short for polyvinyl chloride, PVC is a solid plastic made softer and more flexible with the addition of many other chemicals. PVC can affect the human body when ingested or through skin contact. It is probably the most toxic plastic for our health and the environment.
What makes PVC dangerous are the chemical additives that can be used by manufacturers: phthalates, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, cadmium, and organotin. The use of these additives will vary depending on the manufacturer’s country of origin.
Before you ask, yes, Toddlekind’s Splat mats are made from PVC.
However, Toddlekind uses the highest-quality, non-toxic, PVC with water-based UV ink. Our Splat mats are free from phthalates, formaldehyde, and BPAs.
Polyurethane is an open-cell foam that allows air to flow.
You might see some brands talking about their memory foam mats and these are likely to be made with PU which creates a softer surface or extreme cushioning.
Soft play tumble mats and shapes, your mattress or the foam you purchase to add a cushion top to your dining chairs will all use PU foam.
PU form cannot be used on its own. It needs to be wrapped with another durable surface.
Toddlekind’s Playrug is made from extra thick (1.4cm) PU foam which is covered with a Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) film. TPU film is a non-toxic and environmentally friendly polymer elastomer film with high strength, wear resistance, good elasticity, and environmental protection. It also has non-toxic, recyclable, and decomposable characteristics.
Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA)
EVA stands for Ethylene Vinyl Acetate. It is a soft, rubbery, flexible material used in many products, including baby play mats. But you’ll also find it in other things like carpet underlay, life jackets and running shoes because it is an impact-absorbing material.
EVA is considered a safe material used in toys and children’s play mats.
Depending on the manufacturer's location (country) and processors, there is potential for formamide exposure.
A few years ago, Belgium banned EVA foam but other countries have not followed suit based on their own scientific studies. There is a misconception that France has also banned EVA, however, this is not accurate.
France does allow EVA but has the strictest testing standard across the European Union (EU), and Toddlekind conforms to the French standard in the EU, and US standard for the United States.
Toddlekind’s Prettier Puzzle playmats are made with the highest quality EVA foam. We test to both US and EU safety standards to ensure that our play mats exceed safety requirements limiting heavy metals, lead, formamide, and phthalates.
We test every year using a CPSC-approved third-party laboratory. We do this to ensure standards and quality remain high. Our test reports are available should you want to know more at email@example.com
Formamide is a colorless, odorless liquid that is sometimes used by manufacturers when making an EVA product.
Formamide is considered a carcinogen and studies have found at high enough levels it can cause developmental harm.
In its liquid form, it should be avoided because formamide has corrosive properties. During the manufacturing process, formamide evaporates and any traces left behind slowly off-gas over time.
As part of Toddlekind’s product testing and safety processes, Prettier Puzzle playmats are tested straight from the manufacturer. Formamide should be detected at under 100 parts per million (ppm) in the US, and 200ppm in France to be deemed “safe”. Not only do TK's mats exceed testing parameters, but often formamide is not detected as shown below.
People often confuse formaldehyde with formamide, most likely because they both start with “forma". But they are two different chemicals.
While formamide is considered safe, formaldehyde can pose a safety risk when the levels are high enough. Formaldehyde is used in glues for wood products like cabinets and laminate, not foam play mats.
We know BPA is something we don't want in our plastics, especially our baby bottles, but what is it?
BPA stands for bisphenol A, and it is an industrial chemical that has been used since the 1950s to make plastics and resins.
BPA is found in epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics. Epoxy resins are used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans and bottle tops. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles.
Why do you want to avoid BPA? Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers. Exposure to BPA is concerning because of the possible health effects on the brain and prostate gland of babies (in utero), infants, and children. It can also affect their behavior, and research has found possible links with serious health conditions.
While many governments say BPA is safe at very low levels. More and more manufacturers are creating BPA-free products, so avoiding BPA is getting easier. The product label should advise if an item is BPA-free. However, if there’s no reference to it then it is best to familiarise yourself with your country's recycling code for BPA.
The plastic should have a marking to indicate the presence of BPA, if not avoid it.
Phthalates are chemicals that make plastics last longer.
It makes plastic more flexible, transparent, and durable. It is odorless and colorless. Research has linked it to health issues, and it’s one to avoid.
A manufacturer may add flame retardant to combustible materials. Flame retardant is a function, and it is made from a variety of different chemicals, to help prevent fires from starting, or to slow the spread of fire.
While Toddlekind’s play mats do not have flame retardants, some play mats do so it is worth keeping this in mind when making a purchase.
Heavy metal is a metallic element. It is toxic and capable of causing health problems or environmental damage.
Some better-known examples include lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. Lesser-known metals include cobalt, cadmium, barium chromium, selenium lithium, and antimony.
Children’s products should not contain heavy metals on the surface, inners, or base of any materials used to produce them. Keep in mind that some of the above-mentioned can be used in standard PVC.
Leaching and Off-gassing
Leaching is when a chemical leaks from a product, like when BPA leaks into food from plastic containers.
When you open the packaging of something and it has a funny smell this can be off-gassing. It is the release of chemicals from a product.
Everything from air fresheners, to dryer sheets, electronics, and even baby play mats can do this.
If you would like to learn more about play mats, catch up on some of our other posts from this series ...
The two most common play mat styles?
Complementing your decor play mats?
Play mat material choices: The pros and cons
Cover image: Toddlekind Prettier Puzzle play mat: Persian (Smoke)
Images (order of appearance):
Toddlekind's Splat mat: Neutral (Sandstone)
Toddlekind's Prettier playrug (Stone)
Toddlekind's Prettier Puzzle playmat: Berber (Storm) and Sandy lines (Sea shell)