Other Informational Car Seat Posts
Before You Begin
If you're reading this, you're probably just as passionate as I am about keeping your child (or children) safe. Hooray! I'm glad we're on the same page. Please take a moment to read the two paragraphs below before moving on. If it's information you're already aware of, I applaud your attentiveness and hope you can help spread the word! If it's new information, please take it to heart. As one of my favorite quotes goes, "Once you know better, DO better."
Altering your car seat as it came from the manufacturer is dangerous. When you take out a section of foam or add a handmade organic car seat cover and then proceed to use that car seat to protect your child, you are choosing to use YOUR child as a test subject. Why? Because when a car seat is tested, everything on it has a purpose. Every piece of foam, every buckle, and even the thickness and type of fabric the cover is made from play a role in how the car seat protects a child in a crash. When you start adding, removing, or switching things things up, insignificant as they might seem, you're essentially creating a new product which has probably not been tested for safety. You are outrightly voiding the warranty of your car seat and there is no longer any guarantee that it will perform as it was originally intended. In fact, the first time it would be tested for safety would likely be if you (God forbid) got into an accident when your child was using your "invention." Please don't let your desire to protect your child chemically let you put them in danger physically!!!
Secondly, it's a fact that most car seats are not installed or used correctly. I can't tell you how often I see friends turning their babies forward WAY too soon, strapping them into their seats in puffy winter coats, or allowing the chest clip to rest at baby's belly button... just to name a few. That doesn't even begin to address the issue of whether the seat is installed tightly enough, etc. You could have have the safest, most non-toxic car seat in the world but if you're not installing it correctly, it WILL NOT perform as intended in a crash. I'm begging you: read your instruction manuals. Read them ten times. Every car seat has a very different set of specifications regarding height and weight limits, LATCH, recline angles, crotch buckle positions, and the list goes on and on. An even better option would be to find a certified technician to check your installation. You can do that here :)
When I need to find a new product for my son (like a convertible car seat), I can't just go on Amazon, search for "car seat" and buy the one with the best user ratings. I can't just go to Target and buy the car seat that's on sale. I can't just buy the car seat my friends use and love. And here's why:
About 1.5 years ago I "opened Pandora's box" (so-to-speak) and began learning about "stuff." What makes shampoo foamy? Why is there fluoride in toothpaste? Is antibacterial soap necessary? What's MSG? Are flame retardants helpful or harmful? The list goes on. And on. And on! I love knowing; knowledge is power, right? (Maybe?) But as the old saying goes (or perhaps only Spiderman's uncle said it), "With great power, comes great responsibility." Sigh. Just like that, my life became 1000 times more complicated.
When we bought our infant carrier, I used the results of this study to narrow down our choices, and we ended up with the Chicco KeyFit 30 in Limonata, which we absolutely loved using for a year. Unfortunately I've recently been finding articles (like this one) that question the validity of the study, and have decided not to use it to aid me in my search for a convertible car seat because the study is outdated and many companies have committed to change since it was done in 2011, and because it might not have been conducted very thoroughly or well in the first place. Furthermore, Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States tested baby products for toxic flame retardants and our car seat was found to contain high levels of Tris, a flame retardant ingredient which was banned from use in children's sleep garments way back in 1977. So our infant carrier was classified as one of the "least-toxic" in one study but is not so innocent according to another study. Yikes!
1. The car seat must be able to allow Finley to rear-face for as long as possible. I'm passionate about a few things, and one of those things happens to be rear-facing kids in their car seats. It's a pretty cut-and-dry thing: rear-facing is better. Period. End of story. In an ideal world, even adults would rear-face in cars. REAR-FACE YOUR KIDS, PEOPLE! Of course within the safety limits of your car seat, and then continue to practice safe car seat usage once you forward-face. If you have objections (carsickness, legs too long, car too small, child doesn't like it, etc.) this article addresses why those aren't necessarily legitimate reasons to put your child at risk and forward-face sooner than you need to. Okay, end rant. Now, when comparing rear-facing car seats, weight is important, but so are the often overlooked height limitations. If you're interested in comparing height and weight limitations on rear-facing car seats, this post is very helpful!
2. I would love if the car seat was not laden in harmful chemicals, specifically toxic flame retardants. Think flame retardants are a good thing? They save lives, right? Maybe not. In fact, it's safe to say that we as a country have been burned (pun intended) by the the California law TB 117 passed back in 1975 that (in unofficial terms) required practically everything under the sun sold in CA to be drenched in flame retardants, many of which are toxic. The law essentially became a national standard because the state of CA is extremely important economically. (Tags of merchandise will often say "This article meets the flammability requirements of California Bureau of home furnishings technical bulletin 117.") The irony of the situation is that the flame retardants don't actually work. Instead, they're actively harming consumers because unless you've gone out of your way to avoid flame retardants (aka live on the moon, aka it's impossible), you're surrounded by them and the effects are nothing short of disturbing. Thankfully, change is coming! California JUST rewrote TB 117 (now TB 117-2013, which went into effect January 1, 2014). The change doesn't mean that flame retardants will disappear, but it does give manufacturers a little more flexibility and the ability to realistically meet the flammability standards without the use of chemical flame retardants, especially when it comes to furniture and baby products containing foam. Ultimately, we still need to be our own advocates and ASK manufacturers about their use of chemical flame retardants; assume guilt until proven innocent when it comes to these matters. If avoiding them is important to you, be proactive. Not all companies meet flammability requirements by using chemicals; the Boppy pillow and Infantino products do not contain any chemical flame retardants.
Companies I Considered
Orbit Baby: The Orbit Baby G3 Toddler Car Seat was a top choice until I learned that only the fabric is non-toxic. Apparently both the fabric and foam in their car seats used to be Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified, but a some point Orbit quietly switched to a foam NOT Oeko-Tech Standard 100 certified. The Orbit company refuses to disclose what chemicals they uses to treat the foam in their car seats and when an acquaintance of mine had the foam from her Orbit car seat tested independently, she was told that it contained the toxic fire retardant Firemaster 550. Another acquaintance had her supposed "Oeko-Tech Standard 100" foam tested from her Orbit baby seat and it was found to contain TDCPP and TCPP. Bottom line? Orbit is sketchy with their disclosure and they do not have the greatest rear-facing weight limits, so they didn't make the cut for me although I have to say that I love the trendy look of their infant carrier!
Britax: I strongly considered some of the Britax Convertible Car Seats until I learned that the rear-facing height limits of Britax seats are usually outgrown at a younger age than some other car seat brands, which wouldn't have allowed me to meet my extended rear-facing goals! Britax has phased out the use of flame retardants containing bromine, chlorine or other halogens. I can't say that they're fully non-toxic, but they at least see that there is a need for less toxic products and are responding to it. Bravo, Britax!
Clek: I only recently discovered this company. Clek makes the Foonf convertible car seat, which apparently has a GREAT reputation among car seat instructors and technicians. It allows children to rear-face up to 50 pounds AND has one of the highest rear-facing height limits of any convertible car seat on the market, which is impressive to say the least! Some of their car seat fabrics are Greengaurd Select Certified and the Foonf seat is free from all brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. Bonus, their car seats are 100% recyclable and made in North America using mostly North American suppliers/supplies. I emailed the Clek company to ask about their commitment to non-toxic standards and got this response: "HealthyStuff.org is in the process of writing a report concerning the Foonf. So far they have completed all of the testing and deemed our products free from all harmful chemicals." Promising for sure! :)
Graco: Graco claims to have cut back on their use of toxic flame retardants but their commitment to actually doing so has been a little sketchy so I do not consider them a forerunner in the search for a non-toxic convertible car seat. However, Graco does sell several car seats with what are probably the best extended rear-facing capabilities on the market, so don't discount them if chemical safety is not a concern to you.
Diono: Diono is a brand that comes up often in the search for a non-toxic car seat, but there is much controversy surrounding their honesty in disclosing the use of flame retardants on their products (specifically on the foam in their products). An acquaintance that had the foam in her Diono car seat tested found that it contained TDCPP. However, Diono sells a car seat that allows for extended rear-facing so, again, do not discount them if you are not concerned about chemical safety!
Chicco: It's nearly impossible to find information on the chemical safety of Chicco products. They do not publicly disclose much of anything regarding the flame retardants they use in their products, so I never seriously considered them as a company that would meet my non-toxic standards although their NextFit car seat is highly recommended for those not concerned about chemical safety but who want to rear-face for a longer period of time.
What I Purchased
And the winner is... a 2014 Clek Foonf in the "Shadow" color. Why? Because if I can't find something 100% chemically safe, I might as well go for something that is about as physically safe as it gets. I like that the Crypton fabrics are Greengaurd Select Certified and that the seat is 100% recyclable. I anticipate that my son will be able to remain rear-facing until he is 4+ years old (I'm following in the footsteps of the Swedish). It fits perfectly into the back of our Honda Accord even when my husband is driving (and he is TALL). I love the clean look of the seat, and installation is easy after you get the hang of it. Not going to lie, the first few times weren't easy! I read the manual cover to cover and there was nothing weird or tricky. Just a fantastic seat that I highly recommend. I know my son is not being exposed to brominated or chlorinated flame retardants, and I love the Greengaurd Select Certification of the fabric! My second option would have been a Britax but I'm glad I didn't end up with one because Britax convertibles are generally outgrown rear-facing by height at a younger age than a seat like the Foonf would be. Confession? I actually purchased a Britax Pavilion and then sold it to a friend the same week because I thought it was grey in the store but it was PURPLE in the car! I put my son in pink diapers, but a purple car seat was a little too much for me. Anyway, it gave me the chance to do a little more research and we ended up with the Foonf :)
I have a feeling we'll have more options for non-toxic car seats in the near future. Remember that you vote with your money; when you spend money on products that seem to be responding even a little to the need for less-toxic products, you give them your vote to keep doing so with the hopes that other companies will follow suit! And finally, I would be most concerned with buying a rear-facing car seat if you can only afford to focus on one area. Trust me, it's worth being passionate about. In Sweden, where children rear-face until they 4+ years old, the mortality rate for rear-facing children involved in car crashes is almost zero each year. That's serious stuff! Happy searching :)