How and Why to Avoid Toxic PVC (Vinyl) Plastic in Every Day Products

Why go to all the trouble to avoid toxic PVC (vinyl) plastic? Lead. Phthalates. VOC’s. Dioxin. Just for starters. Learn how to reduce your exposure by avoiding these common sources of soft, flexible PVC.

 

 

Why go to all the trouble to avoid toxic PVC (vinyl) plastic?  Lead. Phthalates. VOC's. Dioxin. Just for starters. It's nothing to mess around with, especially considering that these chemicals are well-established carcinogens and endocrine disruptors that wreak havoc on growing children.  We're talking about developmental damage here, as well as damage to the liver, central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems.

The bummer is that PVC (#3 recycling code) is found in an unthinkable number of everyday products and there are very few safer alternatives that really get the job done.  This creates a nearly impossible task for concerned parents who would love to be able to make quick substitutions.

But as we always say: this is a journey.  The idea is to start by making one change at a time.

You can make a difference right away by keeping an eye out for these common sources of soft, flexible vinyl – the most problematic because of the stabilizers (like lead and other heavy metals) and plasticizers (like phthalates) required to make it more pliable.

P.S. PVC is also very common in children's school supplies like lunchboxes, zippered pencil bags, nap mats, laptops, 3-ring binders and backpacks, so be sure to watch for it there too!

Inflatable toys, pools and air mattresses

We've found that almost all inflatable toys are made from PVC (usually listed as Vinyl). In fact, we didn’t find a single one made from an alternative material, as there still doesn’t seem to be a suitable substitute even after five years of searching.  Some air mattress manufacturers, on the other hand, are making big strides in safer options.

Find safer pool toys and air mattresses.

How (and Why) to Avoid Toxic PVC Plastic in Everyday Products

Teethers, baby dolls, actions figures and “rubber duckies”

It's so disappointing to see the amount of PVC in products made specifically for young children to mouth and play with.  Do you remember that addictive smell your brand new baby doll always had?  That's the quintessential smell of PVC.  Now that you know, you can check for problematic toys before you buy them!

Find PVC-free teethers, dolls, and bath toys.

Waterproof mattresses and mattress covers

Baby mattresses and covers are commonly made with vinyl.  It's super important to avoid toxic plastic in this area since babies spend so much time sleeping in full contact with their mattress.  You also need to watch out for those that are described as having a “membrane” because they're usually made of vinyl.

Find PVC-free baby mattresses and mattress covers.

Vinyl flooring

Indoor air quality is an important consideration because we spend about 90 percent of our time indoors. The EPA says that in the average home, levels of organic pollutants are two to five times higher than outdoors.  Vinyl flooring can be an enormous source of off-gassing in your home.  The good news is that linoleum flooring looks and feels much like vinyl, but it’s an eco-friendly choice that is durable, biodegradable and made with natural materials such as linseed oil, limestone, tree resins, natural pigments, wood flour and jute.

Learn more about it.

Shower curtains and bath mats

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) released a study a few years back, “Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell,” where they revealed that PVC shower curtains can release over 100 toxic chemicals.  It was shocking to learn that some of those chemicals were found in the air a full 28 days after a PVC shower curtain was unwrapped and hung!

Find PVC-free shower curtains and non-slip bath mats.

Commercial plastic wrap

The major plastic wrap brands (Saran, Glad, etc.) are made from low density polyethylene (LDPE, #4) which is considered a safer plastic. But with a little digging, you’ll quickly find that most of the plastic wrap used by supermarkets is made from a PVC based plastic (#3), not to mention the styrofoam tray (#6) its sitting in!

Learn more and find PVC-free food wrap.

Artificial Christmas trees

Until recently, artificial Christmas trees were cut from compressed polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sheets. Now there’s a newer technology that allows manufacturers to create branch tips that are made from injection-molded polyethylene (PE) plastic using copies of live tree needles. It creates a more realistic look and feel, while removing worries of toxic PVC, a win-win!

Learn more and find PVC-free Christmas trees.

Wall cling decorations

A new baby's on the way and you’re ready to decorate, but everywhere you turn, you’re met with loads of PVC wall graphics that have that overwhelming smell of off-gassing chemicals.  There are loads of safer options in the world of wall clings – you just have to know what to look for!

Find PVC-free wall clings.

Garden Hoses

Your typical garden hose is made from the most toxic plastic currently in existence: PVC (vinyl).  HealthyStuff.org tested 21 different garden hoses and found phthalates (endocrine-disruptors), antimony and bromine (markers of flame retardants used in plastics) and lead.

See the safer options we’ve found here.

Where else have you found PVC hiding in everyday products?

Why (and how) to avoid PVC products.

38 comments
  1. My baby, at 5 weeks old, had pnuemonia and was placed under a plastic tent for 3 days. I recognized the smell right away as pvc but the nurse said that was the only choice, or he wouldn’t have a chance to recover. He’s 8 now and seems okay, but what issues will this likely have for him later on, is something that I never stop wondering about.

    1. Hi Jackie – it’s such a bummer that our children are sometimes subjected to toxic chemicals in the very place they’re meant to heal. In fact, PVC is pervasive in healthcare (IV tubing, blood bags, enteral feeding devices, mattress covers, catheters and much more). As a nurse myself, I’m happy to say that the American Nurses Association is fighting for safer alternatives. And in the meantime, when you smell that quintessential PVC off-gassing around your child in the hospital, be sure you speak up to let them know that you want safer options. The more we educate people, the more headway we’ll make. ~Alicia

      1. what about 8 x 10 pvc photograph sleeves? Are they toxic? And also- very importantly: Are the original Kenner Star Wars action figures made of PVC? I already know the 90’s and 2000’s Kenner figures are non-toxic- but I can’t find out the truth for the original Late 70’s & early 1980’s Kenner Star Wars figures-

  2. This is by far the most uninformed misconception. The “P” in PVC does not mean phthalate. It stands for Poly and all of the flexible toys you are referring to do not contain phthalates as a plasticizer. Typically all toys will use a citrate or adipate plasticizer which is NOT and endocrine disrupter. This is just another uninformed website of people who are making judement descicions on things they do not understand. Do you think ABS is a safer option? ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. Look up Butadiene on google and let me know what you find out.

    1. Hi Green PVC – which industry organization do you work for? Luckily, we have real scientists doing real research to confirm the dangers of PVC that we can refer to and don’t have to rely on your lackadaisical view of toxic chemicals in products made specifically for children. And P.S. No one said the “P” in PVC was for phthalates. Give the article another read when you have a minute. ~Alicia

      1. With all of your infinite wisdom, could you tell me what chemicals you believe are in PVC that cause all of these issues you beleive to be true? PVC is one of the most cost effective flame retardent materials found in everything from washers and dryers to yes catheter tubes, and have been for years. What other Flame retardent polymers would you like to have in your home to protect you from fires and other ellectrical hazards? Asbestos? Bromine? Please provide your data..

        1. Let’s start with you. Please provide links to the research studies you’re referring to that weren’t done by the American Chemical Council (kind of like grading your own test, know what I mean?). Then we might be able to have a real discussion about toxic chemicals like phthalates, lead, dioxin, chlorine and other VOC’s that are commonly found in PVC. ~Alicia

          1. Are you saying that the ACC is not a reputable legislation? FYI, there are absolutley no heavy metals (lead) found in PVC formulations. You are again generalizing with other subsatnces that are known to be the “bad actors” in the industry to try and scare the folks that actually beleive this website. Please let me know which materials you would rather use for flame retardence in your home? Do you have a washer and dryer in your home? It is extremely likely that the control housing and knobs which you touch every day are made from PVC. I only ask that people make informed decisions about the 3rd most widely used polymer in the world behind only PP and PE and not beleive a bunch of scare tactics which are being protrayed on this blog.

            1. I’m saying I want to see independent studies by third party organizations who don’t benefit from the sale of PVC products. I only ask that people make informed decisions too. Here’s more info for our readers who why like to do further research:

              http://www.ussafety.com/media_vault/documents/1264894110.pdf
              http://chej.org/campaigns/pvc/resources/reports-on-the-hazards-of-pvc/
              http://www.ceh.org/?s=PVC
              http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/opmrdd/health/pvc.html
              http://www.motherearthnews.com/green-homes/the-vinyl-debate.aspx
              http://www.watoxics.org/healthy-living/healthy-homes-gardens-1/factsheets/vinyl

              Alicia

              1. Alicia – I applaud you for handing these remarks in such a professional way. Reading this discussion it’s clear who is “really” unwilling to have a true discussion based on studies and facts. There are, indeed, many studies (like the ones you posted in that last comment) that show the chemicals in PVC are negatively impacting our health.
                The REAL generalizations being made about flame retardants… There are many ways to respond to that but the initial comments weren’t even addressed by the other commenter.
                Alicia, loving your responses, to ALL the comments. Keep it coming.

  3. Not to mention, every product that is listed on this webpage is a flexible product. PVC is rigid in nature and needs to be plasticized to become flexible. The most efficient plasticizers being phthalates. The real culprits here are the Phthalates which have been found to be endocrine disrupters by the American Chemistry Council (real scientists as Alicia has brought up). This entire page is putting a generalization on the entire PVC industry because of a few products which are being plasticized by phthalates. Rigid PVC products have no such phthalates and are used in many electrical component housings. Why the generalization? Again, no data to support.

    1. As I mentioned before, I think we should start with your data. Looking forward to reviewing the research studies you’re referring to that weren’t done by the American Chemical Council so we can have a real discussion about toxic chemicals like phthalates, lead, dioxin, chlorine and other VOC’s that are commonly found in PVC. ~Alicia

    1. Excellent question Carrie! Every balance ball we’ve researched has been made from PVC. It’s a difficult plastic to get away from because there’s not really anything else like it. In this case, I’d recommend choosing a balance ball from a company that isn’t using phthalates or lead to stabilize the plastic, then allowing the ball to offgas for 2-3 weeks outside or in the garage before bringing it into the house. ~Alicia

      1. I had some pvc wite builder’s pipe I cut up I hear they mix mercury and chlorine together to form the reactions with acetylene gas to make vinyl then more steps to make Pvc no mercury left after the process but where does the mercury go and where does the dioxins come from and how much is in there and is there a small amount of mercury left or is that converted to another cop compound in the reaction

        1. PVC pipe is different than the flexible PVC you find in things like inflatable toys. Plasticizers (phthalates) are added to make the PVC flexible that are not present in PVC pipe, however, it’s unclear whether the more stable pipe allows migration of chemicals even when there’s no off-gassing, and we haven’t found any reliable information about the sustained presence of mercury in the final product. We hope to find more information at some point, and will update as necessary. ~The Soft Landing Sisters

  4. Assuming that I have to use a PVC product, is it better to use an older product (less offgassing) or a newer product (less breakdown of the material)?

  5. I can’t find reliable sources that explain whether the following things ever contain phthalates. Do you have any information about any of these products?

    – book covers and book jackets
    – DVD covers
    – board books
    – window blinds
    – computer equipment like keyboards, mouses (mice? :-)), and screen casings
    – iPhone and iPad covers (soft and hard)
    – coatings on TetraPaks and ice cream tubs
    – silicone-based nonstick coating
    – magazine covers
    – plastic glasses frames

    (I have many more!)

  6. Hello Alicia,

    Love your article. Thank you for the helpful info. Hoping you could help: baby books seem to have that shiny plastic coating on the cardboard pages. Could it be vinyl? I did read that majority of books that can go into baths are made of PVC. So I wonder of the shiny, waterproof covers on the cardboard pages of baby books or even padded board books are made of PVC. Would you know by any chance?

    1. Hi Emma, We don’t know what plastic board books are coated with. It’s definitely some kind of plastic laminate, but there’s really no information easily available and it will likely take a lot of digging to find the answer. It’s possible the coating is an inert plastic, but it would be safer to purchase children’s books from the Indestructibles line (http://amzn.to/1OknWH3) or from eco-minded companies like these: http://bit.ly/1mYozwO ~Laura

      1. Oh wow, thank you so much for those links! They are really awesome and my husband and I are happy and eager to try them out. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  7. Where else have you found PVC hiding in everyday products?
    Plumbing. Hard pressed to find a plumber willing to put in a non-PVC drainpipe these days, for example.

    1. Yes you’re right that PVC is used in most household plumbing now. It’s not flexible PVC (vinyl) though, which means that it most likely doesn’t use lead as a stabilizer or phthalates as a plasticizer. Hard PVC is very different from flexible PVC that is used in items like inflatable toys, shower curtains and Christmas trees. You can learn more about the specific items we recommend avoiding here: http://nontoxicninjas.wpengine.com/avoid-toxic-pvc-vinyl-plastic/

  8. Marmoleum linoleum now has urethane coatings! Urethane is classified as a respiratory irritant by the EPA. it is linked to a number of health problems. I would choose vinyl without urethane over linoleum with it. There are still a few vinyl sheet floorings that are loose lay and do not have urethane. I intend to use that in my bathrooms. Laying it loose (as opposed to gluing it) will enable me to take it up easily and replace it with something more environmentally friendly when eventually there is such as option. Don’t want tile — there is the grout to deal with and ultimately it all has to be busted up and replaced (expensive and time consuming).

  9. We wouldn’t worry too much about that since it’s most likely made from hard PVC, instead of flexible (meaning it most likely won’t have the same toxic additives to make it flexible), and since it’ll be out of reach of your children.

  10. We can’t say for sure that all off-gassing has occurred, but it’s possible that a large majority of it took place in the time you’ve had the mats. PVC does contain chemicals that can be absorbed into the skin as well, so we recommend trying to avoid it whenever possible.

    As for PVC-free mats, we haven’t researched kitchen mats specifically, but it’s possible that you could use some of the ones we located in our PVC-free bath mat guide found here: http://nontoxicninjas.wpengine.com/in-search-of-pvc-free-bath-mats/. I imagine they could easily be used in the kitchen. Otherwise, you may consider using rugs in place of the mats. Hope that helps!

  11. Hi,

    I received a wool rug for my baby which is completely natural and free of chemicals. The problem is they shipped it in a soft, smelly plastic container and I can still smell it on the wool rug. Should I be concerned? I’ve tried airing it out and it’s getting better. My baby slept on it a few times before I noticed.

    ~Sarah

  12. Hi! I have ordered a wooden hot tub. I will be using essential oils to lean the water, have ordered a drinking water safe hose and pre-filter for the incoming water. It then occurred to me that I didn’t know what the hot tub pipes were made of that circulate the water and jets. I asked and they have said PVC. What are you thoughts? Do you know any companies that create piping for hot tubs that is safe? Thank you!

    1. I’m afraid we don’t have that in-depth information for you, Anna. It’s thought that PVC pipes are relatively stable because they’re hard plastic made without plasticizers (phthalates), but there remains a possibility of migration during heating with any plastic. Let us know if you come across any pertinent information! ~The Soft Landing Sisters

  13. I just paid a lot of money for what I thought was a non toxic bike trailer. Now I find out that the windows are made of PVC. What the heck? Any chance there is a non toxic version of PVC?

  14. Wat is found in Pvc plumbers pipe is it safe to cut is their any heavy metals or dioxins and eat mg is in a kg of mimicry lead dioxins and so forth cheers.

  15. Hello, we are looking into starting an aquaponics system and a greenhouse to try to have a healthier family. YouTube mainly features PVC piping to get water from the fish to the growbeds. The water running through these pipes would be cold, but we still worry about health risks! Can you suggest a safer system of piping for our system? Thank you.

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