It’s been a very wet April here in Brooklyn! I hate to rain on your parade, but gear like raincoats, rain pants, rain boots and umbrellas can be made with toxic materials that are bad for consumers, workers, and the environment. In the past, some studies have found worrisome stuff like heavy metals and phthalates in kids’ rain gear. Aren’t I just a ray of sunshine, as usual? 😉
Actually, there’s good news: it appears that the industry is slowly shifting to avoid the worst materials (like PVC/vinyl and toxic waterproofing treatments) in favor of safer ones. However, it makes sense to be careful about your choices of rain gear, especially what you’re buying for kids.
Read on for more information about what to watch out for in rain gear, as well as my top picks for safer rain gear for babies and kids.
What’s wrong with kids’ rain gear and boots?
Sadly, the safeguards that limit toxic substances in kids’ toys don’t apply to products like rain gear and rain boots.
Here are the most concerning materials to watch out for in rain coats, rain pants, rain boots, and umbrellas:
- Polyvinyl chloride (aka PVC or “vinyl”) is perhaps best known as the plastic material that makes those shower curtain liners that are stinky for weeks after you open them. PVC is also used to make some rain boots (like the clear, light-up ones from Western Chief) and can provide a waterproofing layer on fabric. Some raingear has PVC-sealed seams. PVC can also be used to make colorful patterns and decals on fabrics. Unfortunately, PVC is among the most toxic of plastics. From production to use to disposal, it’s bad for people, wildlife, and the environment. It contains bad stuff like endocrine-disrupting phthalates and heavy metals (cadmium and lead), and this stuff continues to leach out over time to be absorbed through skin and ingested or inhaled.
- Synthetic, petroleum-based rubber is common in rain boots. Most rain boots are a combination of natural and synthetic rubbers. Synthetic rubber is possibly less problematic than PVC, but it still contains often-undisclosed additives (most companies won’t share the details of their proprietary formulas). It’s hard to know what’s in a “rubber” boot.
- Chemicals from the family of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)—think Teflon and other nonstick coatings on cookware and bakeware —are also used to make waterproof fabrics because they repel water. Many PFCs are bad for people and the environment. Companies like Gore Fabrics, makers of Gore-Tex, are slowly phasing out their use of the most concerning PFCs. In the meantime, you have to watch out for them in raincoats, rain pants, and other waterproof clothing.
What’s the alternative to toxic rain gear and rain boots?
As I mentioned, the good news is that it appears that many companies that produce rain gear and rain boots are shifting away from the most toxic materials. And there are several companies deliberately making safer products for babies and kids. You also have the option of using products that aren’t technically rain gear, but that have water-resistant properties (more on that in a minute).
When shopping for rain gear, look for products that are:
- Lead-free (and/or free from heavy metals in general)
- Free from PFC-based waterproof materials, like PTFE (aka Teflon) and PFOA (a component of Teflon and other materials)
Safer materials include:
- “Natural” rubber: We’ve been told that there’s no such thing as “100% natural rubber” boots, because some additives are necessary to make the rubber material functional, but you can find boots made primarily from natural rubber (rather than mostly synthetic rubber or PVC).
- Nylon and polyurethane fabrics can be inert (stable when not heated) and waterproof or water resistant without the need for the most concerning waterproofing materials.
My top picks for safer rain gear
Below are some of the companies that are making safer rain gear for babies and kids (listed in alphabetical order):
Hatley offers good rainwear and boots for children. Their kids’ raincoats/jackets, pants, and one-piece rain suits are made from polyurethane outer fabric with no worrisome coating, plus a woven polyester lining, and are PVC-free. Seams are heat-sealed with no additional materials (like PVC). Hatley boots, available in toddler and kids’ sizes, are also a PVC-free; they’re a combo of natural and synthetic rubbers, with a high content of natural rubber. The boots are third-party tested to ensure safety and compliance with North American laws. I like their kids’ umbrellas because they have wooden handles, rather than EVA foam handles, and there is no worrisome coating on the fabric. All the photos on this page of my own kids feature Hatley gear!
i play Play Wear has a rainwear line in baby and toddler sizes. Their raincoats and rain pants are Good Stuff because they are made from woven polyester with a polyurethane coating and are PVC-free, formaldehyde-free, and azo dye-free. I’m not as crazy about the umbrellas, because the handle is EVA foam. EVA (aka PEVA) is often marketed as being “safe” and “eco-friendly,” because it’s less problematic than other vinyl-containing materials like PVC, but it still raises red flags and is best to avoid if possible, especially for products that come in contact with little hands.
Puddlegear makes Good Stuff for babies, toddlers, and kids: rain jackets, bib-style rain pants, and waterproof mittens and hats. The primary material is a high-quality, thick, uncoated polyurethane fabric that is PVC free and phthalate free, and the seams are heat-sealed. Unfortunately, Puddlegear does not yet make boots.
Stonz offers several kinds of boots for babies, toddlers and children. We haven’t heard back from them yet about details regarding their materials, but I’m fairly confident that their toddler-sized Rain Bootz are Good Stuff. Stonz states that these boots are “100% natural rubber,” which can’t be fully true, but I do like that they are free from the most concerning stuff—PVC, phthalates, lead, and formaldehyde.
Are Hunter boots safe?
Short answer—I’m not sure, because Hunter hasn’t responded to our questions about the materials they use in their products.
The longer answer is that I’m a little concerned. Hunter lists “natural rubber” on their website as the material used to make their kids’ boots, but the boots can’t be made with natural rubber alone. I also wonder about the materials they use to get the high-gloss, metallic and glitter finishes on some of their boots. Hunter claims to watch out for “restricted substances” in their supply chain, but I couldn’t find any statements that their boots are free from PVC, phthalates, etc.
If you’re a Hunter devotee and don’t want to part with your favorite wellies, check out my three habits for safer rain gear, at the end of this post.
Are Crocs non-toxic?
If you’re someone with a latex/rubber allergy, Crocs makes simple rain boots that are free of these allergens. Unfortunately, the company is really coy about their proprietary material.
They say it’s not EVA foam, and it doesn’t contain phthalates (and a couple of other bad things), but they don’t really say what it DOES contain (beyond using vague terms like it’s “a closed-cell resin”), and the vinyl content is hard to confirm or deny. I’m not too worried about Crocs rain boots since boots would be worn with socks and Crocs material tends not to be as smelly as most rubber mixtures or PVC, but I can’t quite call Crocs Good Stuff.
Do you really need rain gear?
Depending on your climate and how much time you spend out in the elements, you may be able to get by with other materials that aren’t technically rain gear but that have water-repellant properties, such as:
- Wool naturally repels water and provides warmth—that’s why sheep wear it! Wool is one of the materials that kept people warm and dry before plastics came along. Consider wool shirts, coats, pants and socks. The tighter the weave, the better the moisture protection. My favorite brand is Hocasa.
- Other traditionally waterproof fabrics include oilcloth, waxed cotton, and waxed canvas. (But watch out for modern “oilcloth,” which is actually coated with vinyl!) If you’re a DIY-er, you can apply wax-based waterproofing treatments to natural fabrics like cotton and hemp.
- Polar fleece jackets and pants made from inert plastic fibers like polyester can be water repellant.
Three habits for less toxin rain gear
Here are three easy things you can do to make any kind of rain gear safer for your kids:
- When you buy new rain gear, if there is any kind of smell, give the products a chance to off-gas in a well-ventilated area. This is most likely to happen with boots and other rubber products.
- Always wear socks with rain boots.
- Make sure that kids wash their hands when they come inside, especially before eating.
Stay sane (and dry!),