Safe Car Seat Guide
Buying a “safe” car seat for your new baby (or your toddler) should be simple, but can be confusing and overwhelming. Obviously, the primary concern is choosing a seat that will protect your baby in the event of a car accident, and I like the Wirecutter for its reviews on items like this.
Of course, here at Gimme, we also feel that it’s essential to look at the chemical safety of every car seat you’re considering. Doing this within your budget can making staying sane a challenge, but we hope this guide will help!
How to Use This Guide
We reviewed seats from ten car seat manufacturers. Most of these did not make seats that were all Good Stuff.
For this reason, you’ll note that in our list of Best/Good/Okay/Bad Stuff below, we’ve categorized the seats by model rather than brand, with the exception of Britax, as all of their seats are Good Stuff (but not Best Stuff).
It’s also worth noting that no car seat manufacture received higher grade then a D in transparency in this report. This is due to the lack of public communication about chemicals and their use, and the fact that not one manufacturer has a public restricted substance list and most do not have a public chemicals policy. We hope this changes in the future.
Toxins in Car Seats
Some of the most concerning chemicals that can be found in car seats are:
1) Flame Retardants
State and federal safety standards (FMVSS 302 and California TB 117) require all car seats and strollers to meet stringent flame retardant standards.
There are two types of flame retardants: halogenated, which include brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, and non-halogenated, which use phosphorus and nitrogen. Research shows that non-halogenated flame retardants are likely less toxic than are halogenated flame retardants.
Several companies are moving away from halogenated flame retardants, and that’s great. Still, we believe that phosphoruss-based flame retardants should be considered as potentially hazardous until proven otherwise, so that seats that contain those.
It can be difficult to meet safety standards without adding chemical flame retardants, but it’s not impossible, and some manufacturers have been able to meet these requirements without the use of toxic materials or chemicals. You’ll learn more about these brands, below.
I’m excited to see so many car seat manufacturers now offering merino wool car seats. Wool is a naturally flame retardant fabric because it is difficult to ignite, and flames are often extinguished in the fibers. Furthermore, wool does not melt, drip, or stick to the skin when it burns.
2) Stain-Resistant Fabric Treatments (PFCs/PFOAs)
Stain-repelling PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) is both massively detrimental to the environment and also linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and immune system dysfunction.
Scotchguard has phased-out PFOS and has replaced it with PFBS (perfluorobutanesulfonic acid). So far, PFBS seems safer, mostly due to a shorter half-life, but studies are still lacking.
Your best bet is to avoid any fabrics treated with stain- or water-repellents.
3) Shock-Absorbing Foams
The foam used in cars seats serves an important function: it absorbs impact when a car accident occurs. The foam used is in almost all seats is one of the following:
- EPS (Expanded Polystyrene, AKA Styrofoam)
EPS is typically treated with halogenated flame retardant and breaks off more easily, and thus car seats made with EPS should usually be avoided.
- EPP (Expanded Polypropylene)
EPP foam is environmentally friendly, apparently non-toxic, and offers impact absorption and high strength properties. Also, EPP foam does not require the use of additional flame retardants.
- EPO (Expanded Polyolefin)
Like EPP, EPO is naturally flame resistant.
You might have heard about other concerning toxins in car seats, including phthalates, PVCs, heavy metals, and more. Fortunately, you can look for certifications on car seats that will ensure that these have been tested for, such as JPMA, Oeko-Tex, and GreenGuard.
The Four Best Brands for a Non-Toxic Car Seat
- Clek: All Clek brand car seats are third-party tested for volatile chemicals/components and all seat covers can be removed and washed. Clek is also the first and only car seat manufacturer with a recycling program so I give them extra props for that. You can see which fabrics/models are Best, Good, and Okay below.
- Nuna Baby: Nuna is a Dutch company, and as of 2019 all Nuna car seats are free of flame retardants. Nuna changed the foam used in all of their car seats (except for the Aace booster) from EPS to EPO (expanded polyolefin), which is naturally flame resistant. Nuna private labels non-toxic car seats for Bugaboo and Stokke, as you’ll see below.
- Orbit: Orbit baby is moving towards using merino wool for their future car seat launches. These will be offered at a higher price point. Currently, Orbit’s infant car seat is Good Stuff, and once they transition to merino wool, they’ll likely be upgraded to Best Stuff. Orbit will be launching a toddler car seat in 2020.
- Uppa Baby: Uppa makes one car seat, called the Mesa. Depending on the fabric, and Mesa might be Best Stuff, Good Stuff, or Okay Stuff. You can read more about these, below.
Any Clek model that comes in the Mammoth fabric is made using 100% Australian Merino Wool, with no added flame retardants. Mammoth is a body-temperature regulating, naturally hypoallergenic, breathable fabric. The infant seat is the Liing. Here’s what else love about the Clek in Mammoth:
- EPP foam is used for impact.
- The seat’s harness/foam/plastics are all free of flame retardants of any kind.
- This model is Oeko-Tex certified.
This model requires no flame retardants, as the fabric is a merino wool/polyester blend. The foam is EPO.
These fabric options are made of 65% and 35% polyester and are naturally flame retardant, meaning they’ve passed federal safety standards without the use of fire retardant chemicals. This is the most affordable of all the Best Stuff, and therefore our top pick!
Starting in 2013, Britax required all of its suppliers to eliminate the use of all halogenated flame retardants from all components used in its car seats and all other products. Britax continues to use non-halogenated flame retardants on all of their seats, making them Good Stuff but not Best Stuff.
The infant car seat model that contains non-halogenated flame retardants is the B-Safe 35 (priced at $200-$230).
Some Britax car seats (both infant and convertible) use a nanotechnology called Nanotex. This changes the fiber on a molecular level, so that it permanently resists spills, stains, and flame. Nanotex does not contain or emit harmful substances.
If you want the Nanotex version, that’s the B-Safe Ultra (priced from $230-$600).
Britax recently introduced its SafeWash Fabric in Otto which is the only fabric that is machine washable (up to 30 washes) and does not contain any flame retardants. This fabric is naturally flame resistant due to the way the fabric is woven together.
That model is the Endeavour (it costs $290-$310).
The Bugaboo car seat is manufactured by Nuna (it’s the Nuna Pipa model). Their infant car seat is called the Turtle. They use merino wool for this particular car seat so that’s an added bonus! The turtle also has built-in adaptors to fit their base/strollers.
While these fabrics are Good Stuff, we cannot call them Best Stuff. Thunder and Slate fabrics:
- Use a polyester-based fabric.
- Include a cryptonized treatement, which creates a built-in moisture barrier for stain resistance.
- Are GreenGuard certified, which means they meet stringent chemical emissions requirements, such as being screened for various volatile organic compounds.
- Is treated with non-halogenated flame retardants.
If you choose a Clek in Carbon or Chrome, you’ll be getting a jersey knit fabric that is treated with non-halogenated flame retardants but no stain-repelling treatments. It does not have any additional certifications.
The Pipa car seat is the only one that can be used with or without a base and therefore is great for airplane travel.
The fabric on the Rava is a bamboo/polyester blend, and the foam is EPO, which means no flame retardant chemicals are necessary.
The G5 comes in fabric from mills that are certified by the Oeko-Tex Standard 100. This seat also:
- Is Prop-65 compliant and meets California’s AB1108 material standards.
- 100% polyester.
- Is not treated with any stain-repellent chemicals or sprays.
- They use EPP foam and non-halogenated flame retardants (phosphorus-based).
Stokke sells one car seat and it manufactured by Nuna. It’s the same as the Pipa. The only difference with this car seat is that it contains built-in adaptors to fit their base/strollers.
These models are made of 100% polyester and treated with a phosphate-based flame retardant.
Graco has several car seats at various price points. Generally, the fabric and filling materials utilized on Graco’s car seats are treated with halogenated and/or phosphorus based flame retardant chemicals in order to meet federal regulations. Graco did not provide any accreditations for chemical safety.
Safety 1st, Maxi-Cosi, Cosco, and Disney Baby car seats are all manufactured by a Dorel Juvenile Group. We were unable to get very much information from them. It seems that they do prohibit halogenated flame retardants, but they do use other types of flame retardants.
They state that they’ve designed these car seats with a wool-free fabric called Pure Cosi, but we don’t understand how they achieve this without chemicals. We need more information before we can call these Good Stuff.
Maia, Founder & CEO
Note: This article contains affiliate links or sponsored content, which means that if you make a purchase, we may earn a commission. We only recommend products that meet our strict standards for non-toxicity and that we use (or want to use!) ourselves. Thank you so much for supporting the brands that make Good Stuff!
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About Cybex – I’ve emailed the company and they confirmed that unless you buy their car seat in the US or the UK, there are no flame retardants used in the products sold in their other markets
Amazing blog it is thankyou for sharing such a wonderful post.
why is the Pipa Lite best stuff and the Pipa just good stuff? There is no difference between the two highlighted her.
I would also like to know this. Thanks!
Incorrect info on Britax. Their Safewash fabric is flame retardant free.
While Britax’s Safewash fabric is free of flame retardants, it is unclear if the rest of the car seat is likewise free of flame retardants. Britain makes no such claim.
I really wish you would answer your commenters.
When you say all models for Britax is that only the infant seat or all there car seats?
I was looking into this one
Britax Allegiance 3 Stage Convertible Car Seat – 5 to 65 Pounds – Rear and Forward Facing – 1 Layer Impact Protection , Static.
I’m curious to know if you looked into Chicco or Evenflo at all. Also, I saw that you said Uppa Baby only has the Mesa but they do also make the Knox and the Alta.
Can you rate Maxi Cosi in your next update?
When my oldest was born I researched flame retardant chemicals in her car seat. At the time I choose the Peg Preggo. While there may be car seats that are less toxic, I noticed that most were infant seats. Babies are only in infant seats for one year. Mine would have been in one less than a year due to height. Children then move into other seats that they have to be in for a much longer period of time. My state requires kids in car seats until 10-12 years of age. I wish you included more of those seats. It is also important to point out that just because the seat has slightly less toxic flame retardants does not mean that it is necessarily a superior seat. I personally feel as if it is safer to rear face a child for the longest amount of time. So with that being said, a seat that has higher rear facing weight limits and a taller shell and harness height would be more important to me. I say this as someone who has purchased non-toxic, organic mattresses for every single one of my children. Chemical exposure is important to me, however so is car safety.
I was curious about Diono brand. I need a slimmer car seat option and they are recommended for that but curious how toxic they are. I’m guessing since they aren’t listed they probably aren’t good stuff…
Check out Clek for slim! I’m a CPST and Diono can be really hit or miss with installation. Sometimes Diono works great, sometimes it’s almost impossible to get a secure install.
What about evenflo?
Did you happen to look at any Chico car seats?
We have the Nuna Pipa infant car seat…why is it consider just “good” not “best” like the other two models?
How does Peg Perego fare?