The Car Seat Conundrum

Car seats save lives. So why should they come with a chemical downside?

We need a second car seat for Maya. I worked on auto safety issues for a number of years, and am very particular about car seats. (See my Persnickety Letters on Products post for an amusingly long exchange with a nice man from Sweden who was trying to help me compare U.S. and European safety and chemical rules. More on that in another post.)

Due to their good ratings from Consumer Reports, the fact that they are rear-facing for longer than other car seats on the market (which is critical to preventing neck injury in frontal crashes, the most common kind of car crashes), and that they also have good side-impact protection, we own a Britax Advocate 70 CS, new when Maya was born in 2010. It is a convertible infant-to-toddler seat with a hefty pricetag, but you only need to buy one, and it comes in a cute cow pattern, Cowmooflage. LOL.

But then there are the chemical flame retardants. Britax is among the worst in this category. And the study in 2011 found lead in the buckle. Then I read a recent announcement that Britax will phase out the use of harmful flame retardants by the end of 2012. That’s great news, and shows the power of Healthy Stuff’s studies in shining a light on this issue.

I also checked out Orbits, the other brand without chemicals, but it gets mixed reviews from parents for comfort and stability. And the base and seat are around $600. Whew.

So, what to do now?? Well, someone on our parents’ listserv is selling a fairly new Britax for $75 — I think I’ll get that one for now rather than something new, and hold out for the end of this year, when we can at last buy a Britax seat without flame retardants in it.

Just another sub-optimal waiting game, until the market allows parents to make a smarter and healthier choice. And then more stuff for the landfill, when we will replace our two current seats with ones that don’t have chemicals in them. (Will post in the future about the ethical dilemmas involved in reselling “toxic” baby stuff…)

In the meantime, I’ll air out the car when we get in, won’t let her hang out in the car seat unnecessarily, and wash her hands after we drive a while. (There are also covers you can buy, but I’m not so clear that they will fit well, and we don’t have one.) Even with all that, sometimes she’s a sweaty mess back there. And I know too much to think its ok.

If other folks have tips on this, I’d love to hear them!

36 thoughts on “The Car Seat Conundrum

    • Yes, with caveats. The Diono foam is allegedly not treated, according to the company. The fabric ALL is treated — two fabrics, as above, have flame retardants woven into the fabric, rather than sprayed on, but they all are treated somehow. [Update: please see full thread below for a possible correction to this assertion.] The discussion above is a bit misleading on this key point. Nonetheless, we recently traded in our Britax for a Diono in Storm, which I still keep rear-facing although my daughter is 3. It’s more comfortable for her, and when we washed the Britax seat cover, it shrank badly and became ill-fitting and uncomfortable. The Diono folks sell an extra seat thingy, which is nice for accidents. I don’t have personal experience with Orbit, sorry.

      • I have been very interested in the Diono Radian RXT (Rugby colour) and was concerned about your post that they still use FR only it is woven into the fabric and not sprayed on afterwards. I called them about this exact question and the Rep I spoke with insisted that in their Radian RXT colours Storm and Rugby their are absolutely no FRs. She said nothing is woven into those two fabrics. She further explained that the inherent nature of this mesh material they use makes the fabric flame resistant without the use of chemicals. So now I am thoroughly confused. I do know about Nollie covers and have used her for my older kids booster seats but was hoping to save myself that extra cost this time. Orbit is too much money especially since I will then still need to purchase a booster in the future.

        How did you get your information about the Storm and Rugby still being treated?

        Please Help this Frustrated Mom.

      • I too would like to know how you found the information that the Diono in Storm had the flame retardants woven into the fabric. Thanks for the best blog on the subject of finding non-toxic consumer products.

      • Yes, sorry! I’ve been meaning to answer this. I’ve been calling Diono and trying to get a hard confirmation on this before I say more. I haven’t gotten through.

        When I had them on the phone before, they only said there were no “added” flame retardant chemicals to those fabrics. This could be true. But they would still need to meet federal flame resistance standards for car seats. So either it is correct that the fabrics are “naturally” flame resistant, which some natural fibers, like wool, are, or that the fabric has not been sprayed with flame retardants but somehow still is flame resistant in a way that satisfies federal law.

        I own the Diono in the supposedly better color of Storm, and it sure does not feel like natural fibers. It is some variety of polyester, I am guessing, which is petro-chemical based (scroll down on this page for ethylene glycol:, and typically flammable. And they claim there is nothing in the foam.

        So how are they meeting the standard? It’s not clear to me. They say only that “Our car seats feature a proprietary flame-retardant process which independent testing has consistently rated very well in terms of low toxicity and out-gassing, yet we are always looking for ways to improve. ”

        If there is an answer — it may be this: when researching flame retardants in children’s pajamas (which we avoid by buying cotton or tight-fitting pajamas, not the fuzzy kind, which has generally been treated), I tripped across a link to a page from textile manufactures that indicated that some polyesters are considered flame retardant by design:

        “Some polyester fabrics are considered permanently flame retardant. This is because the fabrics are manufactured utilizing fibers for which the flame retardant properties are built directly into the molecular structure of the fibers. Fabrics manufactured utilizing Trevira™ and Avora™ polyester fibers are considered inherently or permanently fire retardant. ”

        If this is what they are using, then it could actually be better. It certainly means that brominated treatments of other chemicals may not be needed. I just want confirmation from the company, if I can get it, before posting that this is the case.

        Thanks for pressing on this — really helps me to know what folks are interested in! And thanks for your kind words about the blog.


      • Christine, thank you for posting here!!

        And…Ack!!!! I just re-researched infant car seats for Baby #2… Narrowed by search to Britax, Nuna Pipa, and Cybex Aton 2 because of the flame retardants. Cybex fit the best, so we spent the $$$.
        In April 2015, Cybex wrote me: “Cybex uses a proprietary solution that does not contain halogenated (brominated or chlorinated) flame retardants and is free of the heavy metals lead, antimony, arsenic, chromium, cobalt, copper, mercury, nickel or tin. Stiftung Warentest (a German independent consumer testing institute) tested European products, including car seats, for hazardous substances, and CYBEX is proud to say that our car seats received only top marks.”

        I do remember two years ago when we purchased my son’s convertible, learning that Clek has fluorinated retardants…which I learned are also halogenated, so just as bad, but just not tested for by Healthy Stuff??

  1. How do we continue to put up with this? We are legally required to poison our children?! Am I the only one that is Outraged by this? We all seem to be trying to find this elusive, healthy option that we KNOW we deserve and yet we comply with these disgusting regulations instead of screaming “How dare you!” How dare they force us to put our children at such risk when they are so susceptible to all of these chemicals and poisons. They are more susceptible than adults. How are we not suing our governments (I’m Canadian) for causing cancer, allergies, immune disorders, neurological disorders, etc with all of these purposefully poisoned products? It is Unnecessary and we don’t want it so why are we buying it?! Literally and figuratively. I am so exhausted by their placating. They don’t care about our health, they only care about profit. If you refuse to purchase their product, they will be forced to make a product we WILL purchase. In the case of a mandatory carseat, the villain would be our government officials, who force us to purchase a known toxic product but who won’t safely regulate said products. We are stupid. And trying to avoid the problem makes us more stupid. We should be writing our politicians not some carseat company who cannot change what he is legally required to produce. If you want to see a change, STOP PURCHASING ANY FOOD OR NON-FOOD PRODUCT THAT ISN’T ORGANIC. Don’t buy furniture, food, clothing, make-up, cleaning products, candles, decorations, gardening equipment, camping equipment etc that is not certified Organic and see how quickly our world becomes POISON FREE!!!! Then, at that point, a Poison free-carseat would be only logical. PS, Wool, being a natural flame retardant, would more than suffice in car seats.

  2. Well, after combing the country for any non-pink convertible car seat still available from the 2011 list, I finally decided on the Safety 1st Lemans. The “65” model rated by wasn’t available anymore, but the “70” (higher weight limit) was. I compared many of the brands and found Safety 1st was much more consistent in having low levels or complete absence of most of the compounds healthystuff tested for (including lead). This was in contrast to brands like Britax where even different models of the same color (cowmooflage) varied greatly. This “consistency” across the brand made me feel more comfortable with the brand as a whole, even though I couldn’t purchase the exact model healthystuff tested in 2011. Although the testing on does show the Safety 1st Lemans seat has some bromine, the amount (190 ppm for seat and 26 ppm for clip) is far far below the 1,000 that they say indicates the use of brominated flame retardants. Given all this, this is the choice I made for my son. Just thought I would post my logic here, especially as this car seat is readily available at Babies R Us. Good luck everyone.

  3. Pingback: At Long Last: My Greener, Healthier Baby and Toddler Supply Guide | Laura's "Rules"

  4. More from Aarti:

    Dear Laura,
    Thank you so much for your work and for sharing your research & analysis with us on your blog! I participated a bit in the comment section of your post regarding car seats and flame retardants.

    The information I’ve gathered doesn’t give me high hopes.

    The Clek Foonf has Crypton fabric, which is Greenguard certified, but which clearly has chemicals to make it ‘life-proof,’ along with fluorinated retardants.

    Diono’s Radian car seat is available in two colors (Storm and Rugby) that “do not have any additional flame retardants” (phone conversation).

    As I commented at your website, the Britax representative said Britax “adheres to the strictest regulations there are in the world,” and has since last year.
    As popular as Britax seats are, actually using one drove me crazy when we installed it, and other brands provide a little more legroom for rear facing.

    Orbit Baby stated in an email reply that their seats are “certified by the Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 to be completely free of PBBs, PBDEs, TRIS, TEPA, HBCDD, SCCP, and TCEP. The only flame retardants used in our certified fabrics and foam have been thoroughly tested and approved by the International Oeko-Tex Association, and you can find this list of chemicals on their website:” The exact chemicals are proprietary; I requested further information over the phone, and it’s possible it’s property of the manufacturer. I’ve been corresponding with Veena at the Green Science Policy Institute, and she said Orbit only claims to not use brominated.

    Even if companies are moving away from brominated and chlorinated, we cannot know what they are using and what the effects will be. I just wonder if, at this time, it doesn’t matter which brand I choose, even among Chicco which cannot answer the questions and Dorel which must be using PBDEs. And of course there are all the other chemicals that can be in the seats!

    Safety cannot be known either since exact safety ratings aren’t released, and Consumer Reports isn’t reliable. Also, I posted questions at Great car seat experts at that site!


    My reply: May 10

    HI Aarti, Wow, what a great email chock full of information. Do you mind if I post this?

    A few questions — why isn’t Consumer Reports reliable, at least as to safety tests, in your view?

    On the flame retardants, it certainly seems unsatisfying, doesn’t it? I really haven’t the slightest idea of the way forward on this one. I’ll mull it over some more.

    Thank you SO much for all this great research!


    May 23 (6 days ago)

    to me
    Hello Laura,
    I was delighted to receive your email, and I apologize for the great delay in this reply.

    I don’t mind at all if you post the info.

    I have spent a lot of time on, and gathered that the CPSTs didn’t find Consumer Reports reliable based on their testing procedures. But, now that I’m searching for such a post, I can’t find one. There is this post that the latest CR has improved:

    And the other email she forwarded:

    —– Forwarded Message —–
    From: WTC Volunteer
    To: aarti
    Sent: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 8:27 AM
    Subject: Fwd: source for something on your blog

    Hi Aarti,

    You’ve really done your research.

    In answer to questions 1 and 2, the companies have stated that they have phased out Tris and brominated compounds. We expect independent testing to hold them accountable. The state Department of Ecology is doing that testing now and so is an independent group. DOE generally publishes their results electronically, on their website. You should look for it in the next few months.

    3, Yes, it is entirely possible that the toxic fire retardants have been replaced with other halogenated chemicals.

    And 4, the remaining brands under Dorel have also pledged to take the same steps.

    Unfortunately, as you suspect, only repeated testing will show whether the companies stick not only to the letter but the spirit of their commitments, replacing known toxic ingredients with non toxic or least toxic ones.


    Susan, volunteer
    Washington Toxics Coalition

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Lisa
    Date: Mon, May 13, 2013 at 9:11 AM
    Subject: Fwd: source for something on your blog
    To: WTC Volunteer

    Hello, Thank you so very much for your work and for sharing it. At the following url this is stated: As of January 2013, a number of car-seat companies have phased some toxic flame retardants out of their products. Graco has phased out Tris chemicals and Firemaster 550; Eddie Bauer, Cosco, and Safety 1st car seats are free of Tris compounds and brominated flame retardants; and Orbit Baby sells car seats and strollers without chlorinated or brominated flame retardants. 1. Have you confirmed this, or was it stated by the companies that they planned to do this? 2. Britax also made a similar claim. I have been unable to confirm whether it is true. 3. Is it possible that these fire retardants have just been replaced with other halogenated chemicals (e.g. fluorinated as Clek uses)? 4. Dorel is the parent company for Eddie Bauer, Cosco, and Safety 1st. Have the remaining brands under Dorel also taken the same steps? Thank you! Sincerely, Aarti Pani

    I just want to say that readers like Aarti are a treasure and inspiration to me!


  5. I have two children in toxic convertible car seats, one of which is borrowed and needs to be returned. I’ve been dragging my feet on this, hoping Britax would finally come out with a safe product, but at this point I really have to make a choice and purchase something.

    Having read this string of comments, it appears to be that the choices are as follows:

    Britax is out because they will likely replace one toxic chemical for another toxic chemical, if they ever do make their promised changes.
    Clek is out because of the fluoro chemistry.

    That leaves Orbit and Diono Radian in the Storm and Rugby colors.

    I’ve poured over the claims made by these two companies, but it seems that they focus mostly on the safety of their fabrics. I assume that fabric is the most crucial area because of contact with skin and food, but what about the flame retardants inside? What are these two companies using? Will toxic chemicals still leach out?

    What about buying the Canadian version of these car seats (our state borders Canada)? Do the Canadian products still comply with US FR standards?

    I have to make a decision here, but having already purchased one toxic expensive Britax, I hate to throw good money after bad. Any thoughts out there?

  6. New comment from a reader:

    I have Britax too.
    I had new covers made (search Etsy) – there are a few companies. Elizabeth Park Designs (a nice mom) made mine. Just ask how long to fill your order. I also ordered a natural latex bed topper (a second with defects that was cheap) from a latex company and cut pieces of natural latex for under my 4 car seats and our neighbor’s.

    Thanks again for all your research and advice. You rock!!
    Brenda (B’s mom)

  7. Thank you for this blog – we are grappling with which car seat to get and I was about to get the Recaro based on reviews but after looking at the posting on FR I am rethinking this. Was wondering what you thought about Car Seat Lady’s view on the posting. I think she makes some valid points. That being said, I think all car seats have to have some level of FR even Diono because of regulation no? I mean, I don’t want FR’s in my house but if there was a place to allow it, it seems like the car seat (if ever there was a crash and fire) would be the place that it might be OK (trust me, I hate saying that!). I’m still not buying a Recaro though….

    • I am also grappling with convertible car seats. I had chosen a Graco infant seat, with input from Healthy Stuff. Several months later, I was disappointed to learn about FR and the exposed foam problem, as well as HealthyStuff’s limitations. I don’t want to repeat my mistakes, but am feeling very stuck in the research process. Are Dionos, Orbits, and Cleks the best options? Do you get more safety from Foonf, or is it just expensive and trendy like a Bugaboo stroller? Do you recommend any other sources? Is there a way we can exchange contact info privately to help each other?

      • Hi Aarti,

        I’m looking into this again. I love your idea to work together. My email is lmaccleery * at * gmail. Please let me know what you’re finding out! Cheers, Laura

    • I agree that the car seat lady’s points about discrepancies in the data are interesting. I obviously don’t think its right to diminish exposure concerns by pointing to the fact that the harmful chemicals are also in cribs, etc. Children can spend long hours in car seats on road trips, etc., and she’s too dismissive on these factors.

      Here’s how I balance it: The car seat protects Maya in a crash, and that’s essential. So I care a lot about the safety ratings, particularly side impact. And Maya, at 2 and a half, is still facing backwards.

      I personally doubt that the FRs do much, as the car is already doused in FRs, and the federal standards on fire resistance do not test cars with car seats in them — the car has to perform in a certain way so as not to ignite unless the crash is catastrophic. I’m not sure that there is any testing that shows that the FR chemicals do slow down a fire — the tests on much larger pieces like sofas show they are ineffective. So it’s also possible that no balancing of interests is required.

  8. I received this email reply from Clek regarding the Foonf:
    The fabric on the Foonf is either Crypton fabric (Snowberry, Dragonfly, Blue Moon, Shadow, Flamingo and Paul Frank Editions) or vehicle-grade fabric (Drift, Phantom)
    The Crypton fabrics are Green Guard Select Certified and use a fluoro-chemestry opposed to bromine or chlorine. They are formaldehyde free.
    The foam used is an EPP foam and has naturally low flammability.

  9. Laura I have to say I stumbled upon your blog today and boy am I happy I did. I no longer feel like I’m insane about emailing companies asking about their materials, their ingredients, their environmental policies etc. most if the times I get the runaround. Sometimes I find a great company that actually answers my questions. But I digress… I am in the process of buying a carseat for my toddler and am horrified with the use of toxic chemicals. Have you made a decision on which carseat you’re going to buy? I was quite interested in buying a Swedish one but with the lack of info on chemicals I don’t know. Look forward to hearing from you. Again, I LOVE your blog and love that I’m not alone in the quest for safe products for my daughter.

    • Hi Natalia, Thanks so very much for the kind words and no, you are NOT alone. There are a ton of us and more all the time as the word gets out… On the carseat, I have to admit it’s a tabled question at the moment. I have in mind to check out Orbit as an alert reader helpfully let me know that you do not in fact need two parts. But I would like to know from them how they meet the standard and to check the safety ratings from consumer reports, if available. I ended up punting on the poor Swedish dude who answered all my questions because it was going to cost $500 plus or minus for the car seat plus several hundred in shipping and then, because only car seats that meet US standards can actually be legally imported, a customs person could have stopped it at the border and sent it back and I would have lost it all. I admit, that’s probably a slim possibility, and my insurance company (Geico) said they didn’t care for their purposes if the seat wasn’t legal. Technically, you could be cited by the police for having a non-compliant seat, though. It just seemed like such a hassle, even though the Swedish seats were better on the rear-facing piece and safer on the chemicals. Hope that’s of use to you! All best, Laura

  10. Hi again Laura! We are working to replace all the furniture in our lives that contain flame retardants. Household furniture within a month and car seat soon to follow! YAY! I just want to be clear before I go make the actual car seat purchase. If I purchase the same car seat from Diono that you mention, I don’t need to do anything special do I? Don’t need to let them know I want one free of FR’s or purchase one from a Canadian store…anything like that? Thanks for the info! (And thanks for making me neurotic. I mean that as a compliment! We are healthier because of you! Poorer, but healthier!)

      • I just called and spoke with a Diono customer service representative and she stated that consumers do not have to do anything special — storm and rugby are without the chemical flame retardants listed on the previous link. Yay! Many thanks as we are now awaiting our storm convertible diono seat!

  11. Just heard this from a wonderful reader via email:

    Your blog has been a tremendous resource for my family and extended family! I am also in the market for a flame retardant free car seat and saw on your blog that you were also searching for one. Just wanted to pass on some promising info I got re: the Diono company (formerly Sunshine Kids). Their Radian car seats are made w/out any chemical flame retardants in two colors, because the fabrics for these colors are naturally flame resistant due to the weave (see I called the company and confirmed this statement this morning. We just got our Radian RXT in the storm color and it seems great so far — has a steal frame, is convertible + booster so will last a long time, and is rear-facing up to 45 lbs. It came highly recommended by two certified car seat safety technicians, both of whom said it’s especially good for long and lean babies (which my daughter is).

    Just wanted to pass on the info for your own search and for your readers!

    • The Radian RXT is the one we just decided on last week for our daughter. I was very disappointed when I had called Britax after the 1st of the year looking for confirmation that they removed the 2 chemicals they promised they would, only to find out they haven’t! The rep told me they plan to phase out the chemicals by the end of January and hopefully the new seats will be available sometime after February, if I remember correctly. The delay is absolutely rediculous.

      • Thank you for posting this update. It is disappointing, as in February, I was told by a Britax representative that Britax adheres to the strictest regulations there are in the world, and has since last year. While she didn’t give any more details, she did suggest that I purchase a seat manufactured in 2013 just to be sure. Your information and her vagueness is making me second-guess.

    • I would be very careful – sometimes the fabric used is safe but the flame retardans in the foam of the seat are toxic. I fell victim to this trick with Peg Perego. There is information out there that Peg Perego fabrics are certified free of harful substances but turns out thier foam is treated with Chlorinated Tris (this ofcourse is kept hush hush). I have been emailing them for several weeks now and nobody can confirm that the foam is free of toxic cancer causing flame retardants… Per thier last email to me it will take another 3 weeks to hear back from the manufacturer of the foam…. we shall see

  12. Great blog, Laura. I identify with so many of your concerns and it’s interesting to see how all of us toxic-avenging mamas have our own “styles” in dealing with them!!

    One thing to note:

    We are in the market for a new toddler convertible car seat and decided to go with the Orbit. First of all, you don’t need the base at all! This brings the price down considerably and even comparable to the Britax seats. But the DEALBREAKER was the fine print in Britax’s statement. They are committed to banning (or reducing??) BFR and CFR chemicals….but they don’t say anything about what they will replace them with. I have called and written to them with no luck. They will not discuss what chemicals they ARE using. It’s a marketing scam, very similar to the person who posted a plea for IKEA in the comments of one of your couch posts.

    Anyhoo, I hope you find this info helpful and thanks again for the great reads.

    All the best,


    • Jeannie, So nice to hear from you! Do you have a blog also? If so, I hope it’s on my blogroll, and let me know if not….

      Given that it is January 2013, this was next on my list to research! I am incredibly disappointed that Britax will not be transparent about what they are using — of course, that in itself is decent evidence it’s not publicly defensible as a choice! I will write and call myself, to have the direct proof. But I don’t doubt what you are saying. Awful! I will look again at Orbit. Have they said what they are using?

      Cheers — Laura

      • My sister just ordered me a Diono RadianRXT in Storm. This company will not divulge what chemicals they are using either. Apparently, they do not make the foam so they cannot confirm what is in it. Therefore, how is this product any better than the Britax? No matter where I look I cannot find any concrete or independent information on the FR’s or lack of in Diono’s carseats. If a company doesn’t shout from the rooftops that their product is exceptional in the Toxicity department, it’s because they are FAR from it. When they skirt the issue with the consumers, that should be grounds for complete boycotting. I trust the ones that are at least honest about their poisonous products as opposed to the snakes that lie to us while charging us a fortune to sit our children in their chemicals.

  13. Does this mean that theoretically any of Britax’s car seats will be less toxic as long as they are manufactured 1/1/13 or later? Do you know if they will be getting rid of the lead in the buckles as well, or just removing the harmful flame retardants?

    • Hi and thanks for writing! Theoretically, it does. Here’s exactly what Britax said:
      “BRITAX stands by its commitment to expand its specifications to focus on reducing and/or eliminating the usage of all chemicals containing bromine or chlorine to all components, not just those that are in close or direct contact with children. This new specification has several challenges, but we fully expect that all suppliers will be compliant by the end of 2012.” — But please note that they say “fully expect” — I’ve been waiting to buy a new seat and will confirm with them again before I get it.
      I don’t think this commitment covers the lead issue, as they only specifically call out the chlorine and bromine. Grr. All best, Laura

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