While shopping for cribs and crib mattresses you will likely encounter more safety certifications than you can remember. It can be pretty difficult to distinguish one certification from another and understand exactly what those certifications tell us about the safety of a baby product. This is why we’ve spent hours researching the subject, and we’re excited to share what we’ve discovered with you today.
This article will focus on what we would consider the four most important certifications, which you will come across over and over: JPMA, Greenguard Gold, CertiPur-US, and GOTS. The key safety features covered by those certifications are:
- structural safety, protecting your baby from physical harm (JPMA);
- certifications that test for the presence of harmful chemicals in cribs and crib mattresses (JPMA, Greenguard Gold, CertiPur-US); and
- organic certifications which can provide peace of mind regarding the provenance of the materials used (GOTS).
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
The US CPSC is an independent agency of the United States government which “seeks to promote the safety of consumer products”. One of the ways it accomplishes this goal is by issuing and enforcing mandatory standards. These standards extend to all “children’s products“, which are consumer products designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger. For example, every crib sold in the United States must meet the CPSC’s mandatory standards for cribs, which were last revised in 2013.
The CPSC does not have the power to issue certification, however, the mere fact that a children’s product is available for sale in the United States (at least, through official channels) means that it respects the CPSC’s standards. Indeed, manufacturers and importers of children’s products must certify, in a written Children’s Product Certificate based on test results from CPSC-approved third-party labs, that their children’s products comply with applicable safety rules.
What Do the CPSC Crib Standards Mandate?
Per its website, the CPSC adopts “the current ASTM International voluntary standards with additional technical modifications”. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) is a non-profit that develops voluntary standards with input from engineers, manufacturers, consumer advocates, and consultants to ensure the safety of products. There are currently more than 12,000 ASTM standards used around the world to improve product quality, enhance safety, facilitate market access and trade, and build consumer confidence. In the case of cribs, the focus is put mainly on the structural safety, such as requirements regarding size, the spacing of slats, the strength of materials used, the rigorousness of safety testing, etc.
In addition to structural requirements, the CPSC standards impose some limitations on the chemicals present in cribs and other children’s products. Those limitations are quite narrow in scope, however, and only apply to the quantities of lead and phthalates allowed in children’s products.
To summarize, the CPSC does a great job at ensuring that any crib you purchase in the United States is structurally safe for your little one. What it fails to address in-depth is the potential levels of harmful chemicals that can be present in a crib. This was a key factor in our decision to only buy Greenguard Gold certified products, as we will discuss later.
Before the CPSC reviewed the crib standards in 2011, it had been nearly 30 years since the crib standards were updated. This means that cribs sold before 2011 could be much less structurally sound, have certain unsafe features, and contain levels of lead that are known to be harmful to babies. For this reason, you will often hear advice against buying used cribs manufactured before 2011. We definitely support this advice: do not buy a used crib manufactured before 2011! In fact, there are several baby items that we recommend buying used, but a crib is not one of them.
Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association
The JPMA is a trade organization representing over 220 companies responsible for 95% of the prenatal to preschool products marketed in North America. It has been around for over 40 years and, in its own words, “is the voice of the industry on quality and safety for baby and children’s products”. It goes about this in a variety of ways, one of which is the JPMA safety certification. The JPMA currently certifies more than 2,000 products in 29 product categories.
The JPMA certification seal means that a product meets or exceeds the ASTM’s standards as well as all federal and state laws and other retail requirements. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is! To a large extent, the JPMA certification for cribs (and other children’s products) overlaps with the CPSC’s mandatory standards. The addition of “retail requirements” is for the benefit of manufacturers, making it easier for them to sell their products in retail chains without undergoing additional testing.
To obtain and retain certification, a product must be sample-tested by an independent lab on an annual basis and following any material change to ensure it meets all quality and safety requirements. The JPMA also conducts on-site inspections of manufacturers as well as random testing of in-store purchases to confirm product compliance. The frequency and rigorousness of the JPMA’s testing is a strong point of its certification program, in our opinion.
Due to the large amount of overlap between the JPMA certification criteria and the CPSC’s mandatory standards, some manufacturers opt to bypass the JPMA certification to invest in more value-added certifications like Greenguard Gold. A good example is DaVinci – one of our favorite crib manufacturers – who recently phased out JPMA. For this reason, we see JPMA more as a “nice-to-have” as opposed to a “must-have”, unlike the next certification we will discuss: Greenguard Gold.
Greenguard Gold Certification
The Greenguard Gold certification differentiates itself from those we have discussed so far by its focus on air quality and exposure to chemicals. This is extremely important because according to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors and indoor air can be as much as 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. That’s because indoor spaces are filled with VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, which are chemicals released into the air from such things as furniture and construction materials. When it comes to baby products, these chemicals will be polluting your baby’s room and potentially create an environment that is harmful to their development, which is why it’s important to minimize them.
To receive Greenguard Gold certification, products undergo annual testing for compliance with stringent emission levels for over 360 individual VOCs and more than 10,000 chemicals. The testing is done in compliance with the State of California’s Department of Public Health’s “Standard Method for the Testing and Evaluation of Volatile Organic Chemical Emissions from Indoor Sources Using Environmental Chambers”.
The level of chemicals and VOCs allowed under the Greenguard Gold standard are all significantly below published recommendations. Total VOCs are limited to 220 µg/m3, while individual VOCs are limited to 1/100th (1%) of the TLV limits recommended by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). TLV stands for Threshold Limit Values and represents the concentration of a given chemical in the air that someone could conceivably breathe every day without adverse effects. 1% of TLV is therefore a pretty small quantity, and it’s easy to see why the Greenguard Gold standards are the strictest in the industry.
The CertiPur-US program, launched in 2008, was developed by American foam producers in response to substandard foams being imported into the country. Some imported foams were suspected of being made with chemicals banned in the U.S. and there was no way at the time for consumers to know what was inside the foam in their furniture.
The CertiPur-US program seeks to provide comfort to consumers by certifying that the foam they are buying meets standards for content, emissions, and durability and is analyzed by independent, accredited laboratories. All certified foams are tested and analyzed twice in the first year, and then re-certified annually. CertiPur-US also conducts random on-site audits of foam production plants to ensure compliance. Specifically, the tests aim to confirm that foams are:
- Made without ozone depleters
- Made without certain classes of toxic flame retardants
- Made without mercury, lead, and other heavy metals
- Made without formaldehyde
- Made without phthalates regulated by the CPSC
- Low VOC emissions for indoor air quality
While these are certainly all important factors, critics note that they are all already mandated by law. Thus, in effect, CertiPur-US ensures that foams and foam producers comply with all minimum standards mandated by law, but are not looking for anything above and beyond those standards. Unfortunately, legal standards are known to be quite loose and many chemicals can still find their way in foams.
Finally, we note that the amount of VOC emissions permitted under the CertiPur-US certification is more than twice as high as that permitted by Greenguard Gold. As such, we would recommend that you look for mattresses that offer both CertiPur-US and Greenguard Gold certifications where possible. Alternatively, foam mattresses that are entirely manufactured in the US and that are Greenguard Gold certified should offer a somewhat similar level of safety.
Global Organic Textile Standard
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is recognized as the world’s leading processing standard for textiles made from certified organically produced raw materials. It defines strict environmental and social criteria for operations along the entire textile supply chain, from farming to manufacturing, and up to labeling.
The GOTS aims to define globally recognized requirements, allowing textile processors and manufacturers to export their fabrics and garments with one organic certification that is accepted in all major markets. This transparency also gives consumers the power to choose truly organic products sourced from green supply chains.
Products claiming to be GOTS-certified must meet all GOTS criteria. In addition, all facilities involved in the production of such goods must be certified. This could include farms, processors, manufacturers, and traders. The certification is undertaken by independent GOTS-approved certification bodies and facilities are inspected regularly.
The GOTS standard provides key benefits to textile industry workers and consumers and the environment.
Benefits for workers: Workers are not exposed to toxic chemicals when working with GOTS-certified inputs and practices. In addition, the GOTS social criteria are based on the International Labor Organization (ILO) key conventions, which include a ban on child and forced labor and provisions, such as having systems in place to prove they are addressing social concerns, such as grievances.
Benefits for the environment: Organic crops, such as organic cotton, are grown free from pesticides and other chemicals and using less water and energy, which are all positive factors for the environment. Organic crops also contribute to healthier soil, which makes for sustainable farming. The environment benefits as well because organic farming systems can lock CO2 into the soil, producing up to 94% less greenhouse gas emissions. During the processing stage, all manufacturers must avoid the use of hazardous chemicals, have environmental management plans, and treat all wastewater to protect their local water supply.
Benefits for the consumer: First and foremost, we all stand to benefit from organic farming indirectly through the positive social and environmental impacts. For those who can afford it, this can be a sufficient reason to only purchase organic products. Beyond these benefits, however, consumers also benefit from reduced exposure to toxic chemical residues that are present in non-organic products. This is especially relevant when shopping for baby products given their heightened sensitivity to chemical and allergenic products.
GOTS is by far the most comprehensive organic textile standard and we especially love that it emphasizes sustainable farming that is both good for the planet and good for the farmers and other workers along the supply chain.
Making Sense of Certifications
For us, the most important takeaway from this research has been the importance of understanding what certifications actually mean beyond the “marketing” aspect. Companies are keen to sell us products based on certifications, but certifications are not all created equal.
As it relates to cribs, crib mattresses, and other children’s furniture, we think that always opting for Greenguard Gold certified options is the way to go. When adding up all of the VOCs that could be filling the air of a baby’s room, it’s really a no-brainer.
The JPMA certification could be a good one to look for if you are shopping outside of the U.S. in a country with looser regulations to ensure that your crib is compliant with ASTM and other U.S. regulations. If shopping in the U.S., the controls put in place by the CPSC already provide you roughly the same reassurance as a JPMA certification.
The CertiPur-US is only a “nice-to-have” if your foam mattress is manufactured in the U.S. and Greenguard Gold certified. However, if buying a foam mattress manufactured outside of the U.S. you should definitely opt for one that is CertiPur-US certified.
Finally, if your budget allows, we would absolutely recommend going for GOTS-certified products given the social and environmental benefits. That being said, unless your baby has extremely sensitive skin you probably won’t see a noticeable impact of going organic. Just make sure you wash all fabrics well when you first buy them.
We hope this was a helpful summary! We tried our best to ensure that all the information here is accurate but please let us know below if you spot a mistake. And let us know if there are additional certifications you would like us to add to the list!