Toxic Foam Play Mats and Puzzles (formamide, recalls, better choices)

A reader recently emailed me about finding safer baby playmats to cushion hard floors.  A few months back, I had another question about this from a different reader.  Since then I’ve been looking for better, safer, and greener options for babies to practice tummy time and kicking on a softer surface.

One reader commented that these foam mats and puzzles do not seem non-toxic, and I have noticed their strong smell before.  Add to that, they often come in vinyl packaging.  We know that vinyl (or PVC) contains all sorts of troubling chemicals, such as lead, phthalates, and other chemicals of concern.

There are many foam play mats and puzzles available (usually made in China), but recently, they have become a concern for many parents.  Belgium and France recalled foam play mats in 2010 because test results indicate unsafe levels of formamide.  What is this chemical?
According to the Deccan Herald:
“Formamide is toxic to the reproductive system and can pose harm to fetuses and infants. Exposure to the chemical can also cause eye, nose, throat and skin irritation.”
The blog Papa Logic explores the recalls history, the health risks of formamcide and concerns about all foam mats.  
Our friends at SafBaby have done some fine investigative reporting about this situation.  They contacted several manufacturers to see if they would share their formamcide test results and the ingredients in their foam mats.  SafBaby shared the responses from companies, and the linked post includes a nice graphic with pictures of certain foam products.  Most companies who tested showed that they have none or little of this troubling chemical in their products.  This is helpful to you if you actually know the manufacturer of the foam play mat or puzzle you have.  Many of us do not.   
I have to agree with SafBaby and Papa Logic here– these foam mats have no place in our homes.  Even if the foam mat you have shows no formamcide, does the company reveal what is in its product?  Usually not. That is “proprietary”.  Well.  If a company can’t tell us what is in a product, how do we know it is safe?  Too many times we are just told to simply believe a company when they tell us their products are safe (Remember BPA and Sigg bottles, anyone?).  It just gets too complicated when a company’s bottom line is involved.  
That is why we need the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011!  Companies would have to prove a products safety BEFORE it goes on the market, so we don’t have to do this dance.  I would love not to have to write about these issues anymore.
What to do?
*Ditch the foam mats and puzzles.  I really don’t like to put things in the landfill.  What else can you do with them?  I struggle with the idea of passing these along as well, to folks who might not know about the safety concerns.  I do wish they were recyclable somehow.
*Find a better option.  Here is a great choice from our friends at Under the Nile. These are remnants from their organic cotton products.  They are machine washable too.  You can get them in varies sizes and have some safer cushioning for your little explorer.  
*Here is another choice, handmade and beautiful, from Peppermint Pinwheels.  There are lots of sweet choices and adorable patterns here.  These are machine washable as well. The picture above is this sweet  super sized double padded playmat.  
Do you know of any safer baby play mats?  Please post your ideas in the comments.  Thank you!

31 Responses to Toxic Foam Play Mats and Puzzles (formamide, recalls, better choices)

  1. Kewal June 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    We got some from – their website says the tiles are “Nontoxic- Made from EVA foam, tested free of formamides, BPA, phthalates. No latex or fire retardants.” We’ve been really happy with them.

  2. Katy Farber June 20, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Thanks, Kewai. I’ll have to check them out.

    But from reading all the posts I mentioned above, I am concerned about all EVA foams now.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Amanda Rae June 21, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    I thought Skip Hop made safe mats. There was another type as well, sold on Eco Baby Buys that was purported to be free of nastiness.

  4. Anonymous June 21, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    We went with layering two cotton rugs from IKEA on our hardwoods. When the baby was young and falling a lot, we topped them off with a comforter for padding. Now we just use the rugs. I like the look of the Etsy padded playmats –I couldn’t find any when we needed them. The issue for us was finding something to cover a big floorspace and the rugs have worked reasonably well. They do slip around a bit but I don’t want to use a foam pad under them, so we live with it.

  5. Jennifer and Shawn Donovan June 23, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    WOW!!! This post was so helpful, especially being a new Mom!! What a great resource, Thank you!!!

  6. Jannifer80 June 25, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    PVC vs EVA? PVC is absolutely safer than EVA.It always caused by mixture materials of the PVC . Not the PVC itself.Some PVC product manufactures are used unsafe plasticizers (softner) such as DINP, DOP..Etc . previously and it became an issue to the public. They can't use those bad plasticizers anymore these days due to regulations.EVA?= Foam Puzzle mats..Did you smell strong ammonia when you open up the packaging? What could it be?EVA is containing lots of toxins (Formamide and more)The Europeans are having more strict standard than us. Near future, we can't see these EVA in North America.

    • Liliya November 8, 2013 at 2:09 am #

      Hi, I know this comment comes late, however don't be sure everywhere in Europe standards are higher…
      I have found something that looked ok to me so I will post the link….. I was looking for something like this as my daughter might be allergic to LATEX so I wanted to make sure there is no latex involved in the manufacturing of the mat.

      • Katy November 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

        Great point to keep in mind a possible latex allergy. Thanks for commenting!


  7. My Urban Child June 26, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    Resources like this are really helpful not only to those who are new moms, but also for those who are planning to become one, check out our product Kids Area Rugs.

  8. Anonymous June 28, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    Do you know anything about these mats at <a href="<br />They claim to be very safe.

    • Sky January 22, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

      Their mats are not safe. It contains formamide, above the limits set by France.

  9. Anonymous July 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    Panda Mat is a large safe ORGANIC play mat that has been designed to contain no harmful chemicals. The best part is they post the resuts of laboratory testing in their blog posts. It has a great design and is very large, almost 30 square feet.
    Check it out yourself at

  10. Anonymous July 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    I would like to know what pediatrics think about this? Not that I don’t trust your research, I do, But I would like to know their input.

  11. papalogic August 3, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    The French Health and Environmental Protection Agency has published the results of its scientific research on the subject.

    The key point is that while the EVA foam mats may not *contain* formamide, the one tested gave off formamide fumes, especially when new. The report also noted that, while small, the health risks to young children were real.

    I wrote about the results here:

    Hope this helps.

  12. Anonymous October 13, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    This is about the partlow mat

  13. Anonymous May 15, 2012 at 2:15 am #

    If you need to buy foam mats, buy used ones. I did that for my daughter. It’s not fresh from the plant. The mats that we purchased from a friend did not have the chemical smell. We don’t use it in the house. We just use it for outdoors so that she doesn’t hurt herself on the cement. Always buy used to avoid the fresh-from-the-plant smell and packaging.

  14. Lindsay - Ella Lou September 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    There are some organic cotton options out there. As a mother I was extremely concerned about the levels of chemicals in products I was purchasing for our daughter. I found these organic cotton playmats for babies and kids and they are absolutely wonderful! I just added them to our online shop if you are still in the market:

  15. Anonymous December 25, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    Hi! Does any of you know whether this puzzlemats are safe: It has a testrapport attached, but can I trust it?

  16. Anonymous June 7, 2013 at 12:01 am #

    I love Panda Mat. It’s super cute, soft and organic. I believe it is made by a family owned business.
    I like how easy it is to wash. I purchased this mat when my daughter was 3 mo old; she is almost a year now and we are still very happy with the products.

  17. Anonymous June 26, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    If you want to try something foam but very safe, that can also double as an exercise mat for mums and dads, check out I love the restful colour which is great for my living room but also still inoffensive for my baby. Is super spongy too so I love to sit on it and watch my 1 year old play 🙂

  18. Anonymous July 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    After reading about EVA and emissions of formamides, its my understanding that the worse fumes occur during the first few weeks and after a month they decline to levels that are negligible. Could you please comment on this? Thanks

  19. Anonymous July 4, 2013 at 12:41 am # could be WORSE. It is made of PVC!!
    “Vinyl is commonly used as a shorthand name for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic as used in a range of products from flooring to siding to wall covering. Most commonly, when a product is referred to as “vinyl,” it is comprised primarily of PVC. Occasionally it also may refer to polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) a closely related compound, used in food wraps (‘Saran’) and other films, that shares most of the same environmental health problems.

    In chemistry, however, the term “vinyl’ actually has a broader meaning, encompassing a range of different thermoplastic chemical compounds derived from ethylene. In addition to PVC, “vinyls” in building materials also include:
    – ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), used in films, wire coating and adhesives
    – polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA) a copolymer of polyethylene and EVA used in shower curtains, body bags
    – polyvinyl acetate (PVA), used in paints and adhesives, such as white glue, and
    – polyvinyl butyral (PVB), used in safety glass films.

    What differentiates PVC from the other vinyls is the addition of a chlorine molecule (the chloride “C” in PVC and PVDC). Chlorine is the source of many of the environmental health concerns with PVC, such as the generation of dioxin, a highly carcinogenic chemical produced in both the manufacture and disposal of PVC. Due to its persistent and bioaccumulative nature (it travels long distances without breaking down and concentrates as it moves up the food chain to humans) dioxin has become a global problem and an international treaty – the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) – now prioritizes the elimination of processes that produce dioxin.

    Some of the non chlorinated vinyls (EVA, PEVA, PVA and PVB) are now beginning to be used as direct substitutes for PVC. EVA has been in use for several years as a chlorine free substitute for PVC – primarily in non building materials like toys and athletic shoes, but occasionally as a protective film or binder. In the building industry, post-consumer recycled PVB is now beginning to be used to replace PVC in carpet backing. Absence of chlorine alone does not make these other vinyls the final answer in the search for green polymers. There are still plenty of toxic challenges and untested chemicals in the life cycle of any petrochemical product. As is the case with most other polymers competing with PVC, however, the weight of available evidence indicates that the absence of chlorine in the formula will generally render the lifecycle environmental health impacts of PVB and the other vinyls less harmful than PVC and initial study is bearing this out. Like the polyolefin plastics, the use of PVB and the other non chlorinated vinyls represents a step forward in the search for alternatives to PVC.

    In summary, with the exception of paints, glues and certain films, “vinyl” as a product description almost always means made of PVC. The term vinyl in ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA), polyvinyl acetate (PVA), and polyvinyl butyral (PVB), however, does not refer to PVC and does not raise the same concerns associated with chlorinated molecules like PVC.

    When in doubt about the use of the term “vinyl”, ask if it is PVC”

  20. Melissa March 26, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    I have a Skip Hop Mat and even if it is chemical free, the animals printed on the mats are peeling off…can't be safe for an infant to eat!

  21. zoorang April 9, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Hope this will help you to choose right play mats for your precious little one!
    There is a shop who sells Eco-friendly & Nontoxic Play-mat, Pillobebe. They recently launched new product which is made of natural cork. This is from their website.

    "We are extremely excited to announce CorkiMat™, a brand new baby/toddler/kids play mat exclusively designed and developed by Pillobebe!!! The main component of CorkiMat™ is natural cork! Cork is Eco-friendly, Organic, Naturally Anti-bacterial, Anti-microbial, Anti-fungal, and Naturally flame-retardant. It has No harmful chemicals like Formamide, Flame-retardants, etc. It provides similar protection compare to toxic foam play mats widely sold and used in the world today."

    You can watch this Youtube video.

  22. Kunal Kumar April 2, 2015 at 3:23 am #

    Some organic mattresses have organic cotton filling and it is more comfy for body. Thanks to you for sharing this article with us.

  23. Nathalie May 30, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    Hi there! I was also looking for a good solution for a play mat when my son started to crawl. Reading this post was helpful to me (2 years ago already!). I wasn't happy with what was on the market so I decided to create a children's play mat that met my needs, and I figured other parents would benefit as well. I'm excited to launch the Kutchu play mat next month. It will be in stock early June. The Kutchu play mat is the only children's play mat made of natural rubber. It's a safe, non-toxic, and eco-friendly. Contact me if you have any questions!

  24. Amy July 21, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    I was searching for a perfect Nontoxic play mat for a while and found CorkiMat! We have been using more than two months now and my daughter and I just love it! We love because it is not only "Nontoxic" but also the design is very beautiful! They have the cutest organic cotton collections and I appreciate the materials they use! Easy to maintain and most importantly, cushion is perfect for my active 8 month lady. If someone is looking for a truly nontoxic play mat, I highly recommend this:)


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