EVA foam has been called a safer alternative to PVC, but questions linger around formamide, used in the EVA manufacturing process, and some countries have taken steps to limit formamide in EVA toys such as foam play mats. But is EVA foam toxic? Or safe?
What is EVA Foam?
EVA foam (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) is a soft, pliable and durable foam commonly used in baby play mats, puzzle mats, yoga mats, and some other toys.
Billed as a safer alternative to PVC play mats, some parents worry about using EVA foam mats in their homes due to its use of formamide, a known carcinogen, during the manufacturing process.
Formamide (a liquid) is used to manufacture EVA foam products, including play mats.
The very quality of EVA that parents like when it comes to baby play mats and foam toys – the soft, squishiness that protects your baby from bumps and falls – is the quality formamide is responsible for, leading some parents to worry whether EVA foam is a safe material for baby play mats and other kids products.
Looking for EVA Free Play Mats? Check Out My Post on Non Toxic Play Mats
Read about the best non toxic play mat brands here. I include 10 brands to consider, including 2 traditional foam play mat brands that don’t use EVA: Little Bot and Wander and Roam.
A Safe Alternative?
EVA foam doesn’t have has been billed as a safe alternative to PVC due to the fact that it doesn’t use plasticizers (which are phthalates) and is BPA free.
Just over a decade ago (around the year 2010), people started raising questions about the formamide levels found in EVA foam tiles and play mats.
France and Belgium took quick action, limiting the amount for formamide allowed in products, but other countries didn’t immediately follow suit.
Since then, a fair amount of research has been done into EVA foam safety in general, and around foam baby mats, giving parents a better idea of what they’re dealing with, and whether they should be concerned or entirely avoid EVA play mats.
Why are Some Parents Concerned About Formamide Safety in EVA Foam Mats?
Whether formamide belongs on countries’ toxic chemicals list isn’t in doubt.
Scientists and governments pretty much all agree that formamide is one of those harmful chemicals people should avoid for health and safety reasons.
The concern comes down to whether the liquid formamide used during the manufacturing process eventually evaporates from the final product (i.e. EVA foam play mats), and off gasses into the air you and your baby breathe.
The question, in other words, isn’t is formamide safe. Authorities agree it is not.
The question is, is EVA foam safe?
The Better Safe Than Sorry Approach
When the issue of EVA being a toxic play mat material first came up, France and Belgium took quick action on the issue, banning foam puzzle mats in 2010. They required mats that were reintroduced to the market to meet new rules around being Formamide free.
The EU has since harmonized safety standards around allowable formamide release from EVA foam mats and related products.
Other countries, however, haven’t followed suit in creating formamide limits in EVA foam tiles or baby mats.
Which leaves parents to decide for themselves whether they want a typical foam play mat made from EVA foam in their homes.
What Researchers Say About EVA Foam Play Mats
According this piece associated with McGill University, studies have shown formamide release isn’t something parents need to worry too much about.
Product Safety Australia agrees. They tested 16 different EVA foam products and found half of them released no measurable formamide, and the other half released only very small amounts.
“a child would need to mouth for 20 minutes, or ingest, at least 4.17 square metres of typical foam play mat every day over their entire life to approach a level of exposure to formamide which might raise health concerns.” (emphasis mine)
The Canadian Government concluded similarly, finding that the level of formamide exposure Canadians experience isn’t high enough to cause health concerns.
Other studies, however, are more mixed.
Brazilian researchers, for example, found that off-gassing does occur, but concluded most formamide off gassing (more than 50%) occurs in the first two weeks after opening the packaging.
Following this logic, parents may want to place a new foam play mat in a covered area outside or another well-ventilated area for two to three weeks before using it, or purchase a used one.
What Does This Mean for Parents and Families?
As a parent, you essentially have three options around EVA foam:
- Avoid it entirely, and choose more natural or alternative materials and brands creating non toxic play mats.
- Purchase from companies that use formamide free foam, and ideally publish test results to prove it.
- Not worry too much about it, given both Australian and Canadian testing has concluded you probably don’t need to worry about it.
Overall, I lean toward the second option. In that case, I’d look for brands that have transparent manufacturing processes, and can guarantee their products are formamide free.
In fact, I definitely had a mystery foam mat for my own baby for awhile – and I’m not going to stress too much about what is done and over with (we no longer have that mat).
That said, plenty of companies make non toxic mats from different kinds of foam. This includes Little Bot Ofie Mats and Wander and Roam mats. Both companies make their mats from TPU foam instead.
Since there are great alternatives to EVA foam mats, I don’t see any reason to buy EVA foam.
While research suggests we don’t need to worry about formamide in our homes as much as we might have thought, I still think it’s worth considering how it impacts workers tasked with manufacturing it, and the environment and planet at large.
Assessing whether something is eco friendly feels like a fool’s errand sometimes, because determining things like water intensiveness (i.e. of an organic cotton play mat) vs durability (i.e. of EVA foam mats) vs environmental cost of shipping (for all products, but especially those that source from specific regions of the world, such as natural rubber or latex) is kind of impossible for the average consumer.
However, we can do our best to make a decision that’s more planet friendly, vs less, and to me avoiding EVA foam in favor of other play mat options is a no brainer.
Personally, I think it’s probably fine to buy EVA foam products from brands I trust, and labelled formamide free.
However, there are so many foam mats out there that don’t use EVA, why not simply avoid it on personal policy?
I certainly understand if you prefer to not purchase EVA. That’s where I’ve landed for my family, too.