Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health

5.3 General Furnishings and Equipment

5.3.1 General Furnishings and Equipment Requirements Surfaces of Equipment, Furniture, Toys, and Play Materials

Frequently Asked Questions/CFOC Clarifications


Date: 10/13/2011

Topic & Location:
Chapter 5
Standard Surfaces of Equipment, Furniture, Toys, and Play Materials

Do all pressed wood items contain formaldehyde?

All pressed wood items do not contain added formaldehyde; however, all wood naturally contains some formaldehyde. Pressed wood products that have the highest formaldehyde emissions are those that are made with urea-formaldehyde resins. Products designed for interior use, such as hardwood plywood, medium density fiberboard, and particleboard, are more likely to contain urea-formaldehyde than those designed for exterior use such as oriented strand board or structural plywood. However, hardwood plywood, medium density fiberboard, and particleboard don't necessarily contain added formaldehyde; they are sometimes made with no added formaldehyde based resins. Many companies are choosing to make products with no added formaldehyde (NAF) based resins as well as ultra low-emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) based resins both to market their products as green and to comply with California regulations on composite wood products. Some products are currently labeled as made with NAF or ULEF resins under the California regulations, and once EPA regulations are proposed and go into effect, more products will be labeled to inform consumers about formaldehyde content.

Equipment, furnishings, toys, and play materials should have smooth, nonporous surfaces or washable fabric surfaces that are easy to clean and sanitize, or be disposable.

Walls, ceilings, floors, furnishings, equipment, and other surfaces should be suitable to the location and the users. They should be maintained in good repair, free from visible soil and in a clean condition. Programs should choose materials with the least probability of containing materials that off-gas toxic elements such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, or toxic flame retardants (polybrominated diphenylethers [PBDE]). Carpets, porous fabrics, and other surfaces that trap soil and potentially contaminated materials should not be used in toilet rooms, diaper change areas, and areas where food handling occurs (1).

Areas used by staff or children who have allergies to dust mites or components of furnishings or supplies should be maintained according to the recommendations of primary care providers.

Few young children practice good hygiene. Messy play is developmentally appropriate in all age groups, and especially among very young children, the same group that is most susceptible to infectious disease. These factors lead to soiling and contamination of equipment, furnishings, toys, and play materials. To avoid transmission of disease within the group, these materials must be easy to clean and sanitize.

Formaldehyde and toxic flame retardants are the toxins of most concern in household furnishings, as they are both commonly found in furniture and carpets. Formaldehyde is a flammable, colorless gas that has a pungent odor. It is a human carcinogen, an asthma trigger, and a suspected neurological, reproductive, and liver toxin. People are exposed by breathing contaminated air from pressed wood furniture, flooring, and after application of certain paints, fabrics, and household cleaners. Toxic Flame Retardants (PBDEs) are widely used in furniture foam, carpet padding, back coatings for draperies and upholstery, plastics, building materials, and electrical appliances. It is believed that more than 80% of PBDE exposure is from house dust. PBDEs persist in the environment and accumulate in living things. Health concerns associated with PBDE exposure include liver, thyroid, and neurodevelopmental toxicity.

Carpets and porous fabrics are not appropriate for some areas because they are difficult to clean and sanitize. Disease-causing microorganisms have been isolated from carpets. Caregivers/teachers must remove illness-causing materials. Many allergic children have allergies to dust mites, which are microscopic insects that ingest the tiny particles of skin that people shed normally every day. Dust mites live in carpeting and fabric but can be killed by frequent washing and use of a clothes dryer or mechanical, heated dryer. Restricting the use of carpeting and furnishings to types that can be laundered regularly helps. Other children may have allergies to animal products such as those with feathers, fur, or wool, while some may be allergic to latex.

Toys that can be washed in a mechanical dishwasher that meets the standard for cleaning and sanitizing dishes can save labor, if the facility has a dishwasher. Otherwise, after the children have used them, these toys can be placed in a tub of detergent water to soak until the staff has time to scrub, rinse, and sanitize the surfaces of these items. Except for fabric surfaces, nonporous surfaces are best because porous surfaces can trap organic material and soil. Fabric surfaces that can be laundered provide the softness required in a developmentally appropriate environment for young children. If these fabrics are laundered when soiled, the facility can achieve cleanliness and sanitation. When a material cannot be cleaned and sanitized it should be discarded.

One way to measure compliance with the standard for cleanliness is to wipe the surface with a clean mop or clean rag, and then insert the mop or rag in cold rinse water. If the surface is clean, no residue will appear in the rinse water.

Disposable gloves are commonly made of latex or vinyl. If latex-sensitive individuals are present in the facility, only vinyl or nitrile disposable gloves should be used.

Tips for Reducing Exposure to Formaldehyde and PBDEs:

  1. Avoid wall-to-wall carpets;
  2. Limit use of pressed wood products that are made with adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins; choose solid-wood furniture;
  3. Do not leave foam exposed (this includes furniture and toys, such as stuffed animals);
  4. Keep dust levels down;
  5. Vacuum often – use a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter vacuum cleaner;
  6. Ventilate while cleaning;
  7. Except in emergency situations, remove shoes prior to going indoors;
  8. Clean area rugs with biodegradable cleaners;
  9. Choose floor coverings that are made with natural fibers (cotton, hemp, and wool) that are naturally fire-resistant and contain fewer chemicals (2).
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RELATED STANDARDS Construction and Remodeling
  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs).
  2. Eco-Healthy Child Care (EHCC). Furniture and carpets. Washington, DC: EHCC. and carpets.pdf.