Non-Toxic Back to School Supplies Guide
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Are you looking forward to shopping for school supplies, or dreading it? For sure, the coming school year will look a lot different for many of us. However, be it homeschooling, distance-learning, or going back to classrooms, kids need study supplies. Also, I think it is a good idea to buy non-toxic school supplies in advance to avoid rushed decisions under pressure. So, this non-toxic back to school supplies guide will help you shop for school essentials from the comfort of your home.
Personal safety classroom supplies
To begin with, the present world health situation makes the school supply list longer by at least two items – hand sanitizer and a facemask.
The CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. However, they encourage washing hands with soap and water when you can (source). If you are looking for safe hand soap, check out my Non-Toxic Hand Soap Guide.
Among hand sanitizers, my favorite is Humble Suds which contains 70% ethanol and no concerning ingredients. When we were shopping for a house, we had to use it before and after each showing, but it did not dry our skin at all. Besides, the smell is amazing, and you can get a 10% discount if you use the code IRLFY10 on the Humble Suds website.
I also recommend a hand sanitizer by Evolved by Nature (use the IRLFY10 code) because it is a gel and fragrance-free, which I think is better for kids than spray.
In addition, I find these hand sanitizers safe and worth adding to your back to school supplies list:
- Pure Haven (80% ethanol)
- Everyone (62% ethanol)
- Dr. Bronner’s (62% ethanol)
- Brittanie’s Thyme (62% ethanol)
With the growing demand, some of the hand sanitizers may be temporarily unavailable. Additionally, please be careful to purchase products by unknown brands. Thus, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that some hand sanitizers are potentially toxic because they could be contaminated with methanol, wood alcohol (source).
Further, many schools have adopted very strict disinfecting protocols. If your school suggest you bring your own disinfectant, I highly recommend looking into Force of Nature. I have done a lot of research into disinfectants and believe their disinfectant is the safest and most kind to the planet among disinfectants that I have seen so far. By the way, your schoolteachers can make a Force of Nature disinfectant in the classroom as a science project. Also, Force of Nature provides me with special discounts that I can pass along to you. Please learn more about Force of Nature and get the current discount code here.
Face masks as school essentials in 2020
It is still hard to put up with the fact that face masks are becoming “normal” back to school supplies this year.
My favorite mask manufacturer is Humble Suds who has three types of masks: 100% linen, cotton with PM 2.5 filter insert, and kids’ masks with pockets for the inserts. The latter are adjustable behind-the-ear cotton face masks with three layers of 100% cotton fabric.
Additionally, I really appreciate the nose wires that help the masks fit perfectly and comfortably. Plus, they come in small (ages 2-5) and medium (ages 5-12) sizes. My husband, son, and I use these breathable, washable, and reusable masks and like them a lot. What my son likes most about his mask is that it is very soft and has a fun pattern. If you do get them, be sure to take out the filter before you wash them.
Also, you can get a 10% discount if you use the code IRLFY10 on the Humble Suds website.
Another company that carries GOTS-certified organic masks is Naturepedic. We trust this company as we have been sleeping on Naturepedic mattresses (our son used to sleep on their crib mattress, and now he sleeps on their kid’s mattress) and their adjustable pillow. Besides, you can use IREAD15 code to get 15% off storewide.
Containers and bags on the back to school supplies list
The containers on the school essentials list are lunch boxes and water bottles, pencil cases and binders. And the bag is a backpack.
Without a doubt, conventional containers may affect food and water by leaching chemicals into them, and you want to avoid that. Hence, my rule number one is to avoid plastic altogether. You can read more about the dangers of this material in my post about plastic plates.
When it comes to lunch boxes, I prefer stainless steel. Actually, I refer to it as one of the best safe cookware options, too, in my Safe Cookware Guide.
You may also utilize reusable sandwich wraps made of organic cotton.
Thus, my recommendations for lunch boxes as part of back to school supplies are:
- LunchBots (stainless steel)e
- Klean Kanteen lunchboxes and food canisters (lots of different stainless steel options)
- Tavva (stainless steel, leak- and spill-proof)
- WeeSprout (stainless steel)
- Thermos (stainless steel, to keep the food warm)
- Bee’s wraps (waxed organic cotton)
Just as with lunch boxes, I recommend water bottles for school essentials made of stainless steel (glass is good, too, but it is heavy and can break). One of the water bottles I own has a filter in it, which filters not only chlorine but also heavy metals, including lead, a common water contaminant.
As a matter of fact, this report from the Harvard School of Public Health states that many schools across the country have too much lead in their tap and drinking fountain water. What is more, most are not even testing for it. Hence, a water bottle with a filter is a great idea because your kid can easily refill it at school and drink clean water.
My recommendations regarding water bottles are as follows:
- S’well Stainless Steel Water Bottle: I carry it everywhere I go!
- Klean Kanteen Water Bottle with Bamboo Cap (stainless steel): It has no plastic that can come in contact with liquid, and there is no paint that can come off.
- Aquasana Filter Water Bottle (stainless steel): This is the one that filters not only chlorine but also heavy metals including lead.
Pencil cases and binders as school essentials
Again, the problem is that when these common back to school supplies are plastic, they may contain phthalates, a class of chemicals that makes plastic more flexible. To clarify, scientists associate phthalates with a wide range of health concerns, including hormone disruption. Therefore, it is best to look for plastic school supplies in more natural materials such as cotton or canvas, paperboard, and uncoated paper.
In my opinion, the following are good options:
- Big Capacity Pencil Pen Case: I really like this one and would use it myself! It works in a smaller capacity and can become larger when you unzip it. Moreover, the material is 100% unbleached canvas on the front and 100% cotton on the bottom.
- The Cotton & Canvas Co. Pen and Pencil Case: Though smaller than the previous one, this pouch is 100% cotton canvas and is really cute.
- Pencil Zipper Stationery Pouch: It has three compartments and is made of canvas.
- Heavy Canvas Stationery Bag: This canvas pencil bag is very simple, so will work well for boys.
- Kraft Binder: It is made of recycled materials, looks very simple and sturdy, and has three rings.
- Kraft Binder for Journal Notebook: This binder has six rings and works well as a cover protector for journals.
- Recycled Divider Pocket Insert: It is made from durable recycled chipboard and is compatible with the 3-ring binder above.
Non-toxic backpacks among back to school supplies
Since backpacks are a necessity among school essentials, to find safe backpacks and avoid toxic ones, watch out for PVC. Its main ingredient, vinyl chloride, is a known human carcinogen. You can read more about PVC and its hazards in my post about PVC Yoga Mats.
Luckily, there are lots of PVC-free backpacks made of nylon, polyester, cotton, and recycled plastic. Here are some top options:
- Crocodile Creek: These are polyester backpacks, beautiful and with a variety of fun colors and themes.
- Beatrix New York Big Kid and Little Kid Packs: A combination of cotton and nylon made of recycled water bottles, these backpacks look gorgeous.
- Ecogear: They carry both adult and kids’ backpacks made of recycled plastic. Our son had this one when he went to preschool.
- The North Face: They offer anything from fun patterns to more simple serious ones. The backpack materials are nylon and polyester.
Writing and arts & crafts back to school supplies
This section is about pens, pencils, markers, and crayons.
Pens and pencils
When it comes to such school essentials as pens and pencils, here are some better choices.
Some options are as follows:
- Ticonderoga® EnviroStik® Natural Wood Pencils: These pencils are the favorites of many with green credentials.
- Conscience Concepts Ballpoint Pens: The pens are made of cork and recycled wheat straw.
- Onyx and Green Retractable Gel Pens: They are made from recycled milk cartons.
Markers and crayons
Undoubtedly, water-based markers are the best. If, however, your back to school supplies list calls for permanent markers, make sure they are free from xylene, toluene, and other VOCs.
Further, non-toxic crayons are those that are free of asbestos and other heavy metals, such as lead. So, avoid cheap crayons and use beeswax and soy crayons instead.
Here are some options:
- Water-based Washable Markers
- Alpino Felt Double-Tip Markers: They are a product of Spain and have washable ink.
- Honey Sticks Crayons: They are made of 100% New Zealand beeswax and food-grade pigments in New Zealand. Tamara Rubin of Lead Safe Mama tested them for heavy metals and found them lead-free. Only the red and pink colors tested positive for trace amounts of cadmium.
- Filana Crayons: They are made of beeswax in Colorado. Tamara Rubin tested them for heavy metals and found trace amounts of cadmium in black color and cadmium and antimony in brown. Honey Sticks and Filana are still some of the safest crayons I have found.
Fragrance in school essentials
It should be noted that many school supplies come with a scent. However, fragrance consists of dozens of different ingredients that companies do not have to disclose. The worst thing about this is that scientists link many of those ingredients, such as phthalates, for example, to cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive harm, and ADHD.
Therefore, please opt for fragrance-free school supplies. But know that products with the word “unscented” can still contain fragrance ingredients, so look for “fragrance-free” options. You can read more about fragrance in my post about natural fragrance.
Conclusion about back to school supplies
In conclusion, I want to emphasize the importance of choosing non-toxic classroom supplies for your children because it is our kids’ health we are talking about. Even just by ditching fragrance and reducing plastic, you will make a giant leap into a safer and healthier zone for you and your children.
For more options of non-toxic skin care, clothing, and household products, please check out my shop. Also, you are welcome to book a consultation with me to get help with healthy choices.
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Great meeting you last night at the MOMAS meeting. I had no idea about backpacks… even though I noticed my son’s new backpack had quite a strong chemical odor when we bought it. I think I’ll look in to the Eco-Gear cotton alternatives.
It was great meeting you too, Christie! Yes, unfortunately, backpacks are another thing to worry about. Currently, I have been looking into backpacks made of PET plastic bottles as cotton might not be always the most practical solution, especially for guys. I am looking to hear more from manufacturers on the subject of the manufacturing process. Christie, your subscription will help me out a lot. Thank you for your support!
Cute backpacks! Wonderful news on all these chemicals-free! However, I still feel skeptical of ANYTHING that is produced in China. And these cute backpacks unfortunately ARE.
Hi Nastia: Kudos to you for avoiding products made in China. What backpacks do you buy? ~Irina
Hi Irina, judging by your reply I assume you took offense to my comment. I apologize if you did, although that was not my intent whatsoever. I didn’t say I completely avoid products made in China. It’s probably impossible nowadays unfortunately. I simply implied that even if the company uses the best practices of avoiding the harmful chemicals, we cannot be sure that the factory in China complies with it. There are so many documentaries showing it out bluntly. It’s just politics. And that is a sole reason why I mentioned my scepticism about products manufactured in China.
As far as the backpacks are concerned, I so far haven’t had to look for backpacks for my older son yet as his school doesn’t require carrying supplies yet (he is going to be in second grade in Waldorf School)
No, not at all! No offence is taken! I do my best to avoid products made in China but I also try to preserve some sanity too. I think lots of my blog readers subscribe to this attitude. However, in my e-book “7 Days to a Healthier Kitchen” (did you have a chance to read it?), I think managed to stay away from products made in China, may be with one exception that comes to my mind right now. 🙂 Thank you, Nastia, for reading my blog. I hope you enjoy by Valenti skin care and urthware cutting boards! I am always happy to hear from you! ~Irina
Thanks again, Irina, for your informative and important post! How depressing that manufacturers choose to use materials that are harmful, I just don’t get it. Looking at the well known PB backpacks that so many kids seem to have (including my own) – I see they are made from “water resistant ABS” which I found out more about here –> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrylonitrile_butadiene_styrene. Thoughts on ABS? It looks like it’s an alternative to PVC (?) but I don’t fully understand all the technical info / health implications. I presume not great or you would have mentioned this option in your blog…. Article states “ABS is stable to decomposition under normal use and polymer processing conditions with exposure to carcinogens well below workplace exposure limits” – and mentions ABS is used in numerous household products, including Legos! Appreciate any further insight you can share on this material.
Hi Joy: could you send me a link to backpacks you are talking about? As for ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), there are different types of plastics and their safety is judged based how durable/stable they are. In other words, if plastic is least likely to break down and leach its components, which are often toxic, it is considered a safer type of plastic. As I described in the post, PVC is not stable. ABS is made mainly by combining acrylonitrile and styrene. Acrylonitrile is a suspected carcinogen and styrene is an anticipated carcinogen. While the components are far from harmless, there is no evidence that ABS breaks down and leaches them out, unlike polystyrene plastic or PVC do, for example. So the long story short, I would try avoid it, if possible, in the future. However, if you already own one it is okay to use. Does it make sense? ~Irina
Hi Irina, thanks for answering my question. This is so strange, I was looking at the PBK website last night after reading your post and found the ABS material, but looking tonight I can’t find it… it seems all the PBK bags are made from water-resistant 600-denier polyester. Sounds like that is a decent option?
Hi, The last time I went backpack shopping I was looking for lead free options. Now a few years later I read all these posts about needing a PVC free backpack (our last one was too) but I’m not reading anything about lead free. Does PVC Free = Lead Free or not? Thanks
Hi, there! Thank you for asking. I know all this is SO confusing. Normally, the reason backpacks may contain lead is that lead is one of the building blocks of PVC. So if a backpack is NOT made of PVC, most likely it won’t contain lead. Some manufacturers claim that their PVC backpacks do not contain lead; however, we as consumers are not told what is used instead (maybe another heavy metal). In other words, I recommend avoiding PVC all together. PVC is also toxic to manufacture and dispose as well. Does it help? ~Irina
Can you please tell me if Patagonia backpacks are a good option for my kids? You included The North Face backpacks, and they are similar companies in many respects (not all). We own many Patagonia items and we like their philosophies, so I am wondering if their kid backpacks are a good option. Thanks!
Hi, another question – I typically don’t buy Pottery Barn kids or teen backpacks and lunch boxes because they haven’t been clear about whether or not they contain harmful substances. I just sent them an email, but have you dug any deeper into the contents of the backpacks and found any answers? Thanks much!
Hi, Sonia: The main thing you can do is to avoid PVC; the rest is like icing on the cake. I don’t have customer service capabilities anymore. I worked for the first three years for free. Now I answer questions like this in private consultations or membership website. Thank you for understanding. Let me know if you are interested in learning more about my services. ~Irina
Hi, no problem, thank you so much nonetheless. I have always found your web site very useful!!
I am curious if you like PlanetBox’s lunchboxes. (They’re stainless steel.)
They look good to me, Sasha. ~Irina
I’m wondering if you have any recommendations on waterproof backpacks for kids? My daughter will be attending a public forest school this fall and must have a waterproof backpack, but so many waterproof children’s items are either made from PVC or coated in typical clothing waterproof barriers which tend to be endocrine disruptors and/or carcinogenic. Thanks!
Hi, Amelia! We appreciate your interest! Irina will be happy to help you with your question in a private consultation: https://ireadlabelsforyou.com/services/
Hi Irina and Maria,
Are you familiar with Maika Goods? It’s said their bags are made of vegan leather, recycled canvas and eco-friendly pigments…they’re also made in California which I know has one of the strictest guidelines regarding toxins.
You listed North Face backpacks as an option but as another follower mentioned their items are more often than not made in China.
Just wondering your thoughts.
Hi, Elizabeth! Thank you for the suggestion! We will consider looking into it!