Babies spend a lot of their first two years on the floor―crawling, playing, and yes, falling. You'll want a surface that's hospitable to the little one's various activities but also easy to keep clean. While carpeting is soft for crawlers, most types are not suitable for, say, building block towers. It also stains easily and traps dust mites and residues tracked in on shoes. Wood floors and resilient surfaces, such as vinyl and cork, are better for play and far easier to keep clean, but offer little cushion for a fall. That's why most experts recommend a combination of hard or resilient surfacing with one or two small rugs or a carpeted area.
Though often associated with kitchens and bathrooms, vinyl, linoleum, cork, and rubber are also good choices for the nursery, as they are hard-wearing, easy to clean, and softer than wood. Sealed cork is especially practical, as it is sound-absorbing as well as soft underfoot. Available in tiles or sheets, it is relatively easy to install.
Vinyl is another resilient flooring, especially appealing for the array of colors and patterns available. Cushion-backed vinyl is softer underfoot but may dent under heavy furniture or with a child's playful abuse. Inlaid patterns wear longer than photographically printed patterns. Be sure to ask about the protective finish on any vinyl you consider, as well as cleaning requirements (some have to be waxed, while others have an easy-care finish). Some vinyls must be professionally installed; others you can install yourself. Costs vary from about $4 to $40 per yard, not including installation.
Warm and appealing in its look, wood is a natural choice. Though a bare wood floor can be noisy, an area rug here and there will quiet things down, as well as add color and softness. If the nursery already has wood floors, make sure they are splinter-free. Fill any cracks or spaces between boards, or they will attract crumbs, dirt, beads, and siblings' other very small toys.
If the floors are in rough shape and you'd like to refinish them, again look for low VOC-content products. Alternatively, you could sand the rough spots and paint the floor in a geometric pattern, or add a stenciled border. Be sure to apply a top coat of sealer for easier cleaning.
While wall-to-wall carpet seems like a soft, quiet solution for the nursery, spills and spit-ups create hard-to-remove stains, and dust settles in too deeply for most vacuums to extract. The latter is especially problematic for babies with allergies or asthma. If you are nevertheless set on wall-to-wall carpeting, choose a very low pile, a loop carpet, or commercial-grade carpet. Consider a border of a different color and texture to appeal to a baby's developing tactile and visual senses; composing a pattern from an array of carpet squares can also add interest.
When choosing carpets, inquire about which is most stain resistant and easiest to clean, and least allergenic. Nylon often fits that bill, in addition to being less prone to pilling and static electricity. Be sure to use padding under it, not only to cushion falls but also to protect the carpet itself and the flooring.
As with paint and wallpaper, the backing, foam, dyes, insecticides, and adhesives used in carpet and installation often off-gas VOCs (volatile organic compounds). If this is a concern for you, shop for environmental and health-friendly natural floor coverings and pads. Install carpet with tacks rather than glue, do the job as far in advance of the baby's arrival as possible, and let the nursery air out with open windows for at least 72 hours.
Throw rugs and larger area rugs are available in many nursery-appropriate colors and designs. Look not only in baby furnishings stores but also in home-furnishing and bed-linen catalogs and stores.
Hooked rugs offer the most detail and wonderful colors, and even come in whimsical shapes; most of them are made of cotton or nylon. Check with the manufacturer about cleaning procedures. The old braided rugs are back, in brighter colors, in wonderfully soft chenille; they come in a wide range of sizes, in both oval and round shapes. And don't forget thick bathroom throw mats that come in every color towels do and couldn't be easier to clean.
Whichever rug you choose to soften up an area of the floor, be sure to leave some hard surfacing for racing cars, floor puzzles, and the like. Also, use a nonslip pad to keep the rug in place.
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