Toys, like evvvvverything else, can introduce toxins into your home, to say nothing of the environmental impact of producing and disposing of ALL THAT plastic.
3 Tips for Choosing Safer, Non-Toxic Toys
If you want a truly toxin-free toy box, you will need to:
- Avoid painted wooden toys, unless they’re made in the United States or Europe or by brands you’ve vetted. Lead paint continues to show up in Chinese-made toys. Lead has been banned from toys produced in the United States, so you can be reasonably sure that toys that are made in America will be lead-free.
- Avoid Chinese toys. Unfortunately, lead paint isn’t the only thing to fear in Chinese toys. Many Chinese-imported toys have also been found to be contaminated with brominated fire retardants (including notorious PBDEs). Although these chemicals are banned for most uses in Europe and Canada, and no longer produced in the U.S., a legal loophole allows finished toys that contain these toxins to be imported and sold here. Since more than 85% of toys are made in China, they are not easy to avoid! Being made in China doesn’t necessarily make a product Bad Stuff; in some cases, a company will be based in Europe but may have a devoted manufacturing facilities located in China (or elsewhere in Asia). In general, when companies go to the trouble to use organic cotton, real wood, water-based paints, etc., they are also the companies that maintain close control over their production facilities–wherever they are located.
- Avoid toys made of vinyl (PVC). Phthalates are typically added to PVC toys as a softening agent. You can find phthalate-free PVC, which is safer than conventional PVC, but I would still avoid it where you can. One study by HealthyStuff.org found that 78% of toys tested contained PVC in one or more components, so again, avoiding this entirely is easier said than done.
Here’s a quick non-toxic toys cheat sheet:
The Worst Stuff in Toys
Some types of toys are consistently found to more toxic than others in study after study. Be especially cautious when purchasing:
- Sidewalk chalk, which has been found to be contaminated with asbestos. Here is safe chalk.
- Play jewelry, which may contain lead. Here’s safer toy jewelry.
- Rubber duckies, which usually made of PVC and contain phthalates. Here’s a safe duck.
- Plastic play food, which can contain high levels of chlorine). Here’s some safe play food.
Earth-Friendly, Non-Toxic Toys
For the purposes of this guide, I am not going to designate any toys that are entirely made of plastic as “Good Stuff.”
That said, there are some plastics that are likely completely inert and therefore don’t present a health risk. See “The Okay Stuff” below for a bunch of safe plastic toys.
The Good Stuff: Truly Non-Toxic Toys
This natural dough from Denmark lasts forever, and is made without perfumes, dyes, or parabens.
Apple Park makes sweet plush toys made with 100% certified organic cotton and OEKO-TEX 100 toxin-free dyes.
Haba produces most of their wooden toys in Germany, and they use nontoxic paints and finishes. Haba’s timber comes from sustainable forests from Germany, Finland, and Russia. Their paints are water-based and free of all solvents.
I’ve assembled a collection of my kids’ favorite Haba toys here, all of which are produced in Europe.
Made in Germany of hard maple and beechwood, Holztiger wooden animals are colored with water-based paint and finished with a water-based sealants.
I had two key-obsessed babies, and I was freaked out when I learned that not only are your set of house keys filthy, but they also often contain lead. Kleynimals 100% stainless steel toy keys are made in the USA.
You can see the whole lineup of stainless steel toys here.
My favorite wooden animals are those by Ostheimer, mostly because of simply how pretty they are. They are hand-carved in Germany, and use only non-toxic paints and natural oils for finishing.
This German brand also goes by Spiel & Holz, and is admittedly expensive, but their wooden toys are absolutely stunning. The non-toxic stains (rather than paints) means that you don’t have to worry about these toys chipping.
This is a great brand of safe, natural paints and face paints. Ingredients include simply organic corn starch and natural mineral pigments.
In addition to their great backpacks and, Petit Collage makes adorable paper dolls, magnet sets, wooden pull toys, stickers, coloring books, and other non-toxic toys. Everything is made without PVC, and using recycled paper and vegetable inks.
Plan makes all of their non-toxic toys in a sustainable factory in Thailand, where they maintain control and employ solar power.
PlanToys wooden toys are made from natural rubberwood trees that no longer produce latex. To keep the wood pure, no fertilizer is added to the soil for at least three years prior to harvesting the wood, and the wood is strengthened via a chemical-free kiln-drying process.
Plan’s printed materials are made of recycled paper and soy ink, and assembled with zero-formaldehyde-free glue. Plan’s dyes are free of heavy metals.
My kids have tons of Tegu blocks and they don’t emit any odor, and hold up well after years of play.
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The Okay Stuff
A lot of you asked about this brand, and while their toys are made in China, they are all free of lead, phthalates, and BPA. This company is also committed to environmental sustainability in their packaging.
Bruder vehicles, which are made in Germany, are constructed of ABS plastic, which is non-leaching and safe.
Green toys are among the best plastic toys you can find. They are made in America of recycled polyethylene, which is a non-leaching and safe kind of plastic.
Many of you have asked me about the play kitchens made by KidKraft. These kitchens are made mostly of wood, but they do employ some particle board (though it’s CARB II compliant), and some plastic.
This company didn’t get back to us with any certifications to back this claim up, but they assured us that none of their plush toys are treated with flame retardants.
This newer brand uses solid wood, non-toxic water-based paints, and organic cotton for almost all of its toys. I like their play kits.
Magna-Tiles are one of my boys’ favorite toys, and while they are manufactured in China, they do not contain any BPA, phthalates, PVC, or other toxic materials. The clear Magna-Tiles are made of non-leaching ABS plastic.
While not organic or certified as non-toxic, I think Steiff is the best brand for more realistic stuffed animals. Steiff animals are made from higher-quality materials, like mohair, alpaca, cashmere, 100% cotton, and wool felt.
The Bad Stuff
Barbie Dolls are made at least in part of PVC vinyl. On the upside, Matell has ditched the solvent-based paints for Barbie’s eyes.
Baby dolls, like this one by JC Toys, are usually made of vinyl.
My kids used to love Mash’Ems, and we have many of them. Unfortunately, they have been found to contain xylene.
Matchbox cars were found to contain “toxic chemicals” in this study.
In addition to the fragrance added to My Little Pony figures, the ponies themselves are made of vinyl.
TCG’s Road Racers Play Mat was found to have high levels of bromine in a study by HealthyStuff.org.
Like Legos, Hasbro Transformers are made of ABS plastic, so I assumed they would be safe. In a recent study, Hasbro’s Transformers were found to be free of even trace amounts of heavy metals and other contaminants. However, a phone representative told a reader of ours that they are “neither BPA- nor PVC-free,” so we have to call them Sneaky Stuff.
The Sneaky Stuff
Melissa & Doug is sold absolutely everywhere, and my kids have a lot of their toys. Unfortunately, Melissa & Doug toys are all made in China, and some of them have been found to be contaminated with heavy metals.
I was disappointed to learn on Healthystuff.org that Playmobil is contaminated by a range of toxins and heavy metals. These were among my favorite toys when I was a child, and I assumed they would be a safe plastic choice until my research told me otherwise.
We own a lot of Schleich animal figurines, because I assumed they would be safer than the cheap alternatives (it’s a German company and the animals are beautiful and high-quality, the paint never chips, and they don’t smell toxic). Unfortunately, Schleich figurines are made of PVC, and they only mention being free of the phthalates that are banned in children’s toys.
Don’t see your favorite toys in any of the Good, Okay, Bad, or Sneaky categories? Comment below and let us know!
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