Dangerous Toxins in Baby Toys
Many parents consider handing down their favorite childhood toys to their kids, sometimes even from the moment that they find out they’re expecting. But children can get sick from the toxins in baby toys, which typically transfer when a toy inevitably winds up in their mouth and the harmful chemicals move into their little bodies.
The United States has multiple agencies designed to ensure safety, and all toys for kids under the age of 12 must be tested in an outside toy lab to double-check the safety. However, recalled toys are still sold overseas, given as hand-me-down gifts, and find their way into yard sales. Tons of toxic products are also still sold in the U.S. every day.
Luckily, there are ways parents can ensure the products they bring home are non-toxic. We’ll show you how to avoid a toxic toy brand and spot healthy alternatives. Then, check out our favorite non-toxic baby toys.
Types of Toxins Found in Baby Toys
You may think there’s no way toy manufacturers would create toxic baby and toddler toys, but they’re common. Most of the toys on the market today are made using toxic materials, and even big brands add toxins to:
- Design an inexpensive toy
- Make toys feel more flexible or rigid
- Create flame retardant toys
For a toxic toys company, it’s cheaper and easier to add harmful chemicals to cheap materials than it is to create a non-toxic baby toy from all-natural materials. Chemicals allow companies to make fabric, plastic, and paint safer from fire risk.
The most common toxins in baby toys include chemicals like:
- BPA – Bisphenol A, also known as BPA, is a chemical in plastic toys and other products like sippy cups. However, the material is dangerous when chewed on. Plastic items marked #7 are BPA and other polycarbonates.
- PVC- Polyvinyl chloride is also known as PVC pipe or vinyl. It’s used in baby teethers, bath toys, and anything waterproof, and the piping uses known carcinogens like chlorine and petroleum and dangerous additives like phthalates.
- Phthalates – Provide soft plastic toys with a squishy feel and contain endocrine disruptors that disrupt hormone balances and cause gender-bending. Studies show phthalates even stimulate cancer growth (2).
- Lead – Often used to make plastic toys more durable, lead alters the nervous system. It’s also linked in multiple studies to ADHD, hearing loss, and a decreased IQ score. Kids are especially at risk with lead because they absorb it more easily than adults (4).
- Azocolourants – Although not the only harmful dye used in toys, this carcinogen is commonly in dolls, cuddly toys, plastic, and wooden toys. It causes severe allergies.
- Chlorine – High levels of chlorine are in plastic play food, plastic toys, and dolls, which tempt kids to put the toxins in their mouths. As a carcinogen, it disrupts hormones.
- Cadmium – Used to stabilize plastic or dye wooden toys and dolls, cadmium is a known carcinogen that can alter brain growth and cause lung and kidney damage (3). It’s toxic when inhaled, and may also impair fertility.
- Asbestos – Often found in sidewalk chalk, crayons, and toy fingerprint kits, asbestos isn’t federally banned from children’s products (5). If asbestos is inhaled or swallowed, kids could face serious diseases decades later.
- Arsenic – Metal toys and play jewelry often contain high levels of toxic arsenic, which causes neurodevelopmental problems and behavioral disorders in kids (6).
- Brominated flame retardants – Fire retardants are used on plastic and stuffed toys as well as electronics to protect from fire, but they’re toxic to the reproductive system and disrupt natural hormones in the body.
- VOCs and Formaldehyde – Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are often in wood products, fabric coatings, and paints, and sometimes formaldehyde is used in cloth toys for the same reason as flame retardants. They also hide in adhesives for wood products. These carcinogens irritate the skin, mucous membranes, and nasal pathways. High levels can cause asthma attacks and various cancers.
- Triclosan – A familiar antibacterial agent in cuddly toys and plastic, triclosan can cause severe allergies and resistance to bacteria.
Health Risks of Toxins in Baby Toys
Toy safety is a serious national issue that affects all children. Toy-related injuries send an American child under the age of 18 to the emergency room every three minutes, and this number doesn’t even begin to reflect the toxins in baby toys that cause damage later in life.
It’s vital to reduce your child’s exposure to chemicals during brain development. This critical time is essential, as pregnant women and kids are more sensitive to chemical exposure than anyone (1). Multiple past studies show exposure to toxins interferes with normal brain functions. Toxic toys should never come into contact with your baby’s environment during this time.
The problem is that young children put toys in their mouths frequently, and the toxins build up in the body over time to later cause health issues like cancer and reproductive disorders (1).
Where lead was once the most likely toxin in baby toys, many of those products have been recalled. One of the biggest culprits of concern today is plastics and phthalates in toys, which the European Union banned due to risk for adults and infants alike. Before 2009, phthalates like DINP were widely used in American clothing, toys, and baby equipment.
There have been no recalls in regards to phthalates, and only California has banned the use of phthalates in kid’s products, but studies show that children who place DINP-plasticized toys in their mouth for more than 75 minutes per day for an extended time may be at risk (7).
Toxins in Baby Toys vs. Healthy Toys: How to Choose Non-Toxic Baby Toys
The harshest combination of toxins in baby toys comes from PVC, which is why plastic toys are the most dangerous for babies and kids. Most soft plastics are made with PVC and treated with chemicals that can leak when the toys are chewed on, such as teething rings.
Kids aren’t only exposed to toxic chemicals in toys when the toys are in their mouths. Sometimes the exposure happens simply from the environment. Many soft-squeeze, plastic, and bath toys are made using PVC and additional plasticizers, which produce an off-gas in your home. Anyone who breathes in the air near the toys is immediately exposed to toxins.
Rubber and plastic toys, even plastic baby books, often use a vinyl PVC that’s not safe for small kids and babies. There are regulations against phthalates and lead in toys, but these laws aren’t heavily enforced. Many manufacturers who stop using these chemicals, however, move on to find phthalate variants and untested chemicals that could be equally as toxic.
Watch for harmful paint finishes or coatings on wood or metal toys. They often contain lead or other chemicals. Plywood and particleboard, for example, are wood types that commonly contain toxic glue and formaldehyde. Solid wood is untreated with toxins.
You may also see baby products with “BPA-free” or other phrases to seem more non-toxic, but if you can’t pronounce all the ingredients in a product, your child probably doesn’t need to play with or chew on it. Alternatively, healthy baby toys are made using organic or natural materials. They may be more expensive, but they’re much safer.
Non-toxic baby toys are ideal for imaginative and creative play, such as natural wooden blocks. Look for toys made from solid wood that are either unfinished or use a natural oil finish like beeswax, linseed, or walnut oil. Fabric and stuffed animal toys made from organic, untreated fibers like cotton are also ideal. Make sure they don’t contain toxic dyes though, as most soft toys and stuffed animals use synthetic materials typically treated with chemicals to make them fire, wrinkle, and stain resistant.
Healthy baby toys should be made using sustainable and natural materials, including:
- Non-toxic, solid wood
- Organic cotton
- 100% natural rubber
Are Fisher-Price Toys Toxic and Are Plastic Toys from the 80s Safe?
Vintage plastic and vinyl toys, such as the Fish-Price brand toys from the 70s or 80s, may contain hazardous metals. In a 2015 study on toxins in baby toys, lead and other heavy metals were found in higher amounts than many parents would like (8). They tested over 100 toys, including Fisher-Price toys, Barbies dolls, and other vintage toys. Scientists found harmful ingredients in high concentrations, such as:
When in doubt, call the company to check for hidden dangers. You can also receive new product recalls by signing up for updates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). They’ll send you information about recalls, so you can ensure your child’s toys are always safe.
How to Find the Safest Baby Toys
With 3 small boys at home, I made it a point to only choose the safest toys for them. We have my favorites in our online store which I list below.
Some brands place a high priority on the environmental impact and overall safety of their toys. Consider the following non-toxic toy brands:
- Green Toys
- Haba USA
- TAG Toys
- Finn + Emma
- The Puzzle People
- Smiling Tree Toys
- WeeUrban Baby
- Bannor Toys
- Imagine Childhood
- Uncle Goose
- Elves and Angels
- Bears for Humanity
- Maple Landmark
- Grimm’s Spiel and Holz
- Mama May I
You may also find green toys from various Etsy shops or small businesses near you. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask. The company should know how their toys are made better than anyone, and you might further enjoy supporting a local business when you buy safe toys for your kids.
For truly toxin-free toys, avoid:
- Painted wooden or metal toys
- Chinese-manufactured toys
- Any toy made from vinyl or PVC
- Plastic products (although those stamped 1,2,4, or 5 are safer)
Parents can also search for more information on the materials in their children’s toys on HealthyStuff.org, which is an excellent resource to find healthy baby toys and products. The database lists what materials are in each toy, and all the items are tested to provide accuracy.
The Best Toxin-Free Baby Toys
A wide range of non-toxic baby toys are available in our store, and maybe we’re a bit biased, but we love these products because they’re created using natural wood and organic materials.
The raw material is safe for growing babies, and each piece was handcrafted to perfection. Keep in mind that handcrafted products may vary and you’ll need to hand wash the toys or purchase a Wooden Toy Care Kit for maintenance and cleaning.
Here’s a complete non-toxic baby toy list of our favorites, split into two age groups.
Non-Toxic Baby Toys for Under 6 Months
Our wooden bee teether is free of plastic, which makes it perfect for tiny hands. Kids can chew on this teether without fear of harmful BPA plastic or phthalates. It’s 100% unfinished poplar wood.
A modern wooden baby rattle, this toxin-free baby toy is made from locally sourced, natural poplar. The seal is a mixture of beeswax and coconut oil for a non-toxic blend. Perfect as a gift for your baby or an expecting friend, this rattle design is unique.
Similar to our Geode Rattle, this wooden rattle is completely unfinished poplar. The materials are toxin-free and safe.
Non-Toxic Toys for 6-Month-Old and Up
Another toy made from poplar, this fun peg puzzle is ideal for a wide range of ages. Little ones can work on hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills while enjoying a non-toxic toy. It’s made using all-natural materials like organic coconut oil.
The perfect non-toxic toy gift set, these safe wooden toys stimulate young kids as they play. Each of the four toys is poplar or maple wood and use natural materials like organic cotton. There’s a rattle, a grasping bead, a teething toy, and a toy with interlocking disks for hand/eye coordination.
The only non-toxic baby toy item on this list not in our store, Lovevery’s non-toxic baby activity center is an award-winning gym for kids who are teething or learning to focus. It was made by children development experts and uses natural materials.
Toy Safety Checklist
Use the following toy safety checklist to help avoid toxins in baby toys (and other products):
- Opt for solid wooden toys, organic fabrics, and silicone teething toys.
- Avoid painted toys, especially those made before 1978 (when the U.S. banned lead paint in children’s toys) or with flaking paint.
- Look for rubber and wooden toys without PVC.
- Don’t buy imported toys, particularly from developing countries or China where the toxins are less regulated. Buy products from the US, the EU, or Canada.
- Stay away from fake jewelry like painted pearls or Mardi Gras beads, as they often contain illegally high amounts of lead.
- Choose organic baby clothing without flame retardants.
- Select latex or mesh mattresses, as they don’t contain high-density polyethylene with added flame retardants.
- When in doubt, call the manufacturer to ask about their toy safety standards.
- If you can’t avoid plastic toys, select PVC and BPA-free options and try to keep your children from chewing on them.
Other Toxic Baby Products to Banish from Your Home
Many other baby products contain harmful toxins, such as bibs and bottles. Chemicals hide in most of the products we bring home, particularly the things in your baby’s room. A surprising amount of baby products even attempt to cut costs by using untested or untreated chemicals, so even if a plastic product seems safe, it might not be.
You may be surprised what household products and other baby products carry contaminants. Many baby clothing options, for example, include flame retardants in pajamas and onesies. For more BPA free, all-natural baby products, check out my top 10 favorite products to replace toxic options around the home.
Don’t forget your entire home. The kitchen is another room that’s typically full of toxic chemicals and heavy metals, but other harmful chemicals are found in everyday household items like mattresses too.
- National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Harvard University. (2006). The Timing and Quality of Early Experience Combine to Shape Brain Architecture. Retrieved from: https://developingchild.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/Timing_Quality_Early_Experiences-1.pdf
- Hsin-Pao, Chen, et al. Phthalate exposure promotes chemotherapeutic drug resistance in colon cancer cells. (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5862569/
- Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Register. Cadmium. (2012). Retrieved from: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=46&tid=15
- Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Register. Lead Toxicity: What Are Possible Health Effects from Lead Exposure? Retrieved from: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=34&po=10
- Asbestos Nation. (2015). Asbestos Found in Children’s Toys. Retrieved from: http://www.asbestosnation.org/asbestos-found-in-childrens-toys/
- Xin-Yi, Cui, et al. (2015). Toxic metals in children’s toys and jewelry: Coupling bioaccessibility with risk assessment. Retrieved from: https://soils.ifas.ufl.edu/lqma/Publication/Cui%2015a.pdf
- American Chemistry Council. Phthalates in Toys. Retrieved from: https://phthalates.americanchemistry.com/Industry/Toys/
- Miller, Gillian Zaharias & Harris, Zoe E. (2015). Hazardous Metals in Vintage Plastic Toys Measured by a Handheld X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer. Retrieved from: https://www.neha.org/sites/default/files/publications/jeh/JEH-JanFeb2015-Vintage-Toys.pdf