We’ve been slowly getting rid of toys for months now. I read Kim John Payne’s book Simplicity Parenting recently, and I have been on a path to simplify our home – specifically the kids’ closets and playroom. But I never really thought about whether we had non-toxic toys or not.
I’ve always known that certain toys were maybe-not-the-greatest, and I’ve tried to stay away from most plastic toys, but after doing the research for this blog post, I’m shocked at what kinds of things could still be lurking in our toy box. (Even now in our simplified, somewhat-minimalist playroom.)
I want to start this off by saying that most of this information is specifically for parents with very young children and babies. Older kids most likely won’t be exposed to as many chemicals in their toys because *usually* they’re not putting them in their mouths.
When babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are having playtime (whether they’re playing in your lap, on the rug, or on a safe playmat), they regularly put toys in their mouths though. In fact, there are toys specifically intended for this purpose – teethers.
Unfortunately, however, many of these products simply aren’t safe. This is what I’ve learned to look out for when buying toys, both for my kids and for others, whether as a birthday gift or as a holiday stocking stuffer.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may be compensated if you decide to make a purchase. You can read my full disclosure here.
8 Things to Look for when You Want Non-Toxic Toys
Find Non-Toxic Toys that are Marked “PVC-Free”
PVC is in a lot of soft plastic toys (including most teethers). It’s the thing that makes them soft and flexible and easy to chew on. If an item doesn’t say “PVC-free,” check the bottom of the toy. If it’s made with PVC, it will have a #3 on the bottom. PVC is often made up of all kinds of bad-for-you stuff like heavy metals and toxic chemicals. Here are a few of the most notable:
What’s So Bad About PVC Toys?
Phthalates are used in some plastics in order to mold it into a flexible vinyl-like substance. Phthalates are what help make PVC flexible.
They can mimic estrogen in the body, and studies on rodents show that they can affect the reproductive system. Scientists are unsure of exactly what they can do to humans, but I still steer clear of them when possible.
The United States banned three types of phthalate chemicals from children’s toys in 2009, and, after a lawsuit brought forward by a number of organizations (including the Consumer Products Safety Committee), they banned another five types of phthalates from children’s products in 2018.
You can find PVC toys that are labeled “phthalate-free,” but it’s probably best to stay away from PVC products entirely.
Cadmium & Lead
Cadmium is a known carcinogen, and the U.S. Federal Government regulates its use in children’s products. The guidelines in the law state that the outside surface and paint of a toy should not have more than .0075% cadmium levels by weight.
Lead can harm a child’s developing brain, slow their growth, and contribute to hearing and speech problems.
“No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.” -CDC
Lead is banned in the United States, but it is not banned in many other countries. Some imported toys may contain harmful levels of lead.
The Wall Street Journal investigated an array of toys in August 2019 and tested 41 of them for cadmium and lead. Thirty-five of those tests showed levels over the legal limit.
BPA will be marked with a number 7 on the bottom.
Like phthalates, some scientists believe that BPA is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen. Many studies show that it can negatively affect fertility, and some researchers believe BPA can contribute to cancer later in life when children are exposed to it at an early age.
Similar to phthalates, you can find PVC products that are labeled “BPA-free,” but, in my opinion, it’s best to stay away from PVC products entirely.
Avoid Plastic, but if You Must Buy Plastic, Polypropylene is Safer for Non-Toxic Toys
PVC is plastic. BPA is plastic. Plastic may be painted and produced in other countries that allow higher levels of heavy metals like lead and cadmium. Not to mention plastic’s harmful effects on the environment.
If you really want a plastic toy though, look for one made of polypropylene.
Polypropylene has a very high melting point, so it’s deemed safe to be used for food products, and it’s typically dishwasher and microwave safe. Studies have shown that chemicals don’t seep out of the plastic, and it is known to be safe for humans. That being said, it’s not easily recyclable, so if sustainability is top-of-mind for you, this probably isn’t your best option.
“Made in China” Toys are Probably Not Non-Toxic Toys
China doesn’t place as many regulations on manufacturing facilities that many other countries do. There are some toys that are safe from China, but it’s best to avoid anything stamped “Made in China,” in my opinion.
This is because some of the U.S. laws and regulations only ban companies from manufacturing products and toys with certain chemicals. This means companies can manufacture them elsewhere (like in China) and import them into the United States to be sold.
Avoid Flame Retardants in Toys (and Clothing Too)
In 2013, 152 countries who are a part of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants committed to banning HBCD.
This means it cannot be manufactured, imported, or used in products in those countries.
Don’t know what The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is? You’re not alone… I didn’t either. Probably at least partially because the U.S. is not a member.
According to its website (www.pops.int) “The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment.”
And, yes, you read that right… the U.S. is not a part of The Stockholm Convention and has not banned this chemical. In fact, we’re one of the leading producers of it.
PBDE (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers)
PBDE’s are another flame retardant. They’ve been used since the 1960s, but they are linked to “subtle but measurable” developmental problems in children, according to a 2003 study by three Wisconsin doctors (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1069057/).
PBDE’s have been banned in the U.S. However, from the research I’ve done, it looks like there is actually a legal loophole that allows already-made products containing PBDE’s to be imported and sold in the States.
In other words, U.S. factories cannot produce PBDE’s and cannot use PBDE’s when manufacturing products, but if another country makes products with PBDE’s, those products can be imported and sold in stores across the U.S.
Buy Wooden Toys (but Choose Them Wisely)
If you’re looking to go completely plastic-free with your children’s toys, you would look into buying wooden toys.
They’re better for our children’s health, they’re better for our planet, they’re usually quite well-made and can be passed on to future generations, and – hello – they look rather adorable sitting on the playroom shelves. Really, what’s not to love?
That being said, some wooden toys, especially those produced in other countries (such as China), can contain harmful chemicals, specifically lead.
If you’re looking for pretty painted wooden toys, be sure they are made in the U.S. or Europe where lead-based paints have been banned.
Keep a Close Eye on What Your Children Put in Their Mouths
First-time parents likely already do this (I know I did), but once you have multiple kids, it gets more and more difficult to “helicopter” over your children.
That being said, if you have toxic toys that you’re not ready to get rid of (maybe someone has a personal connection to them), don’t allow them to be out at times when you aren’t able to see how they’re being played with.
Contact the Manufacturer
If your toys aren’t labeled, contact the manufacturer and ask what they’re made of. You may be surprised. (FYI, Legos are not made with PVC, which was a relief for me because my kids would be LOST without their legos. Lego is actually attempting to transition to a plant-based plastic to make many of their bricks. And they’re also working on sustainable bricks made from recycled plastic.)
Opt for Soft Toys that are Made of Cotton or Hemp
Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world, and it’s a good idea to stay away from conventional cotton (my family has not transitioned to an entirely organic cotton wardrobe, but we plan to one day).
Organic cotton or hemp is much healthier for children than conventional cotton, especially when you’re talking about a lovey that is always with them or is continuously being put in their mouths.
Watch for Recalls
Did you know there is a one-stop shop for all consumer product recalls? I didn’t. But it’s a fairly easy search on the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s website. You can narrow your search just for toys (or whatever else) and you can also search by hazard type, like lead and chemical exposure.
My Favorite Non-Toxic Toys
Best Non-Toxic Wooden Toys
I first found Bannor Toys on Instagram. Their gorgeous photos of their wooden toys attracted me to their account, and I was stuck on them from there on out.
All Bannor toys are made in the U.S. (in Iowa), and they exceed U.S. standards and regulations.
Most of their toys are wooden, but they do have some silicone toys and pieces as well. They guarantee that all of their silicone is food-grade and made without BPA, PVC, Cadmium, Lead, Latex and Phthalates.
If you’ve already researched non-toxic toys or follow any mama influencers on social media, you’ve probably seen the rainbow stacking toy from Grimm’s.
Grimm’s is a German company, and all of their toys are up to European and U.S. standards. They also use wood from sustainable forestry in Europe.
The toys are hand-painted in gorgeous bright colors that are perfect for a child’s developing mind.
They are a little pricey, but they’re beautiful and made well enough to last for generations.
I absolutely adore these little magnetic wooden blocks.
They allow my children to be so much more creative than they can be with basic wooden blocks.
Tegu is based in Honduras, and they own their supply chain and manufacturing plant. This means they have control over every aspect of the blocks, and they meet all U.S. requirements.
The coolest thing to me is that they will pay for shipping to take them back from you when your kids grow out of them, and they’ll recycle them responsibly.
PlanToys are made in Thailand, and they are all about sustainability and healthy childhood development.
They manufacture their toys from sustainable and natural materials, and they always use eco-friendly processes in their facilities (like using solar energy for electricity).
All of PlanToys non-toxic toys exceed U.S. and European standards for safety and quality.
Haba toys are made in Germany from sustainably-sourced wood, and they use safe water-based stains and lacquers on all of their finishes.
In 2014, they did begin manufacturing some of their toys in China, but they still guarantee the safety and quality that I expect from Haba.
Their wooden toddler toys are still made in Germany.
Camden Rose carries wooden toys that are inspired by the Waldorf philosophy.
The toys are made in the U.S. (Michigan), and the company is dedicated to creating long-lasting, high-quality toys for children of all ages.
In addition to their wooden toys, Camden Rose also creates wool, silk, and 100% organic cotton toys that you can trust to be safe for your children.
Best Non-Toxic Art Supplies
We have a few different posts about art supplies, so if you’d like to see more of our picks in specific catergories, be sure to check them out:
Many kids art supplies are marked “non-toxic,” but are they actually non-toxic?
Eco-Kids is open and honest about all of their ingredients, and they are dedicated to transparency.
I have not purchased their crayons (yet), but I have purchased their “dough,” and it’s great. It dries out a bit quicker than the more common brands (and it’s definitely more expensive), but I still like it for my kids.
Much like Eco-Kids, Natural Art Supplies is very open and honest about what they include in their ingredients.
They sell a lot of paints and dyes that are good for older children (and mamas too).
All of their products are “natural, organic, green, fair trade, eco-friendly, or carry a social mission,” according to their home page.
We love Honeysticks art supplies because the company makes them with non-toxic food-grade ingredients.
(These art supplies make a great stocking stuffer too!)
Best Non-Toxic Plastic & Rubber Toys
All of Green Toys products are made in the U.S., and they’re made from recycled milk jugs!
(At the time of this post, they’ve recycled almost 100 million milk jugs!)
Their toys all meet or exceed U.S. standards and regulations, and they’re packaged in 100% recyclable cardboard.
Magnatiles are surprisingly safer than I expected. Like all of the other toys on this list, they meet or exceed current U.S. safety standards, are BPA- and phthalate-free, and are not made from PVC.
My kids love magnatiles, so I’m happy to see this, but I’d still prefer they play with non-plastic toys.
Begin Again’s toys are made or natural rubber that’s sourced responsibly.
The company is dedicated to creating a world where parents can more easily opt for plastic-free toys that are safer for their children and safer for the environment.
They use safe water-based stains on all of their colored toys, and all of their toys meet or exceed federal regulations.
We have another post all about buying safe teethers if you’d like to check it out too! Here are a couple of our favorites though:
Chewbeads creates teethers, toys, and jewelry for mom and baby.
They are all made of 100% silicone, and do not contain BPA, PVC, Phthalates, Cadmium, or Lead.
I love their stroller toys!
Sophie the Giraffe is probably Vulli’s most notable teether.
Sophie is made of natural rubber, and she exceeds all international standards for safety and quality.
Best Non-Toxic Dolls & Stuffed Animals
Under the Nile creates gorgeous little dolls and soft organic cotton toys for children. Their dolls are probably their most popular product, but I also love their baby lovies, like the Scraptopus.
The company is based in Egypt and only uses 100% certified organic Egyptian cotton to make their toys and clothing.
Cuddle & Kind creates beautiful and sustainable stuffed animals that look and feel absolutely amazing.
They’re trying to end world hunger too! Every purchase gives 10 meals to children in need.
The company is committed to sustainable practices, and they produce all of their products in fair trade environments.