How to Choose Safe Toys for Babies & Kids

Each holiday, parents are faced with the influx of new toys coming into their homes. Conscious parents looking to find safer toys with minimal environmental impact sometimes don’t know where to look.

You can’t control every toy that enters your home, but you can use these tips for your own toy shopping… and perhaps pass the information along to relatives who might be asking what to get the kids.

How to choose safe toys

Especially for those with younger children, who have the tendency to put everything in their mouths, deciding on items often involves much more than just visual appeal. It’s super important to do the research to find safe, non toxic toys.

Toy Safety – Why Does It Matter?

Unfortunately there are risks sometimes with toys that people don’t consider. Cheap toy cars and costume jewelry can be laced with lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and other dangerous metals that are harmful to their health while they grow and develop. Kids are much more vulnerable to the effects of chemical exposure at this stage of their life.

In February of 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act adopted the ASTM F973-07 levels for antimony, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, chromium standard, which limits levels of those chemicals in toys.

This may have passed. but that doesn’t mean that all toys are safe. The act didn’t incorporate the inclusion of Bisphenol-A or PVC, so we still need to be conscious when we shop. Here’s a deeper look at the safety of plastic toys.

Why are these chemicals in toys?

Plastics, fabrics and paints can contain a variety of substances in order to make them durable, flexible, or flame resistant. Sometimes it’s the byproduct of manufacturing process which can also be a great hazard to the people creating the products as well as disposal into the environment.

Our Annual Eco-Friendly Holiday Gift Guide for Kids

Questions like…

“Does this toy contain small parts that could be swallowed?” and “Are there any sharp edges?” loom in parents’ minds. But along with common safety concerns, there are other potentially dangerous aspects of toys that often get overlooked: whether or not they contain toxic chemicals.

A 2013 study by Environmental Health News (EHN) found chemicals of high concern in thousands of toys – from plastic building blocks to dolls and baby accessories. The report shows children’s items from America’s largest companies contain low levels of dozens of harmful industrial chemicals including cobalt, ethylene glycol, bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, parabens, and mercury.

Here are components to avoid in children’s toys:


Some of the most prevalent chemicals used by manufacturers came as a surprise, with cobalt being the most commonly reported. Cobalt is used in many blue dyes and other pigments and turned up in 1,228 products in 40 categories. Some health issues that may be caused by cobalt exposure include lung and other cancers, testicular atrophy, reduced fertility, and reduced organ function.

Ethylene glycol

Ethylene glycol, the second most widely found chemical, showed up in more than 1,000 products.  Commonly used as antifreeze and to make polyester and plastic water bottles, the EHN analysis also found ethylene glycol in baby feeding bibs, dolls, soft toys, educational and developmental toys, fancy dress costumes, and games.  Health effects due to exposure of ethylene glycol may include developmental problems in humans (if oral exposures are high enough), airway irritation from breathing it for prolonged periods, and kidney damage.


Interestingly enough, the report did not analyze the toxic chemical, lead, since most lead began being phased out of toys in 2009; however, older toys may still contain high levels of the chemical.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), and children’s health groups have found high levels of lead paint on older toys as well as in older vinyl lunch boxes, bibs, and children’s costume jewelry.

However, another thing to remember is that lead not only accumulates in the body over a lifetime, causing potential health problems down the road, but it also can be toxic even in small doses.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, lead can impair cognitive and physical development even at low levels, especially for children whose young brains are growing quickly.  And since lead is a neurotoxin, it can permanently damage not only a child’s brain but their hearing and kidneys, as well.

How Do I Find Safer Toys?

It can seem overwhelming, but there are many ways to shop for safer toys. There are several things you can look for when you start.

How to find toys that aren't made with toxins

Check the Country of Origin

Many toys are made in China. After the onslaught of recalls in toys a few years ago (and continuing recalls) parents have been more aware of shopping for toys not made in China.

It’s not saying that all toys made in other countries are bad. But buying toys made locally has a positive effect on the economy, reduces the carbon footprint (think of all the overseas shipping you saved), and many times are smaller companies who put strict limits on testing. A perfect example is the company Green Toys. All of their toys are made in the U.S. from recycled milk jugs. When you can manage it, buy toys made in the USA or locally.

Shop Only With Trusted Retailers

Now that we do much of our shopping online, there are plenty of stores that only carry ethically made toys. With a little investigating, it’s easy to see that these online shops vet the toys they carry to make sure they are free of toxic chemicals. These green online shops are run by families just like yours.

They want nothing less for their own children and grandchildren, so their standards are as high as yours. Some of my personal favorite places to shop for toys are MightyNest, a family-run business here in the US.  They investigate every company and product in their shop with a scrutiny that mirrors my own. Wherever you like to shop online, investigate their standards and ask questions. Most shop owners are more than happy to tell you what you need to know.

How to Choose Safe Toys: Check that list twice!

Use Online Tools to Research & Check for Toy Recalls

There are a couple of ways to do a little research before you shop. These tools are the answer to everything but they can help a little bit with toy buying as well as monitoring the toys you already have.

Healthy is an organization that tests many children’s products including toys.  You can search by brand or toy name and find what toxic chemicals or heavy metals have been detected such as lead, bromine, chlorine, arsenic and mercury.  You will be surprised at what you might find! also tests household products like cell phones and car seats.  It’s a site to keep on your radar this holiday season.

Consumer Products Safety Commission’s website might seem like a no-brainer when it comes to checking into toy safety but even toys deemed safe can be recalled later on without you knowing about it. You can subscribe to the Children’s Products feed with a newsreader or have a digest emailed to you weekly by submitting your email address. Choose what recalls you wish to receive and select the infants/child recalls to keep up with toys and kids products. You can also search the database for past toy recalls.

Safer Toy Alternatives 

All of this information sounds good, right? But when you’re in a hurry, you want links and options now. Here are toy brands that place a high priority on the safety and environmental impact of their toys.

Green Toys
Haba USA
Smiling Tree
Bannor Toys
Elves and Angels
Imagine Childhood
Maple Landmark
Think and Grow Toys
The Puzzle People
Handmade wooden toys
Play silks
Maple teething rings
Silicone teething rings
Wooden push toys
All natural play dough
Art supplies
Eco doll house
Wooden kitchen
Animal block puzzle

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