From quality wooden toys to the best eco-friendly plastic toys on the market, What Mommy Knows has compiled a list of the safest toys for your little ones!
Continue reading to learn more about the manufacturing of toys as well as safety concerns in modern toys or continue scrolling to check out the safest (and best) toys on the market today!
TOYS | Then VS. Now
The manufacturing process of toys has changed quite a bit since our grandparents were children. In earlier years, toys were made using natural materials like solid wood, while today most toys are made from plastic, foam, particle board, and MDF. Although vintage toys may have been made from more natural materials, they often contained high amounts of heavy metals like lead, cadmium or arsenic in the paint and other components which have been now been deemed unsafe for children.
Harmful Chemicals Still Found in Toys Today
- FLAME RETARDANTS | Although flame retardants are found in so many of our household products (and children’s products too), they are actually quite harmful to our health. Chemical flame retardants are known to cause reproductive harm, endocrine problems, thyroid issues, cancer and are particularly harmful to fetal and child development. Often flame retardants are found in plastic toys, tents, tunnels, foam, upholstered furniture, mattresses, and so much more.
- LEAD & HEAVY METALS | Lead is a neurotoxin that has been banned in house paint in the USA since 1978, but unfortunately it is still used in household items and even toys made abroad. It can cause irreversible brain damage leading to behavioral issues, learning problems, dementia, and other health issues. Lead also has not been banned for use in toys, believe it or not. In addition to lead, other heavy metals like cadmium, mercury and arsenic have been found in toys as well.
- PVC / VINYL | PVC is the most toxic plastic for our bodies and the environment. Phthalates, organotins and other heavy metals are often added to PVC to make it flexible or rigid. PVC can cause respiratory problems, reproductive issues, weaken your immune system and contribute to cancer among other things.
- PHTHALATES | Phthalates are found in soft plastic toys and scented toys. Phthalates disrupt your body’s endocrine system, cause reproductive and hormonal issues, increase your risk of cancer, and may be responsible for contributing to allergies and asthma. Artificial scents contain phthalates so it is best to avoid anything with fragrance – in any and all products.
- BPA & BPS | BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that mimics estrogen and is often added to plastic. Even in small amounts, BPA has been linked to reproductive issues including infertility, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and obesity. While BPA is now banned in some baby goods, and many manufacturers have replaced it with BPS or other chemicals – which some scientist believe are just as toxic.
- FORMALDEHYDE | Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can be found in some plastic toys, some paint, and in the glue used for wooden toys, especially ‘wooden’ toys made from plywood or composite wood.
Learn more about chemicals in toys and other household products here.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) | Doesn’t the CPSC regulate the safety of toys?
Over the years, the government realized something must be done to protect our children so in 1972, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was created to limit the amount of chemicals our children are exposed to. The job of the CPSC is to regulate the safety of toys, but they only do this to an extent in terms of chemical exposure, electrical and mechanical safety.
Here’s why we can’t fully rely on the CPSC for toy safety:
- Often times toys are recalled after complaints are filed. Then, by the time a recall is issued, the damage is already done. Popular recalls for unsafe amounts of lead include products from Melissa and Doug, Thomas the Train, & Fidget Spinners.
- The CPSC is not able to check every specific batch of toys for hazards and contamination – such as lead paint. Unfortunately, this means toys containing unsafe amounts of chemicals or unsafe toy parts, may be sold.
- Allowable amounts of chemicals have a history of changing as time progresses. For example, BPA, lead, phthalates and other harmful chemicals were allowed in children’s toys for decades (and still are to an extent – see below).
- Lead is still legally allowed to be present in toys. The legal allowable amount of lead, a neurotoxin, in children’s toys is 90 ppm (parts per million) in the coating or paint, and 100 ppm in the substrate.
- BPA is often replaced with other chemicals like BPS to which the safety has been debated.
- Not all flame retardants are banned in children’s toys although studies show there is no need for them in our products, including children’s toys.
And maybe MOST importantly…
- According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), toys intended for children over 12 years old do not require any third-party testing in the USA.
- Additionally, if a toy is intended for children age 6 and not intended for mouthing, the CPSC does not test toys for heavy metals – which I believe is a total disservice.
This means if 2 year old Tommy is playing with a toy from 6 year old Susie’s toy box, he could potentially be playing roulette with toxins. Personally, I don’t care how old my kiddo is, I want to limit chemical exposure as much as possible.
Why Avoid Toys (And Products) Made in China
While avoiding toys made in China can be challenging considering 80% or more of toys are made there, it is important to note that Chinese factories are often poorly regulated with little oversight and not held to the highest standards. Workers are often treated unethically, inhumanely and subjected to poor, unsafe working conditions. Additionally, it is very possible that due to the lack of quality control and lax regulations in China, chemicals and toxins that are ban in the USA may very well make it into products that we import.
THE BEST NON-TOXIC TOY BRANDS
The following list contains toy brands that I personally own and have thoroughly researched. From quality wooden toys to the safest, eco-friendly plastic toys on the market, you’re sure to find brands your little will love! Questions? Feel free to comment below or contact me!
One of my favorite toy brands, Plan Toys, creates their collection from natural rubberwood (free of additives) using formaldehyde-free glue and non-toxic, heavy metal free dyes. The Plan Toys collection is extremely durable too – I credit that to the chemical-free kiln-drying process! Plan Toys crafts clutching toys, doll houses, play food, vehicles, games, blocks, educational and imaginary play toys like doctor kits and so much more! We have numerous favorites, but this fruit and veggie set is used daily. Made in Thailand.
Made from solid wood and non-toxic, water-based stains, Grimms stacking toys are open-ended and perfect for any age! Since this brand is a bit on the pricier side, I did a ton of research prior to purchasing our first Grimms toy to really ensure they lived up to the hype. My thoughts? Grimms is a trust-worthy, transparent company that makes true heirloom toys. If you’re going to splurge on one toy from this collection, I’d suggest the XL rainbow – the uses are endless and quality is superior to other brands! Made in Germany.
Haba uses sustainable wood to manufacture a vast range of toys including clutching toys, blocks, prams, games and much more. Non-toxic water-based dyes are used on all of their wooden toys. Haba’s plastic toys are made from ABS plastic or polypropylene, for the most part. Haba does, unfortunately, make their “Little Friends” collection from PVC – I was super disappointed to learn this. Most of their wooden toys are made in Germany, although some toys are manufactured in China. Note: I really, really am a big fan of this company. They are very transparent and specifically their wooden toys made in Germany are excellent, but the PVC plastic really irks me!
Petit Collage makes non-toxic toys using recycled paper, vegetable ink and absolutely zero PVC! Traditional paper dolls, magnet sets, wooden pull toys, stickers, coloring books, and even this ferris wheel are just some of our favorites from Petite Collage! Made in China.
Tegu solid wood magnetic blocks are made from sustainably sourced, FSC-certified Honduran hardwood and come in an assortment of colors and sizes! Tegu uses water-based pigments and paints that hold up exceptionally well. We’ve added several sets to our collection over the years! Made in Honduras.
Uncle Goose creates a wide variety of solid wood blocks using non-toxic dyes. Made in the USA.
Tender Leaf Toys
Made from rubberwood, Tender Leaf Toys are similar Plan Toys, but it seems the quality of Plan Toys is better overall, making it my first pick. For example, the paint on Tender Leaf Toys sometimes chips unlike Plan Toys. But, at this time, Tender Leaf Toys offers a bit more variety when it comes to certain toys – which is why we have quite the collection from both brands! Here’s one of our favorites from Tender Leaf. Made in Indonesia.
Hevea makes natural rubber bath toys, bath mats, baby gear, and even stuff for your pup! Hevea bath toys don’t have holes, making them a mold-free zone – which I love. Hevea also uses vegetable and plant-based paints on all of their products. Made in Malaysia.
Begin Again creates cute natural rubber bath toys that my daughter adores – and I love that the holes are large enough to allow water to escape, therefore, inhibiting mold growth! Begin Again rubber toys do smell a bit like natural rubber when they first arrive, but the smell dissipates quickly. You can also soak them in vinegar to speed up the process.
Begin Again also makes wooden toys using water-based dyes as well, but we do not own any so I cannot comment on the quality. Mostly made in China with select toys manufactured in the USA.
Camden Rose carefully crafts beautiful wooden play kitchens and heirloom-quality toys made from solid hardwood and coated with food-grade finishes. Solid wood kitchen sets, kitchen accessories, dollhouses, Montessori toys, and so much more make up the Camden Rose collection. Ethically made in the USA.
Elves and Angels
Made from solid hardwood and pine, Elves and Angels offers a lifetime guarantee on their products including play kitchens, furniture, puzzles, and even dolls. Elves and Angels manufacturers their products without the use of particle board, MDF, or other cheaply made products and uses “Tried & True” linseed oil (the only linseed oil to my knowledge that is free of heavy metals) as a sealer. Made in the USA.
Maple Landmark, a historically reputable company, creates solid wood toys. The Schoolhouse Naturals line from Maple Landmark does not contain any type of finish while other lines by Maple Landmark use a petroleum-based lacquer or urethane finish which you really wouldn’t want your little one mouthing. Made in the USA.
Lovevery uses solid wood, water-based paints, and organic cotton. Given this is a newer brand, and my daughter has pretty much outgrown it, I have yet to try their products. However, I have looked into them and definitely am excited to purchase from Lovevery when I have my next little one! Check them out for yourself here.
Little Colorado products are mostly made from solid wood, although some products use plywood (specifically some of the painted products). Little Colorado toys can be purchased unfinished or finished using a non-toxic sealant. This cradle, our step stool, and my daughter’s table and chair set are some of our favorites from Little Colorado – they also make cute book shelves and toy boxes too! Made in the USA.
We absolutely love our pickler triangle (with rock climbing board) and XL rocking boat from Wiwurka! This brand makes open-ended, aesthetically pleasing, heavy-duty, quality toys made from wood using non-toxic water-based dyes. You can order their products finished or unfinished from their website or Etsy. Made in Mexico.
Open-Ended Creations makes one of the best curvy boards / balance boards on the market! Available in 6 different non-toxic finishes, these curvy boards are handmade from nine layers of Canadian Maple plywood using truly non-toxic glues. We purchased ours from Etsy! Made in the USA.
Lifetime Climbing Dome
This sturdy climbing dome is made from metal, free of heavy metals like lead and built to last! The brand offers a variety of colors and sizes too! This is a great alternative to the plastic versions made from PVC.
North Star Toys
North Star crafts affordable, non-toxic wooden trains, cars, boats, animals and other toys that are perfect for your baby or little one! All toys are made from a variety of woods including walnut, oak, and alder, then, finished with a food-grade mineral oil. Made in the USA.
Made from 100% stainless steel, Kleyanimals keys and key rings are a safe option and close alternative to real keys. Kleyanimals keys are BPA, lead, cadmium, and toxin-free! Did you know almost all household keys contain unsafe amounts of lead and are not safe for babies to play with? In fact, there is often a Proposition 65 Warning that can be found on new keys. Made in the USA.
Squigz, a Fat Brain Toy, are made from 100% food-grade silicone that is free of BPA and latex. Squigz are a great alternative to PVC suction toys and best of all can be used in the bath, on windows, floors, and so much more!
Organic Stuffed Animals
Elly Lu | Apple Park | Under the Nile
Emma + Finn | Bears For Humanity
Traditional stuffed animals often use synthetic chemicals in the manufacturing process which can be harmful to our bodies and our earth. These chemicals can be inhaled or absorbed through out skin. The following brands are ones I know, own, and trust!
- Apple Park | Organic cotton, corn fibers, and natural silk are used to make this cute collection of stuffed animal favorites!
- Elly Lu | OCS organic certified cotton, nontoxic dyes and organic buckwheat hulls make up the majority of their products with a small percentage of products containing hypoallergenic recycled polyfill and corn fiber fill. Check the fill ingredients for details.
- Finn + Emma | Handmade using GOTS certified organic cotton and low impact dyes, Finn + Emma, ensures the highest standards for environmental, quality and labor protections at their fair trade facility.
- Under the Nile | Manufactured using GOTS-certified organic Egyptian cotton, at a fair trade facility in Egypt, Under the Nile ensures all products are 100% free of BPA, PVC, formaldehyde, flame retardants, and heavy metals.
- ‘Bears for Humanity’ | Made from 100% GOTS Certified organic cotton and filled with recycled polyester, this option is filled with recycled polyester, but still a better option than most conventional stuffies!
SAFE PLASTIC TOYS
Not all plastic toys are created the equal! BPA, BPS, phthalates, chlorine, and other chemicals can all leach out of plastic with each use. While we don’t have very many plastic toys, we do have a few from some of the safest brands on the market today. Continue reading to learn why these plastic toys made the cut!
My top pick for plastic toys is Green Toys. Made from 100% recycled milk jugs (non-leaching polyethene plastic), these toys hold up way better than other plastic toys and are more environmentally friendly too.
Green Toys manufacturers cute watering cans, sand toys, doll houses, vehicles, kitchen accessories like tea pots, plates and utensils and of course, this cupcake set (a favorite in our home)! Made in the USA.
Spielstabil toys are made of ABS plastic and do not contain BPA, PVC or phthalates, making them a safer plastic choice. Additionally, Spielstabil offers a 10 year warranty. Our favorites include these cool ice cream cones and this shovel! Made in Germany.
Legos are made from ABS plastic – one of the safest plastics. Something to be aware of… while NEW legos are made safely, older vintage legos have tested positive for lead, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals just as many other vintage toys have. Made in Denmark, Hungary, Monterrey, Mexico and most recently China.
American Plastic Toys*
While American Plastic Toys, would not be my number one pick for plastic, it is still a better option than other popular brands. Personally, when choosing plastic toys, I’d always choose Green Toys over American Plastic Toys for several reasons: Green Toys is a ‘cleaner’ brand, more eco-friendly brand, and the quality is superior. Since Green Toys has a smaller selection, they don’t always have what I am looking for. For example, this small water moat was the perfect gift to keep my daughter occupied all winter long, but at this time, Green Toys doesn’t manufacture it yet! Disclosure: This is the only toy we own from American Plastic Toys so I cannot yet speak on the quality of their other items.
American Plastic Toys uses safer materials and plastics such as polypropylene (~80%), polyethylene (~20%), and FDA approved colorants on most of their toys. None of their products contain phthalates or BPA. While a majority of their materials are sourced domestically, the company does import some small components, such as a fastener or sound part, on about 24% of their toys. Made in the USA.
*I was hesitant to put American Plastic Toys on this list, but I know many people are looking for additional safe plastic options when it comes to certain toys so I added American Plastic Toys to the list. I still encourage you to shop the other more eco-conscious brands first or better yet, buy wooden toys!
But, wait, what about these brands? Are they safe?
Although the brands below are not ideal, as a rule of thumb, I would always choose one of the brands listed below rather than a ‘no-name’ brand or dollar store toy due to the fact that so often many of the generic, ‘no-name’ brands are manufactured as cheaply as possible at factories in China with little oversight. The chemical make-up of no-name products very well may (and often do) contain toxins. Continue reading to learn more.
Melissa and Doug
Everyone’s heard of Melissa and Doug! When you think about wooden toys, this is the brand that often comes to mind… except… most of their toys are not wood or at least not solid wood, instead they are made are plywood or plastic. Additionally, Melissa and Doug has had several recalls over the years regarding toxic heavy metals like lead found in their toys.
While we generally avoid this brand, I would be OK with dress up costumes from Melissa and Doug (although they are polyester and often come with plastic toys that are iff-y). And to be completely transparent, my daughter does have the Melissa and Doug Disney Princess Magnetic Doll set – which she loves as well as some activity pads which are perfect for when we are on-the-go!
One reason I like Ikea is because all materials used are listed on all products (ie: particle board, solid pine, polyester, and so on). Ikea also does not use PVC in the manufacturing of any of their toys – another plus! But, some toys do contain particle board and while they lack some transparency as far as the paint, glues, and finishes go, Ikea has claimed to use non-toxic, formaldehyde-free glues and finishes. In general, the brand tests pretty clean in terms of toxins and they are a conscious company, so I do purchase Ikea products from to time to time! Mostly made in China and Sweden. Side note: I also love Ikea’s live plant selection!
Hape is not an ideal brand in my opinion, but the company is very responsive which I admire. Hape claims to have great oversight of their factory. We own this puzzle from Hape and so far so good! Made in China.
Besides being plastic (not environmentally-friendly and contains questionable chemicals), the company also said, ‘yes, they use flame retardants’ and cadmium in their toys. Due to these concerns, I prefer to keep this brand outside. If we do purchase outdoor toys from Little Tikes, like this cute little car, we make sure to only purchase hard plastic toys which have less of a chance of leaching toxins. Made in the USA.
Step2 doesn’t add flame retardants to their plastic, but in the past have said it is possible their products contain flame retardants in the plastic provided by the manufacturer. For this reason, I would choose Step2 over Little Tikes. With that being said, when choosing plastic toys for outdoor play, I always choose Step2 over Little Tikes for larger items. This water table is one of our favorites. We also scored the discontinued Step 2 hard plastic pool from a “Buy/Sell” group which we love – I highly recommend purchasing it, if you come across one! Made in the USA.
Looking for other safe options?
- 4 Best Organic Stuffed Animals
- Safe Non-Toxic Art Supplies
- Best Outdoor Toys for 2021
- 4 Eco-Friendly Beach Toys for 2021
For more safe toy ideas, check out my Amazon Storefront! As always, thank you for your support and thank you for reading!
- Product Recalls
- Beyond Lead: Toxins in Toys
- Toxic Chemicals in Toys and Children’s Products: Limitations of Current Responses and Recommendations for Government and Industry
- Huge, Global Study of Plastic Toys Finds Over 100 Substances That May Harm Children
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” Regardless, we only recommend products or services that have extensively researched; and products that we use personally, have used and would use in the future. We pride ourselves on honesty and integrity to our readers.
Full Disclaimer and Disclosure here.