Common Toxins Found in Kids Toys

Latest posts by Ewen Finser (see all)

Our children spend a lot of time with their toys and toy safety isn’t just about choking hazards. Despite regulations, some toys still contain harmful chemicals.

To put it plainly, there are a lot of mass produced junk toys out there with dubious, if untraceable origins. Parents deserve more transparency about the hidden toxic history of mass produced toys. Kids deserve better!

As a parent of 3 under 7, I created this site as a resource for all natural toys and play partly for this reason.

In this article I’ll outline some of the common toxic culprits found in mass produced generic toys.

TL;DR: These are the top toxins found in commercial children’s toys (I’ll go in depth below on each)..

  1. Lead
  2. Phthalates
  3. Bisphenol-A (BPA)
  4. Cadmium
  5. Arsenic
  6. Formaldehyde
  7. PVC
  8. Flame Retardants

Examples High Profile Toy Recalls Due to Toxins

Over the years, there have been several high-profile toy recalls due to toxins. Some of the most notable ones include:

  • Lead paint in Mattel toys: In 2007, Mattel recalled over 21 million toys because they contained lead paint, which can cause serious health problems.
  • Cadmium in McDonald’s Shrek glasses: In 2010, McDonald’s recalled millions of Shrek-themed glasses because they were found to contain cadmium, a toxic metal.
  • Phthalates in baby toys: In 2008, the US banned the use of certain phthalates in children’s toys due to their potential health risks.
  • BPA in water bottles: In 2012, Nalgene voluntarily recalled its reusable water bottles (including for kids) after it was discovered that they contained Bisphenol A (BPA), which can disrupt hormone levels.

Lead: The Most Pervasive and Dangerous Toxin in Toys

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause serious health problems when ingested or inhaled. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause developmental delays and behavioral problems in children.

Unfortunately, it has been a popular material used in many toys over the years, particularly pre-1970s.

  • Lead-based paint: This type of paint was commonly used in toys before it was banned in the US in 1978. However, some toys made in other countries may still contain lead-based paint.
  • Plastic toys: Lead can be added to plastic to make it more flexible and durable. This is particularly common in toys made for young children who may chew on them.
  • Metal toys: Lead may be used in metal toys to make them heavier or give them a certain texture. It can also be found in the solder used to join metal parts together.

The most common examples to watch out for are antique or vintage toys. While they may have a certain aesthetic appeal and charm, it can be hard to know for sure (without testing) if these older toys are lead-free.

Phthalates and BPA: Endocrine Disruptors in Plastic Toys

Phthalates and BPA are two of the most common toxins found in kids’ toys. Phthalates are often used to make plastics more flexible and durable, while BPA is used to harden plastic and make it more shatter-resistant.

Examples of Phthalates in Toys

  • Dolls
  • Action Figures
  • Bath Toys
  • Squeeze Toys

These toys are often made with PVC plastic, which can contain high levels of phthalates. When children play with these toys, the phthalates can leach out of the plastic and into their bodies.

Examples of BPA in Toys

  • Baby Bottles
  • Sippy Cups
  • Dental Appliances
  • Teething Toys

BPA is often used in clear, hard plastics like polycarbonate. When children drink from a bottle or use a teething toy made with BPA, the chemical can leach out and enter their bodies.

Alternatives to Plasticizer-Containing Toys

Concerned parents can opt for alternative materials when purchasing toys. Look for products made from natural materials like wood, organic cotton, or silicone. Additionally, some manufacturers have started to produce phthalate-free PVC toys, which can be a safer option for your child.

Formaldehyde and VOCs: Hidden Dangers in Wood and Fabric Toys

Parents often assume that wood and fabric toys are safer alternatives to plastic ones. However, formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can still lurk in these seemingly innocent playthings.

Formaldehyde: A Preservative in Toys

Formaldehyde, a strong-smelling chemical, is used as a preservative and bonding agent in some wooden and fabric toys. Exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation in children. To minimize risks, look for toys made from untreated, natural materials, or those labeled as low-formaldehyde or formaldehyde-free.

VOCs: Off-Gassing from Paints and Adhesives

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids, including the paints and adhesives used in toys. Inhaling these chemicals can lead to headaches, dizziness, and respiratory issues. Choose toys with water-based paints and glues, or opt for items that use natural pigments and plant-based adhesives to minimize exposure.

Tips for Avoiding Toxins in Wood and Fabric Toys

  • Research brands that prioritize eco-friendly, non-toxic materials.
  • Check labels for certifications such as Greenguard Gold, Oeko-Tex Standard 100, or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).
  • Be cautious of toys manufactured in countries with lax safety regulations.
  • Avoid toys with strong chemical odors, as they can indicate high levels of VOCs.

Flame Retardants: Toxic Chemicals in Soft and Stuffed Toys

Flame retardants are widely used in soft and stuffed toys to prevent fires. However, these chemicals can pose a serious health risk to children. Exposure to flame retardants has been linked to hormonal imbalances, neurodevelopmental disorders, and even cancer.

The Most Common Flame Retardants in Toys

There are several types of flame retardants used in children’s toys, but the most common ones are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), organophosphates, and chlorinated Tris. These chemicals are not bound to the materials they are applied to, which means they can easily leach out and be ingested or inhaled by kids.

How to Avoid Toxic Flame Retardants in Toys

Here are some tips to help you make safer choices for your children:

  • Opt for toys made from natural materials, such as organic cotton or wool, which are less likely to contain flame retardants.
  • Choose toys that are labeled as “flame retardant-free” or “no added flame retardants.”
  • Check for product recalls, as toys with high levels of toxic chemicals are sometimes recalled by manufacturers.
  • Avoid older toys, as they may contain higher levels of banned or restricted flame retardants.

By being aware of the dangers of flame retardants and making informed choices, you can help protect your children from exposure to these toxic chemicals.

Dangers of Cadmium in Toys

Cadmium is a toxic metal that is often found in children’s toys. Cadmium is a carcinogen that can cause kidney and lung damage.

Here are some common examples of toys that may contain cadmium:

  • Jewelry, especially costume jewelry
  • PVC vinyl toys
  • Painted toys, especially those with bright colors
  • Battery-operated toys
  • Toys with metal parts or components

Arsenic in Toys

Arsenic, a highly toxic substance, has been found in some children’s toys, posing significant health risks to kids. This dangerous element can lead to developmental delays, behavioral issues, and even cancer when exposed in high levels.

How Arsenic Enters Toys

Manufacturers sometimes use arsenic compounds in the production of toys, especially in paints and pigments used for coloring. This can result in traces of arsenic being present on the toy’s surface, which can then be ingested or inhaled by children during play.

Preventing Arsenic Exposure

To protect your children from arsenic exposure, consider purchasing toys from reputable brands that follow strict safety regulations. Regularly inspect and clean your child’s toys, and teach them the importance of washing their hands after playing to reduce the risk of ingestion.

Overview of Common Toxins in Toys & Health Risks

Toxins Health Risks Common Sources
Lead Brain damage, lowered IQ, anemia, kidney damage Paint on toys, vinyl, plastics
Phthalates Hormone disruption, developmental delays, asthma Soft plastics, PVC, vinyl, rubber
BPA Hormone disruption, cancer, behavioral problems Hard plastics, baby bottles, sippy cups
Cadmium Damage to kidneys, lungs, and bones Paint, plastics, batteries
Formaldehyde Cancer, respiratory problems, eye irritation Pressed wood products, paints, glues


The Importance of Reading Labels and Knowing Toy Regulations

As parents, we all want the best for our children, and that includes ensuring their toys are safe and free from harmful substances. Reading labels and understanding toy regulations can help you make informed decisions when purchasing toys for your little ones.

Understanding Labels and Symbols

Labels on toys provide valuable information about the materials used and potential hazards. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with symbols such as the CE mark (European safety standard), ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), and the age recommendation to ensure the toy is suitable for your child.

Checking for Toxins and Chemicals

Some toys may contain harmful chemicals like lead, phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA). Always look for toys labeled as BPA-free, lead-free, or phthalate-free to ensure you’re not exposing your child to these dangerous substances.

Compliance with Toy Safety Regulations

Toys sold in the US must comply with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which requires manufacturers to follow strict safety standards. Familiarize yourself with these regulations and seek out toys that meet or exceed these guidelines to ensure your child’s safety.

In conclusion, reading labels and understanding toy regulations is a crucial step in protecting your child from harmful toxins found in some mainstream toys. By being well-informed, you can confidently choose safe and enjoyable toys for your little ones.

How to Test Your Child’s Toys for Toxins at Home

As a concerned parent, you may want to test your child’s toys for toxins right in your own home. Fortunately, there are simple and cost-effective ways to do this.

1. Visual Inspection

Start with a thorough visual inspection of the toys. Check for peeling paint, chipping, or any signs that a toy might be releasing harmful materials. If you notice these red flags, set the toy aside for further testing.

2. Smell Test

Although not a foolproof method, the smell test can help identify toys that may contain harmful chemicals. If a toy has a strong chemical odor, it could be a sign of off-gassing from toxic materials. In this case, it’s best to keep the toy away from your child.

3. Home Testing Kits

There are several home testing kits available for detecting toxins in toys, such as lead and phthalate test kits. These kits typically involve swabbing the toy’s surface and observing changes in the swab’s color. Follow the kit’s instructions carefully for accurate results.

Recommended Test Kits

The two reliable lead testing kits I’ve found are:

  • 3M LeadCheck Swab Testing Kit (Amazon)
  • D-lead Paint Test Kit (this one is harder to find and more expensive, but you can try here)

4. Research and Consult Experts

Stay informed about the latest toy safety standards and guidelines. Join online forums, consult experts, and research information about the toys your child uses. Knowledge is power when it comes to protecting your child from harmful toxins.

Remember that while these methods can help identify potential toxins in toys, they are not foolproof. When in doubt, consult a professional or contact the toy manufacturer for more information.

Alternatives to Mainstream Toys: Safe and Eco-Friendly Options

As parents, it’s natural to want the best for our children, and that includes providing them with safe and eco-friendly toys. There are several alternatives to mainstream toys that not only minimize exposure to harmful toxins, but also have a positive impact on the environment.

Wooden Toys

Wooden toys are a classic and sustainable option, as they are made from natural materials and can be passed down through generations. Look for toys made from sustainably sourced wood and finished with non-toxic paints or sealants.

This is where we come in at Creek to Crescent! I founded this site to document my journey to find all natural “real” wooden toys for my kids.

Further Read: guide to the best wooden toys for indoor playOur .

Organic Stuffed Animals

Instead of synthetic plush toys, opt for organic stuffed animals made from natural fibers like organic cotton or wool. These materials are not only safer for your child but also biodegradable, reducing their environmental impact.

Recycled and Upcycled Toys

Recycled and upcycled toys are created from repurposed materials, which helps reduce waste and the demand for new resources. Many eco-friendly companies offer toys made from recycled plastics, while creative artisans transform discarded items into unique playthings.

By choosing these safe and eco-friendly alternatives, you can protect your child’s health and contribute to a healthier planet for future generations. Do thorough research and always check product labels to ensure toys meet the highest safety and environmental standards.

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