Let’s talk about the best natural baby toys – what to look for, which materials to avoid. The baby toys included in this article are not only fun to play with but also fulfill the most stringent health criteria. Organic baby toys? Yup, included!
Below is a list of the topics included in this article. Go ahead and click on any of the following links, and you’ll be taken to that specific section.
- Why natural baby toys?
- Improving regulations
- 4 Key tips for choosing non-toxic and natural baby toys
- Best wooden baby toys
- Best soft baby toys
- Safer plastic baby toys
- Natural rubber baby toys
Why natural baby toys?
As baffling as it may sound, toys can expose your baby to a variety of dangerous substances. The truth is, to this day, no comprehensive legislation exists to ensure that all children’s toys that end up on the U.S. market are made from materials and with components that are free of harmful chemicals.
Children are extremely vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals because their organs and systems are still developing and their ability to detoxify is limited when compared to an adult, but babies and toddlers form a uniquely susceptible group due to their typical hand-to-mouth behavior. Even small amounts of toxic chemicals can have detrimental effects in these early stages, and a life-long impact.
Good news – things are getting better!
The permissible level of lead (a potent neurotoxin) in children’s toys has been progressively reduced – from a whopping 600 ppm (parts per million) in the 1970s to 100 ppm as of August 14, 2011. (Lead in children’s toys, paint, and surface coatings is regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in case you wonder who let babies and toddlers snack on lead for so long.)
In addition, in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), Congress passed legislation that banned the presence of 3 types of phthalates (plastic softeners) in children’s toys, which was later extended to 5 additional phthalates.
Before you get excited, however, keep in mind that phthalates are a large group of chemicals, so banning a few that we have studied and recognized to likely be harmful does not take care of the phthalate problem in its entirety. Also, toy manufacturers aren’t obligated to disclose what replacements they use for any of the banned substances, so who knows, those replacement chemicals might be just as problematic (or even worse) and the next in line to be banned.
Like any other parent out there, I’m all for positive changes that make our children safer. But, a lot more needs to be done to ensure that the toys that are meant to end up in the hands and mouths of babies and toddlers are unequivocally safe. Until that happens, what can a health-conscious parent do to avoid exposing their baby to potentially harmful chemicals through toys?
4 tips for choosing non-toxic & natural baby toys
Feel free to skip this part and scroll down for my TOP PICKS IN NATURAL BABY TOYS if you’re only here wanting to find out WHAT to buy, not WHY to buy.
#1 Avoid hand-me-down toys
While the idea of reusing and repurposing is noble in general, you might want to think twice before buying or accepting hand-me-down baby toys. This includes toys from garage sales. Regulations have changed significantly over the years, and many toys would no longer be considered safe at this point.
Take lead, for example. All toys manufactured after August 14, 2011 must not contain more than 100 ppm (parts per million) of total lead content in all accessible parts, but this isn’t the case with toys manufactured prior to this date. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that’s dangerous even at low levels of exposure because it builds up in the body over time. Exposure to lead can have serious irreversible consequences for babies and children, and, unfortunately, symptoms of lead poisoning typically don’t show until dangerous amounts have accumulated.
Also, some of these older toys may have been previously recalled because of a serious safety or health hazard – how will you know?
#2 Avoid baby toys made from PVC
PVC – think rubber duckies, plastic baby books, soft plastic squeezable toys. Just about every soft plastic toy is made from PVC. PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, and it’s one of the most problematic plastics from production to use, all the way to disposal.
Polyvinyl chloride plastic is made from vinyl chloride with a variety of fillers, colorants, softeners, stabilizers, and other additives, depending on specific product requirements. It can be made into a rigid PVC, or flexible PVC. To make PVC soft and flexible, you need to use plasticizers, such as phthalates. The problem is, phthalates don’t chemically bind to the PVC polymer during production which means that they can leach from the surfaces later on. This is especially true when soft PVC plastic is under stress, such as bending or pressure. In other words – babies mouthing their toys.
Several studies have found associations between phthalate exposure and human health that include autism spectrum disorders, adverse impact on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver and blood, as well as carcinogenic effects, but no causal link has been established thus far. In conclusion, it’s not clear-cut whether PVC is a safe material for babies to chew on, and evidence shows it might be best avoided in baby toys – why risk it?
#3 Choose natural materials
Baby’s internal drive to explore is through the mouth, so choosing simple natural materials for baby toys like wood or fabric is always best. But there are exceptions, so stick around to find out about exceptions to this rule.
#4 Country of origin
Should you get in line behind thousands of other parents and declare a war on toys made in China? After all, it’s widely known that China has incredibly lax safety standards, and the majority of recalled toys over the past few years came from China. Is it time to panic???
In theory, yes. And no.
Toys made in China may pose a greater risk to your baby because they may not be held to the same standards as toys made in the USA, Canada, or Europe, for example. But don’t blame a country for exporting unsafe toys – blame the U.S.-based companies responsible for manufacturing unsafe toys overseas and putting them on the market without proper oversight and testing.
Do I personally cringe at yet another product made in China? Yes. But in terms of safety, toys made in China have a decent chance of being safe for your baby as long as they conform to European toy regulations.
Toys that are imported into the European Union need to comply with regulations that are more robust than the U.S. standards, so any toy that is sold in the U.S. that has been certified for the E.U. as well has – theoretically – been made to the highest standard. True, some bad apples can still sneak in, it can and does happen, but the chances of that happening are statistically much slimmer compared with a toy manufacturer that caters mostly to the U.S. market.
Now, you may have a multitude of reasons to want to stay away from baby toys made in China regardless, so I’ll be making a distinction between non-toxic & natural baby toys NOT made in China, and those that are.
Luckily, there are several companies that are well aware of the dangers in children’s toys that manufacture safe, natural, non-toxic toys, including toys for the youngest customers. So, even though your baby may prefer to play with her toes and dust bunnies over diligently chosen 100% organic baby toys, let’s talk about the best baby toys for 0-18 months that are made without toxic chemicals, or secrets!
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Best natural baby toys
NOTE: we’ll cover natural baby toys, organic baby toys, whatever you want to call them, and baby toys made with a mix of materials that may not be fully natural but are thoroughly tested and proven non-toxic.
You’ll find four categories of baby toys in this article:
- Best wooden baby toys
- Best soft baby toys
- Safer plastic baby toys (+ other materials)
- Natural rubber toys
Related: Best Non-Toxic Baby Wipes
Best wooden baby toys
Wooden toys are a timeless classic. Who doesn’t love a good wooden baby toy? Wood is a natural material that’s antibacterial and also very durable – the perfect material for baby’s first toys!
Before I show you my top picks, here’s what to look for when choosing the best wooden toys for baby:
100% solid wood
Look for baby toys made with 100% solid wood as opposed to composite wood (like MDF – medium-density fiberboard) which has a high chance of exposing your baby to formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. Composite wood is basically various small wood particles glued together into a mass. The wood composite industry relies heavily on the use of formaldehyde-based bonding agents instead of safer glues which off-gas and are continuously released into the air.
Manufacturers typically don’t boast the fact that a toy is made from MDF, in fact, many will go to great lengths to hide that fact, but if a toy is made from solid wood, you betcha they’ll let you know!
In all fairness, solid wood ALSO contains and emits formaldehyde. In fact, all trees contain and emit formaldehyde. But the amounts of formaldehyde are extremely low in natural wood and decrease rapidly after harvesting, posing no measurable risk to your baby.
Also, any parts of wooden toys may be glued together using an adhesive containing formaldehyde, but safer wood adhesives are available, and health-conscious toy manufacturers use them and disclose this information.
Has the wood been treated? Painted?
Wooden toys can be treated with various finishes to make the wood more durable and/or esthetically appealing.
The best and safest option for a natural baby toy is:
- no finish
- food-grade finish (beeswax, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, linseed oil)
- water-based paint and food-grade dyes
Between oil- and water-based paints and lacquers, water-based finishes tend to contain far fewer VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and are the safer choice.
Here are my top picks for the best wooden baby toys, including the country of manufacture:
Best natural wooden baby toys made in the USA:
Bannor Toys baby rattles are the perfect choice for baby’s very first toy! Not only are they adorable, you can’t get much more simple and natural than this wooden baby toy. These baby rattles are made from maple wood and finished with a mixture of organic beeswax and flaxseed oil.
Bannor Toys is a hobby-turned-to-business endeavor that launched in 2011, and there are so many reasons to love Bannor Toys and to support them. They make organic baby toys right here in the USA (Iowa) from domestic hardwoods, they use natural finishes and safe adhesives, their paint is organic and made in the USA, and their toys are 100% natural, safe, and non-toxic! See more Bannor Toys here.
Non-toxic wooden baby toys made in Europe:
The following natural baby toys made by HABA are perfect for babies ages 6 months and up. HABA toys are made in Germany using beech wood from sustainable German forestry (PEFC-certified), and non-toxic, solvent-free, water-based lacquers which make HABA toys very resistant to wear and tear.
A small portion of HABA wooden toys are made with plastic rings. HABA guarantees that the plastic rings they use meet or exceed all E.U. regulations and are BPA- and phthalate-free.
Another example of natural wooden baby toys made in Europe is Grimm’s Spiel and Holz Design. This is a family-owned business that’s inspired by the principles of Waldorf and Montessori education.
The above Grimm’s Spiel and Holz Design baby toys are made in Germany (some of their toys are made in Bosnia) from solid wood sourced from sustainably managed European forests (FSC certified). These toys are dyed with certified-non-toxic water-based stains, and finished with food-grade vegetable oil – no lacquers whatsoever.
More wooden baby toys NOT made in China:
PlanToys are made responsibly and sustainably in Thailand. These baby toys fulfill or exceed the American and European safety and health requirements.
PlanToys is a company that manufactures toys from rubber trees that no longer produce latex. Moreover, to achieve maximum purity, these trees are not fertilized for 3 years prior to harvest. Toys made by PlanToys are not only eco-friendly but also baby-safe: they are either untreated or decorated with organic color pigment or water-based dyes, and only formaldehyde-free glue is used to bond pieces together.
I wanted to include 2 brands that manufacture their wooden baby toys in China BUT oversee the entire production process from material sourcing to manufacturing and third-party testing. These companies are committed to making natural baby toys, and guarantee the highest standards. See them below.
Best wooden baby toys made in China:
Petit Collage is a company based in the USA that does manufacture toys in China but complies with both American and European toy regulations. They also make soft organic baby toys (listed further down in this post).
The toys from Petit Collage seen below are made from sustainably sourced solid wood (FSC certified) and painted with non-toxic water-based paints and varnishes. They are intended for babies ages 6 months and up.
Hape is a German-owned company that manufactures toys in China in their own factory. Their wooden baby toys are made with paints and finishes that are non-toxic, solvent-free, and water-based.
The above Hape baby toys are made from solid wood (sustainably sourced, FSC certified), with the exception of the Double Bubble Wooden Bead Maze where some of the beads are plastic (those along the shorter/green wire).
Hape doesn’t have a huge toy selection for babies in the age group 0-18 months when compared with some of the other natural baby toy brands; they’re geared more towards the 18 months+ crowd.
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Best soft baby toys
Soft and plush toys are another excellent choice when it comes to natural & organic baby toys. When buying soft and plush baby toys, pay attention to the following:
Outer shell of soft toys
All soft baby toys should ideally be made with natural fibers and non-toxic dyes. If made from cotton, consider buying organic if possible due to heavy use of pesticides in cotton production. This is where GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard) comes handy as it guarantees that no harmful chemicals were used in the fabric production from the source fiber to finish.
GOTS standard also guarantees that the fabric hasn’t been treated with chemical flame retardants. Mounting evidence suggests that flame retardants can disrupt the hormone and reproductive system, stunt child development, and affect the brain and behavior. Besides all that, it has been proven that in the case of fire, the fumes chemical flame retardants produce are actually more dangerous than the fire itself.
The filling material of soft and stuffed toys
The majority of stuffies these days contain polyester filling. Polyester fiberfill is a fully synthetic material that goes through significant chemical processing during production, but the finished product is considered safe when used as intended, meaning to be concealed in a toy.
Another fiberfill that’s gaining popularity in stuffed toys is corn fiberfill. Although the corn fiberfill source material is corn starch, a corn derivative, corn-based fiber is a synthetic fiber just like traditional polyfill because it’s made through a chemical transformation and still heavily processed. Also, the vast majority of corn fiberfill is sourced from GMO corn, which in and of itself negates the green claims somewhat. But at least it’s made with renewable resources, so there is that.
Generally, safer fill for baby toys is organic cotton, buckwheat, kapok, or even wool, but soft baby toys with these fillings are much harder to find.
Are polyester-filled toys safe for babies to chew on?
I haven’t found any research papers addressing the toxicity of polyester filling when wet/chewed/sucked on by teething, drooling babies.
To err on the side of caution, while I consider toys stuffed with polyester to be safe for babies to handle, I wouldn’t encourage teething babies to frequently play with toys stuffed with polyester (or corn fiberfill) because of a high likelihood of being chewed and sucked on (here is what you should know about polyester textiles).
Soft organic baby toys made in Egypt (made & stuffed with organic cotton):
If you’re looking for more organic baby toys not made in China, you’re going to love the Under the Nile brand!
All Under the Nile toys are made with GOTS-certified organic Egyptian cotton – right in Egypt! Their cute stuffies are not only made with organic cotton but also stuffed with organic cotton.
All Under the Nile products are made without the use of pesticides, harmful chemicals, formaldehyde, or heavy metals throughout the entire production process. No toxic colorants or flame retardants are used in the production of Under the Nile baby toys (or clothing – they also make adorable certified-organic baby clothes).
Under the Nile also sells cute baby blankets which are safe to chew on and great for teething babies. They are made with the same standards – 100% organic cotton & made in Egypt.
Soft organic baby toys made in China (made with organic cotton):
I already mentioned the Petit Collage brand in the wooden toys section above, but if you missed it – this is a U.S.-based company that manufactures all of their toys in China. All Petit Collage toys comply with both American and European toy regulations.
The above Petit Collage toys are made with GOTS-certified organic cotton but are stuffed with polyester fiberfill (unlike Under the Nile organic baby toys that are both made AND filled with organic cotton). Like I said before, I’m not a fan of letting babies chew on polyester-filled toys on a regular basis, but I wanted to include these not only because they’re adorable but also because at least the outer shell is made from organic cotton which is already a step-up from many mainstream toy brands.
Safer plastic baby toys
Plastic toys are not too popular among those seeking natural baby toys, but I wanted to include this category as well because avoiding plastic altogether in baby toys is HARD, and plastic toys will also give your baby a different sensory experience.
Baby toys in this section are made with safer plastic components by companies that focus on producing safe and environmentally-friendly baby toys.
If you’re in this section looking specifically for safer BATH TOYS, visit this non-toxic baby bath toy guide.
Should you avoid BPA in baby toys?
I’m sure you’ve heard of BPA by now. If you haven’t, BPA (bisphenol A) is a chemical additive that can be used in the production of polycarbonate plastic – a type of plastic that’s clear, lightweight, and hard to break. It’s most commonly associated with baby bottles and clear reusable water bottles, things like that. During polycarbonate plastic production, a small amount of BPA is left over in the final product and can leach out with normal wear and tear.
The health effects of BPA exposure are complex and controversial but worrying enough. Most importantly, BPA appears to act as an endocrine disruptor and has been associated with decreased sperm count, reproductive problems, and early onset of puberty.
In 2012 the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and children’s drinking cups. The main concern was that babies fed with BPA-containing baby bottles face significantly higher rates of BPA exposure through frequent feedings, but children also metabolize BPA at a slower rate than adults which automatically puts them at a higher risk level. As for toys, no federal or state jurisdiction restricts the use of BPA in this category in the U.S., including in toys specifically intended for infants.
The European Commission, on the other hand, limits the amount of BPA that’s allowed to leach out of toys designated for children up to the age of 3 and any products intended to be placed in a child’s mouth. Back in 2015 the limit was set at 0.1 mg/l. In 2018 it had been further reduced to 0.04 mg/l.
So… if your goal is to avoid BPA in baby toys, it would make sense to buy toys made in Europe or toys made elsewhere provided they comply with the European toy regulations, right? At least according to what you’ve just read.
Or, wouldn’t it be even better to look for baby toys that specifically state to be BPA-free? Problem solved?
In a sense, yes. But the truth is, BPA-free plastic may not necessarily be 100% safe either.
As it turns out, BPA-free plastic can still leach small amounts of BPA, and the common BPA replacement chemicals bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) appear to have the same effect on our health as BPA, if not worse (source, source).
So, my advice is, either don’t worry about BPA, or don’t buy plastic toys at all IF they have clear heavy-duty components and don’t specify the plastic composition.
Safer plastic toy materials
All plastics can leach toxic substances to some degree, but polypropylene and ABS are considered safer plastic materials in baby toys (and all toys in general) because both ABS plastic and polypropylene are fairly stable materials unlikely to leach chemicals under conditions of normal use, and both are made without bisphenols and phthalates.
Safer plastic baby toys NOT made in China:
All of the above baby toys are made in Germany by HABA. The plastic components in these toys (besides the small BPA-free plastic rings that some HABA toys feature) are made from HABAform, a proprietary material sourced from nature. Per HABA, HABAform is free of diethyl phthalates and BPA.
The wooden components of HABA toys are made from PEFC-certified sustainably-managed forests in Germany and finished with water-based non-toxic lacquers.
Note: HABA does NOT manufacture ALL of their toys in Germany. Some of their toys are made in China in a HABA-owned factory (but still conform to the strict European regulations), like some of the toys shown below.
Non-toxic baby toys made in China (in compliance with European standards):
Natural rubber baby toys
In the past few years, baby toys made from natural rubber have been a big trend. Moms love ’em, babies don’t mind them. I myself am a bit hesitant recommending baby toys made from natural rubber for the following reasons:
- Frequent exposure to latex can cause sensitization which can lead to a latex allergy. Some babies are already born sensitive to latex.
- Even though natural rubber is made from latex which is a natural substance from a rubber tree, latex has to undergo a significant amount of chemical processing to achieve the rubber-like consistency.
- The processing of natural latex leads to the production of nitrosamines (or, more formally, N–nitrosamines), many of which are considered to be carcinogenic, and nitrosatable substances which can be converted into nitrosamines in the saliva. The formation of nitrosamines and nitrosatable substances can be avoided using a nitrosamine-free curing process, but I haven’t seen rubber toy manufacturers disclosing the way their rubber toys are made.
Limits are in place for nitrosamine levels in baby toys, but even falling within the allowed limits still presents some risk of nitrosamine exposure.
If you want to try a natural rubber baby toy, I recommend finding a brand you can trust. Even better if they sell 100% nitrosamine-free rubber baby toys (vs. nitrosamine-free).
Here’s a small recap:
When looking for non-toxic and natural baby toys, avoid:
- second-hand baby toys (particularly older toys)
- soft plastic toys made from PVC
- toys made from composite wood
- off-brand baby toys
- toys from the dollar stores
Best materials for baby toys
- wood (untreated, or gently treated with natural oils, beeswax, food- or water-based paints or lacquers)
- minimally treated natural fabrics (certifications like GOTS take it up a notch) with natural fillings if possible
- safer plastics that come from reputable companies that strive to make safe non-toxic toys
- natural rubber baby toys made from reputable companies
The best natural baby toys in this article
All of the brands mentioned in this article manufacture toys using non-toxic finishes, and all comply with the American and European toy safety standards and requirements.
The toys shown are intended for babies ages 0-18 months & up.
For the parent looking for natural and organic baby toys
This article isn’t meant to put any fear into your life. It’s here to help you choose safe baby toys – as many, or as few as you’d like.
WHAT IF… your home is already filled with all kinds of toys that raise concerns after reading all this? Firstly, there is no need to panic or feel any guilt. It is not your fault that there are baby toys on the market that have been made with unsafe materials.
If you’re concerned about the baby toys you already own, you can of course toss them all and replace them with safer baby toys. Or, you can keep them, and focus on including safer baby toys in your baby toy collection from now on to make your baby’s surroundings a little safer and healthier.
Questions? Go ahead and leave a comment below!
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