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Toys should inspire imagination, creativity, and fun! However, inadequate protections for products mean that toys, even those made for very small children, can contain hazardous chemicals and plastics. 

Toxic-Free Future is working to change the systems so that everyone is protected. But in the meantime, there are some steps that can be taken to avoid products that pose threats to health and cause significant pollution.

Tips for choosing safer toys for kids of all ages

1. Keep plastic out, as much as possible.

Toys can be made from a number of plastics, even some of the most toxic ones such as PVC (#3-vinyl) and polycarbonate (#7 made with bisphenol A). PVC is the soft, flexible plastic commonly found in bath toys, dolls, inflatables, and squeezy toys. Polycarbonate is a hard plastic that baby bottles were made of, until bisphenol A (BPA) was banned in baby bottles by numerous states and FDA.

There are also many toxic additives used in all plastics that can leach out, many of which have not been assessed for their hazards. A Toxic-Free Future study found plastic additives such as phthalates and flame retardants in pregnant women.

Microplastics, which flake off plastics products, are also a growing concern, even being found in people and breast milk.

2. Choose toys made from materials like solid wood, cloth, paper, or wool. 

Ideas for plastic-free playthings include games and puzzles from cardboard or wood, fabric dolls, silk scarves, paper dolls, wooden rattles, and wool figurines. Nature and natural materials can be the best educational toys. Consider the yellow represented in plastic toys, in contrast to the range of yellows in autumn leaves. Let nature be your toy box!

3. Avoid polyurethane foam stuffed toys.

Polyurethane foam is made from fossil fuels and a number of hazardous chemical additives. Instead of polyurethane foam, look for toys filled with down, wool, or cotton. These materials are less likely to contain flame retardants or off-gas.

If down, wool, or cotton aren’t an option, choose stuffed toys filled with polyester instead of polyurethane. While still made from fossil fuels, it is a safer option than polyurethane.

4. Choose experiences over toys. 

When buying gifts for the children in your life, consider experiential gifts rather than more stuff. Seasonal passes or tickets to the aquarium, zoos, children’s theaters, art classes, and creativity labs can provide hours of fun and enjoyment for kids without adding clutter to your home or exposing kids to toxic chemicals.

5. Stay informed on the latest toy recalls.

Subscribe to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s email updates. You can also find information about past CPSC recalls on their website.

6. Use your consumer power!

Demand companies and policymakers ensure toys and other children’s products don’t contain harmful toxic chemicals.

It’s frustrating that toys and other items continue to contain chemicals that can harm kids’ health and pollute the environment. The good news is that all of us can use our power as consumers and voters to demand change.

And you can help!

Our Retailer Report Card can help you know which retailers are leading and which are lagging when it comes to eliminating toxic chemicals that are harming our health and environment. This can help consumers protect themselves and others from toxic chemical exposures – from avoiding shopping at retailers that earned poor grades to signing petitions that help spur transformative change to improve the sustainability of products and packaging.

Please go to our Take Action page for opportunities to add your voice! Together, we can create a toxic-free future.

7. Make a contribution to Toxic-Free Future to keep toxics out of our toyboxes!

Toxic-Free Future led the charge to win the strongest law in the nation to protect kids from lead and other toxics in toys in 2008. While good progress has been made, we still have a lot to do to make sure all toys and children’s products are made with the safest ingredients!

Make a donation to support our work.