Holiday Gift Guide: The Best Non-Toxic Toys

I’m as guilty as anyone of loading up on cheap plastic toys before the holidays — after all, these are usually the very toys my kids want most!

If you’re like me, there is no way you’re going to eliminate all the plastic playthings in your home. You can, however, minimize the risks to both your kids and to the planet by investing in higher-quality, non-toxic toys this holiday season.

Avoid these three kinds of toys:

Finding non-toxic, Earth-friendly toys is mostly a matter of staying away from known toxins. To do that, you should avoid the following:

1. Painted wooden toys, unless they’re made in Europe or the United States. Lead paint continues to show up in many toys, but laws in Europe and the U.S. make these painted toys a safe bet.

2. All toys made in China. Unfortunately, lead paint isn’t the only contaminate in many Chinese toys. They may also contain brominated fire retardants (BFRs), thanks to a legal loophole that allows these toys to be imported and sold in the United States.

3. Vinyl toys. Vinyl (otherwise known as PVC) typically contains endocrine-disrupting phthalates. There are some toys on the market now that are made of phthalate-free PVC, but I am still suspicious about all vinyl. You’ll know you’re holding a PVC toy when it’s made of squishy plastic, like most bath toys. (By the way: here’s a great real rubber ducky.)

Five non-toxic toy brands

Do the three guidelines above still leave you feeling confused about which specific toys are safe and which may contain problematic chemicals? When in doubt, you can count on the following five manufacturers to make safe, non-toxic toys.

1. Haba produces most of their toys in Germany, with timber from sustainable forests. Their paints are water-based and free of all solvents. Haba’s Pure Nature series is made of GOTS-certified organic cotton, and they only use polypropylene or ABS plastic, both of which are among the safest plastics available.

2. PlanToys makes all of their non-toxic toys in a sustainable factory in Thailand, where they maintain control and employ solar power. Their wooden toys are made from natural rubberwood trees, and the wood is strengthened via a chemical-free kiln-drying process. PlanToys’ dyes are free of heavy metals.

3. Under the Nile is my go-to for organic cotton toys because they use 100 percent GOTS-certified organic cotton.

4. Eco-Kids offers a nice line of toxin-free art supplies, such as crayons and modeling dough. Their materials include mineral pigments and 100 percent pure beeswax.

5. Grimm’s is a pricey German brand of gorgeous wooden toys that uses non-toxic stains (rather than paints), which means the toys won’t chip.

Are all plastic toys toxic?

From an environmental perspective, I would love to see us all support those companies who make high-quality wooden toys that can be passed down rather than thrown away.

Of course, there are times when only a plastic toy is going to cut it. Fortunately, not all plastic toys contain endocrine disruptors like BPA and phthalates. There are actually some non-toxic types of plastic, although because most of these cannot be recycled, they are still not environmentally-friendly choices.

The following five brands make non-toxic plastic toys:

1. Bruder vehicles are made in Germany from ABS plastic, which is non-leaching and safe.

2. Green Toys are made in America of recycled polyethylene, which is a non-leaching and non-toxic type of plastic.

3. Legos, like Bruder vehicles, are made of ABS plastic. This is great news for moms like me, who spend their lives sorting or stepping on Legos.

4. Spielstabil produces high-quality plastic toys in Germany. Spielstabil’s line is made of food-grade ABS plastic and they use hygienic ultrasonic welding rather than toxic adhesives.

5. Ikea has phased PVC out of all their toys, although many are made in China (the rest are made in Sweden). The plastics in Ikea’s toys conform to E.U. laws, so I consider them a safe choice.

You can check out this Safe Toy Guide for a more comprehensive list of safe toy brands, plus a list of sneaky toys that claim to be non-toxic but contain everything from PVC to formaldehyde to heavy metals.