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Shopping for Safe Toys for Kids & Babies

In days past, shopping for toys meant a delightful outing to the toy store where toys could be touched and explored. Those days are all but gone. Toy shopping today mainly happens on online marketplaces. With imported white label brands that don't necessarily design with children's safety in mind sold alongside reputable brands, the search for good toys can be fraught with doubt. That’s what inspired us to launch a curated collection of toys at Figure 8.

Here we share our tips on how we select toys. We hope it will help parents to sift through the many choices to find the good stuff out there!

Materials We Love

Organic Cotton is our favorite textile for plush toys, dolls, knit toys, soft baby teethers, rattles and play mats. Organic cotton toys are a durable and affordable choice. Organic cotton growing and processing standards prohibit the use of dangerous chemicals and dyes resulting in a safer, more sustainable toy. For lovies, teethers and soothers that get really close up and personal, we feel especially good about organic cotton. (Note that conventional cotton is one of the most chemically intensive and heavily sprayed crops in the world and not a substitute we would comfortably settle for.)

Natural Wood is a classic material for toys that stands the test of time. Durable, biodegradable and generally packed with play value, natural wood is our go to for everything from teethers, stacking toys, toy vehicles and anything that requires durability. Be sure to select wood toys from reputable makers who use high quality solid wood with non-toxic paints and finishes.

Organic Wool is another great textile for baby toys, soft rattles, dolls and knit toys. Certified organic wool is free from pesticides and chemicals commonly used in wool production and processing and ensures the welfare of the animals used to grow wool.

Natural Rubber is a great natural material for teething toys, bath toys, pacifiers and soft toy figures. Most conventional soft plastic toys are made with PVC, once of the worst plastics when it comes to toy safety.

Harvested from the Hevea tree in an age-old manual process that does not destroy the tree, natural rubber is ecologically sound and avoids dangerous processing. Natural rubber is non-toxic, BPA-free, Phthalates-free, Parabens-free and PVC-free.

A few things you should note when shopping for natural rubber toys for your baby:

  • Not all rubber is natural. Be sure to select natural rubber for your child. Synthetic rubber is synthesized from petroleum byproducts.
  • Choose natural rubber toys that conform to European EN71 Safety Standards or are otherwise certified to be Nitrosamine-free.
  • Select toys decorated with natural and food-based paints

Concerned about latex allergy? If you think your child may be allergic to latex it’s best to avoid rubber toys. We suggest silicone as a safer alternative.

Food Grade Silicone is technically a synthetic material but it deserves a mention here since it’s widely popular in products for children and marketed as a safe alternative to plastic. Silicone is a synthetic polymer made from silicon and chemical additives. That said, it is considered better than traditional plastic because it is largely inert and non-leaching, durable and highly temperature resistant.

The FDA along with other international regulatory bodies has approved the use of silicone for contact with food. This is not a blanket approval for all products made with silicone. Cheap grades of silicone can contain fillers. Be sure the silicone toys and baby products you select are made with:

  • FDA-approved Food Grade Silicone
  • 100% Pure Platinum Grade Silicone

You’ll find silicone in every manner of baby products including toys, pacifiers, teethers, soothers, nipples, food utensils and bibs, but before you fill the toy chest and cupboards with silicone, some things to consider:

  • Silicone is not biodegradable and not widely recycled.
  • Studies have begun to emerge suggesting that silicone is not as chemically inert as it was once believed to be. Under certain circumstances (such as high temperatures and contact with oils) silicone was found to leach small amounts of chemicals. Stay tuned for updates.

The mom verdict on silicone: Silicone is preferred over plastics for baby toys, teethers and food utensils. While we still prefer natural materials there are some applications were silicone does a better job. In these cases, we’ll choose silicone and use it with awareness and care.

While natural materials are always our preferred choice when it comes to toys for our children, there are times when it’s not possible to steer clear of plastic. Here’s our quick guide to the best and worst plastics for toys:

Parent's Quick Guide to the Best & Worst Plastics for Children's Toys

Safest plastics for toys:

HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) #2 is the most commonly recycled plastic (think milk jugs). It’s also extremely durable and light and temperature resistant.

LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) #4 is not widely recycled but it is generally considered a safer plastic.

Polypropylene #5 is recyclable though not widely recycled. It’s durable and temperature resistant.

Not-so-great plastics for toys:

PET #1 possible leaching.

Polycarbonate #7 is commonly used in baby bottles and sippy cups. Possible leaching.

Worst plastics for toys:

Polyvinyl Chloride PVC #3 contains dangerous chemical additives including phthalates, lead and cadmium that leach over time.. While it’s one of the worst plastics it’s still widely used in soft plastic toys and teethers.

Polystyrene #6 aka Styrofoam is a material we would avoid both because of its negative impact on the environment and because of the risk of leaching styrene, which is carcinogenic and causes liver and nerve damage.

Labels & Certifications to Look For

BPA-free, Phthalates-free, PVC-free, Lead-free. BPA and Phthalates are known to be hormone disruptors. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is alarmingly common in children’s toys and accessories – think soft plastic toys. The chemicals used to make PVC are definitely not substances you want your children around – Cadmium, lead. You can check a plastic toy’s recycling label to determine what kind of plastic it is. PVC is #3.

OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification guarantees that the toy is non-toxic and every component of the toy has been tested to be free from harmful substances.

GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is the gold standard of organic certification. GOTS upholds producers to the highest standards with strict requirements that oversee not only the end product but the entire process. At this point in time, few toy makers in the world are fully GOTS certified as the process to be certified is extremely rigorous and cost-prohibitive for small scale toy makers. However, we look for makers who use GOTS certified organic textiles and materials to produce their toys. GOTS certified organic textiles have been produced from seed to finished material according to organic standards.

OCS (Organic Content Standard) is an internationally recognized standard for tracking and verifying the content of organically grown materials in a final product. OCS 100 means the product contains 100% organic material.