How To Choose Safer Toys for your Children without Having a Masters in Chemistry
By Kristen Chase and Liz Gumbinner, co-founders and editors of Cool Mom Picks and authors of the second annual Cool Mom Picks Safer Toy Guide
1. Read the labels
Just like with food, toys have labeling that help you identify what’s in them and where they come from. You won’t find one saying CHOCK FULL OF LEAD, unfortunately, but you can look for phrases like No PVC, Phthalate-free, BPA-free, non-toxic, natural rubber, water-based paints and inks.
Also don’t rely too heavily on those “toy award” accolades, because some of them require payment from the manufacturers just to be considered. Um, hello? Objectivity?
2. Check the manufacturer’s website
No company is going to say that their toys are made by 10-year-old “elves” out of pure mercury in an unregulated factory far from the North Pole. But since toy recalls became a regular fixture in the news last year, most toymakers–particularly the smaller independent ones–have ensured that their websites are very clear about how they’re making their toys and which safety standards they meet or exceed. The companies that don’t tell you what their toys are made of but just reassure you about “the safety of BPA”-well, call us paranoid but that freaks us out.
3. Consider where it’s made
“Made in China” is no guarantee of a bad toy at all. There are even phthalate-free toy factories in China just for the European manufacturers. Speaking of which, we do love the European toy standards, indicated by the EN71 safety mark. Across the pond, they ban chemicals until proven safe, while voluntary US standards (or ASTM) permit chemicals like phthalates until proven harmful. EU companies are also required to test the insides of the toys for lead and heavy metals, while American manufacturers just test the outsides. Fine until your kid decides to pry open that toy cell phone and see what tastes good.
4. Subscribe to the toy recall RSS (or email notification)
The Consumer Products Safety Commission is the best source for toy recall info. But since moms hardly have time to finish their US Weekly (even the really juicy ones), we can’t be expected to check for recalls every day. Consider adding the CPSC toy recall list RSS (or email) to your feed reader so the updates come to you and you can just scan them, because surprise! You can’t trust your toy stores to keep track for you either; some recalled toys are still on shelves.
5. Use your instincts
Your own best instincts will probably guide you better than any government certification on the planet. If the toys are leaking battery acid or smell like a chemical explosion as soon as you open the box, put it back. Same goes for small pieces, teeeeeny magnets, and anything else that your toddler might find appealing in an “I’m going to eat this and see how you react” sort of way. Darn kids.
Don’t forget to check out Cool Mom Picks’ second annual Safer Toy Guide for specific toy recommendations in different categories and for different kids’ ages.