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In previous posts I’ve discussed clothing and toys for newborns, including what to watch out for and companies we recommend that make truly eco-friendly, non-toxic products for babies.
If you’re curious about the best toys for your baby, here’s a look at why wooden toys are a great choice for your baby and the planet, and some of my favorite companies making wooden toys.
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Highlights: Toys are made with real wood, eco-friendly dyes, and 100% organic cotton.
Finn + Emma are makers of beautiful baby clothes and gorgeous toys that are organic and fair-trade, made with eco-friendly dyes and real wood, as well as 100% organic cotton. Their rattles, teethers, and stroller toys are all good choices, but they really shine when it comes to the play gyms that are certified organic and far more eco-friendly, non-toxic, and attractive than any plastic monstrosity.
Highlights: Toys are available in a range of fun, creative designs to fire the imagination.
Hape produces lovely toys made with natural materials including bamboo and sustainable wood, finished with water-based non-toxic paints. They are well-made and available in a range of fun, creative designs to fire the imagination.
This German company makes delightful wooden animals that provide plenty of fun for kids of every age (and adults!). These are made with a solid piece of hard maple or beechwood and water-based, non-toxic paints. While advertised mostly for kids 3 years and older, some of the rounder animal shapes, such as the turtle, may well be suitable for supervised play with younger babies.
Highlights: Made with wood harvested responsibly in the US.
Camden Rose makes wooden toys and teethers finished with beeswax or jojoba oil or food-grade mineral oil. Their hardwood cherry rattle is particularly lovely, with wood harvested responsibly in the US. The company also makes Waldorf Dolls with reclaimed cotton, but it’s not clear if the materials are organic, free from azo dyes or other chemicals, so I’d stick with the wooden toys.
Highlights: Suitable for infants through to toddlerhood and beyond.
Uncle Goose makes arguably the best wooden blocks around. These are handcrafted in the US from basswood and are printed with non-toxic, child-safe inks, and no sealants, so are suitable for infants through to toddlerhood and beyond. They currently offer more than 60 different block sets, including planets, bugs, numbers, letters, animals, and the periodic table, for budding STEM babies.
Highlights: This company makes wooden toys using non-toxic stains and sustainably harvested wood.
This longstanding German company makes wonderful wooden toys using non-toxic stains and sustainably harvested alder, lime, beech, and maple wood. Their Large Rainbow Tower is a fantastic stacking toy and is made in such a way as to not present a choking hazard even for younger babies, making it an excellent sustainable toy that can last throughout childhood (View Price on Amazon). Grimm’s also have a lovely baby rattle grasper toy made from hardwood and stained in non-toxic rainbow colors (View Price on Amazon).
Highlights: These non-toxic toys are made with natural rubberwood trees.
A newer company making waves in the eco-friendly toy industry, PlanToys make all their non-toxic toys in a sustainable factory in Thailand that is powered with solar power. The toys are made with natural rubberwood trees that no longer produce latex, and they even take the approach of stopping fertilizing the soil around the trees three years prior to harvesting, to ensure strict chemical exposure limits. The wood is kiln-dried in a chemical-free process, and the company uses formaldehyde-free glues, dyes free from heavy metals, and recycled paper and soy inks where necessary. PlanToys’ wooden square clutching toy (View Price on Amazon) is a great choice for babies and toddlers to help develop clutching and grasping skills. The toy is squishable but pops gently back into a square shape without applied pressure. And, after 12 months, you might want to consider getting your budding astronaut this adorable rocket stacker toy (View Price on Amazon).
Highlights: These durable blocks are painted with non-toxic water-based paints and pigments.
Tegu Magnetic Blocks come in a variety of designs, some suitable for your baby’s first year and others for older children. These blocks are made with responsibly sourced hardwoods handpicked in Honduras by knowledgeable locals as part of the company’s socially responsible ethos. The blocks are painted with non-toxic water-based paints and pigments and are durable and fun. They’re designed in the US and made in Honduras at a purpose-built toy factory designed to create jobs and support the local economy. Plastic-free, non-toxic, and downright delightful, Tegu has you covered for baby’s first blocks and beyond.
Highlights: Toys are made using solid wood, non-toxic water-based paints, and organic cotton.
A favorite for play gyms, Lovevery also makes gorgeous toys using solid wood, non-toxic water-based paints, and organic cotton. Their Play Kits are available on a subscription model, with new age-appropriate toys delivered on schedule to help your baby’s growth and development. The kits include toys made with sustainably sourced FSC certified wood, 100% organic cotton, baby-safe finishes, and all kits are shipped in a carbon-neutral fashion with the company offsetting any carbon emissions.
Highlights: Made with 100% food grade, BPA-free, and non-toxic silicone and untreated beechwood.
My favorite toy from this company is their Wooden Ring Teether, which is made in New Zealand using 100% food-grade, BPA-free, and non-toxic silicone and untreated beechwood finished with organic beeswax.
Highlights: Made without glues or any toxic finishes or paints.
This rattle is made in Vermont from a single piece of American maple, without glues or any toxic finishes or paints. Each one is sanded and polished to a smooth finish and is ideal for babies from 5 months onwards, or for younger babies as a toy held by an adult (because the toy is a little heavier than a plastic rattle).
What to watch out for when buying baby toys
In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is in charge of regulating toy safety and has helped push manufacturers to remove certain phthalates from toys, reduced the risk of lead exposure, and helped eliminate the use of certain flame retardants from toys.
Despite this good work though, toxic toys can still sneak onto the shelves in the US. How? Well, only a handful of phthalates are banned under CPSC regulations, so toys that comply with CPSC phthalate regulations may still contain phthalates.
Similarly, toys can comply with CPSC rules and still contain:
- Hormone-disrupting bisphenol-A (BPA)
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
- Toxic azo dyes
- Heavy metals such as lead
Also, not all parts of toys have to be tested. This means that while most of a toy might meet the rules, certain components could still pose a high risk of toxic chemical exposure, particularly if the toy becomes broken or is used in an unintended fashion.
Finally, toxic toys can end up on store shelves by way of import. This is because toys made outside the US are not regulated in the same way as toys made in the US. Most toys are still made in China, for instance, where the use of polybrominated fire retardants (PBDEs) continues to be widespread. These chemicals are banned for most uses in Europe and Canada, and the US no longer allows the production of PBDEs.
If you are buying a toy not made in the US, Europe, or Canada, look for third-party testing or other credible guarantee that the finished product is free from toxic chemicals.
How to pick a safe wooden toy for your baby
Wooden toys are a lovely traditional way to go and can also be environmentally friendly and non-toxic, depending on how they are manufactured. High-quality wooden toys are durable enough to pass on to future babies and, if they are discarded instead of being reused, they naturally biodegrade without polluting the environment.
Ideally, any wooden toys will be made with sustainably sourced wood. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and try to find toys made with locally sourced wood, wherever you are.
It’s best to avoid painted wooden toys unless they’re made in Europe or in the US using natural, safe, non-toxic paints or stains. Lead is still a problem in paint and other finishes in some countries, including China, and recalls still occur in the US for some painted toys. Hardwoods that are sanded to a smooth finish and left unstained or painted or finished with linseed oil or jojoba oil are good choices for baby toys. Rubberwood toys, made with wood from rubber trees that no longer produce latex, are also a good sustainable choice (check out Plan Toys in the Product recommendations below).
Some toy manufacturers avoid glues (which can contain formaldehyde), stains (which can also contain VOCs), and the risk of a toy falling apart and becoming a choking hazard by making beautiful toys from a single piece of hardwood, cut and sanded to a smooth finish.