5 Tips on Safe Toy Shopping

Editor’s Note: There are many ways to make the holidays fun, safe and enjoyable for everyone in the family. Here are some tips on how to ensure your children’s gifts are safe. This article originally appeared on Environmental Working Group.

There may be 12 days of Christmas and eight days of Hannukah, but EWG has boiled the shopping hullabaloo down to the number five: five ways to detox your holiday shopping. And, no, our list does not include a golden ring. (We’re not keen on jewelry for kids.)

Finding great gifts for the kids in your life should be fun. Yet there are toxic chemicals in children’s toys that simply shouldn’t be there and there’s no guarantee that what’s on the shelf is necessarily safe. We’ve seen progress in recent years (specifically the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which strengthened rules and tightened oversight on lead and phthalates), but our laws have a l-o-n-g way to go.

Which is why we whipped up these simple but important toy shopping tips:

  1. No cheap jewelry. Some baubles contain the toxic metals lead or cadmium. Earlier this year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission advised parents to throw out their kids’ cheap jewelry because the odds were high it contained toxic substances.

  3. Choose arts and craft supplies carefully. Many contain toxic chemicals. Read labels closely – but keep in mind that these products aren’t sufficiently regulated, tested or labeled to ensure safety for children. Here are a few to watch out for:


    Paint. Paints should be water-based and colored with natural, non-metal pigments. Oil paints contain toxic solvents.

    Clay. Don’t buy polymer clays that stay soft at room temperature or can be hardened in a home oven — they’re made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and often contain phthalates.

    Coloring. Common crayons often contain paraffin wax, a petrochemical product. Look for alternatives like soy and beeswax. Don’t buy dry-erase and permanent markers, which contain solvents. No plastic-encased crayons. No scented markers: scents encourage kids to sniff them, but those fragrances contain chemicals that are not listed on the label.

  4. Get creative! Give a little differently:
  5. Six ideas to get you thinking about gifts that don’t require a toxic analysis:

    Books make wonderful gifts – especially when they’re used. Amazon has an extensive used collection and EWG benefits when you shop through our unique Amazon link. Of course there’s always the local used book shop, too!

    Say no to disposables. Choose toys made to last. They may cost more, but disposable toys waste your money (which = your time, right?).

    Give activities, not things. Take your child to a play or a favorite restaurant, or sign her up for that gymnastics class. Time together and special activities make wonderful, non-toxic gifts!

    Rediscover game night. It’s an easy way to make family time. Share your beloved childhood games – chess, checkers, backgammon, Scrabble, parchesi, mah-jong, bingo, Life, Jenga, Connect Four, Yahtzee, Uno, and, of course, cards. Remember to keep small pieces away from little hands and mouths.

    Encourage outside play. Kids love and need to play outdoors (and plenty say they don’t do it often enough). Encourage them to head for fresh air with fun outdoor equipment like sleds, soccer and dodge balls (and goal posts!), snow shoes and skis, roller skates, skateboards, bikes, jump ropes – even pogo sticks! Give helmets, too, and make sure the kids wear them.

    Think twice about battery-operated toys.Batteries contain heavy metals, so the fewer we use the better! If you must, grab some rechargeable batteries and a charger.

  6. Simplify your approach to non-toxic shopping. It can be frustrating – if not downright impossible – to figure out what this year’s “must have” toy is made of. Instead, ignore fads and buy items you know aren’t toxic. Work from a list you trust, like HealthyStuff.org or U.S. PIRG’s Toy Safety Tips. And shop where you can get straight answers. Of course, the fewer gifts you buy, the fewer you have to research.
  7. Shift your traditions to raise a greener generation. Parents have an opportunity to shape the next generation’s holiday traditions – and tamp down commercialism. Some ideas: draw names for large families so there are fewer gifts to give, agree to a dollar limit, or shop at resale shops.

And about those holiday lights - the cords usually contain lead, so kids should wash their hands (with plain soap and water, please!) after handling them. Sad, but true.

And please, remember the basics: Choose right-sized pieces, keep toys age-appropriate, take care with small magnets, and read warning labels. These age-old safety guidelines are still relevant.

Most of all, have fun! Don’t let the threat of toxic chemicals in toys get your holiday spirit down!

Related Stories:

Holiday Gifts That Give Back

Good Choices, Good Cheer: Ethical Screens for the Companies You Support This Holiday

Yahoo! Launches New Acts of Kindness Program


Photo credit: pawpaw67 via flickr
By Lisa Frack with Sonya Lunder from Environmental Working Group


Sanjana G.
Sanjana G.6 years ago

Great tips !
thanks for great article about safe toy online shopping.


Gaby Velazquez-vinay

good article!

Aruna Swain
Aruna Swain7 years ago

Great article. Thank you for posting :)

Shaheen N.
Shaheen N7 years ago

An informative article. thanks for posting.

Julia K.
Julia K.7 years ago

Great article! :)

Mrs M.
Linda M7 years ago

I pity kids who have to have toys from China. Yikes! I don't even buy pet toys from China.

Erica D.
Erica D7 years ago

Great tips! Thank you.

Suzannah S.
Suzannah S7 years ago

Thanks for sharing! Helpful article with lots of interesting & useful information.
Happy holidays!

ks K.
KS K7 years ago

It's terrible that those holiday lights have cords that contain lead!
Thanks for the info.

Past Member 7 years ago

thanks, but i'm really glad i don't have small children...all grown..thank you...