What is a safe wooden toy?
How to buy a safe wooden toy ?
With the increasing popularity of wooden toys, awareness of the safety of wooden toys is not only a priority for companies that make or sell toys, but it is very useful for consumers who are looking for well-made and safe wooden toys for their home and family.
Wooden toys are a safer choice compared to plastic toys and offer many benefits, but there are also pitfalls. By having some knowledge of what to look for when buying wooden toys, you can make sure that the toys you buy are safe and not potentially harmful, ensuring that your new toys will bring you many years of joyful play.
Wooden toy safety can be divided into three areas; wood, construction and finishing.
1) Wood - Not all wood is good wood
The first thing to look at is the safety of the wood. Not all types of wood are suitable for making toys. Some wood is weak and some is even quite poisonous. The best wooden toys are made of solid, high-quality and low-toxic wood material.
Composite wood - these wood products include both plywood and MDF chipboard. They are made of small pieces of wood or wood dust glued together to make a solid piece of wood. The adhesives used often contain toxic formaldehyde-based resins, which are known carcinogens. Eco-friendly options are available, but most products on the market today contain varying amounts of formaldehyde.
Toxic Hardwood - All woods produce sawdust when processed, which can irritate your upper respiratory tract, but most hardwoods are very safe after finishing and fixing. There is a subset of woods that are classified as contact sensitizers, where not only the dust but also the wood oil on contact are known to irritate sensitive people. These woods can irritate the eyes, upper respiratory tract and affect the nervous system. Some woods to avoid are maple, blackwood, birch, rosewood, cypress, oleander, and western red cedar.
CCA-Treated Wood - Wood treated with a chemical called Chromated Copper Arsenate is commonly used for outdoor applications (the wood is usually green in color). It is an arsenic-based chemical, and while there is strong debate about the level of toxicity in CCA products, the official recommendation is that children should wash their hands after coming into contact with CCA wood. A toy that requires a child to wash their hands after playing is more than alarming, so it's better to avoid it.
2) Construction - Inspection of making the toy
Legally, all toys on sale must offer age recommendations. Toys can be divided into two categories: for children under 36 months and for children over 36 months. Age considerations are primarily based on choking hazards.
Size - Back in the early days we used to use a camera roll top to check if a toy was too small for little ones. Stuffed animals were considered the size of a child's breathing tube, so if the toy fit inside, you didn't give it to small children. Today, thanks to the internet, we have more detailed resources, but all toys on the market must legally be labeled with age recommendations.
Strength - size is only part of the problem, strength is another thing to consider. Young children often throw, hit, and stand on toys, and when they break under the force of the force, the broken pieces can become a choking hazard. So, toys for younger children must be strong and able to withstand the force of a small child during play. Softer and more fragile toys can be labeled as suitable for older children and unsuitable for children under 36 months.
Carpentry - It is also important to consider how the toys are built. Internal connections are always a much better option for toys. External metal spikes, screws and hinges should be avoided as they can come loose on their own and again create a choking hazard. All wood joints should be reinforced with high-quality wood glues that are also food grade. Standard construction glues are not suitable for toys because they contain varying amounts of toxic substances.
Smooth finish - Well made wooden toys are well polished. Rough edges should be removed. The last thing a child wants is spikes in their toy. Look closely at the holes and the areas around them and look for sharp edges.
3) Finishing - The importance of non-toxic and food grade
There really are no substitutes for a quality, non-toxic finish. Paint and lacquers are the places on the outer surfaces of the toy that children come into direct contact with.
All toy manufacturers should keep MSDS (material safety data sheet) certificates for the products used in the manufacture of their toys.
Paints - Most people are familiar with the dangers of lead in paint. But cadmium pigment is also a real problem. It is highly toxic and can be found in acrylic and water colors. While lead in paint has been banned here in Australia for years, artist grade paints can still contain cadmium. These colors are for artwork, not toys. Make sure your toy is painted with only non-toxic, child-friendly paint so that it is cadmium and lead free.
Lacquers - Avoid wooden toys with a high gloss shine, this is a sure sign that they have been finished with lacquer. Estapools and varnishes are usually solvent-based varnishes designed for construction, not toys, most commonly used for floors, doors and furniture. Although lower toxicity water-based alternatives are available, they are still not intended for children to put in their mouths or potentially chew. Instead, aim for food-grade lacquers. If it's safe on cooking surfaces, it's safe on a toy.
Ultimately, the cheaper your toy is, the less likely it is that it was built using quality wood materials and finishes. Buying quality doesn't just mean your toys last longer, it can also ensure that the toys your kids play with are safe too.
Points to remember when buying a wooden toy
What kind of wood is the toy made of - is it low toxicity and untreated?
Has the seller indicated an age recommendation?
Are there metal fasteners?
Is the toy smooth and rounded?
Is the paint non-toxic, lead-free and cadmium-free?
Are the glue and varnish food grade?