What Makes a Safe Wooden Toy?
How to Buy a Wooden Toy that's Safe?
With the growing popularity of wooden toys, knowing about wooden toy safety is not just paramount for businesses who make or sell toys, but its very helpful for consumers who are seeking well made and safe wooden toys for their home and family.
Overall wooden toys are a safer option in comparison to plastic toys, and offer many benefits, however there are pitfalls. Having some knowledge of what to look out for when buying wooden toys helps to make sure the toys you buy are safe and aren't potentially harmful, ensuring your new toys bring you many years of happy play.
Wooden toy safety can be broken into 3 areas; the timber, the construction and the finish.
1) Timber - Not all Woods are Good Woods
First thing to look at is the safety of the wood. Not all woods are appropriate to make toys out of. Some timbers are weak and some are even quite toxic. The best wooden toys are made from solid, quality, low toxic timbers.
Composite Wood - These wood products include both plywood and MDF particleboard. They are made from small timber pieces or wood dust glued together to form a solid timber piece. Often the glues used contain toxic formaldehyde based resins, which is a known carcinogen. Eco-friendly options are available, however most products currently on the market contain varying amounts of formaldehyde.
Toxic Hardwoods - All timbers when they are being worked on produce saw dust which can be irritating to your upper respiratory, however once finished and sealed most hardwood timbers are very safe. There is a subset of timbers that are classified as contact sensitisers, where not only the dust but the contact wood oils are known irritants to sensitive individuals. These timbers can irritate the eyes, upper airways and effect the nervous system. Some timbers to avoid are maple, blackwood, birch, rosewood, cypress, oleander & western red cedar.
CCA Treated Timbers - Timbers treated with a chemical called Chromated Copper Arsenate are generally used for outdoor applications (usually the wood has a green tone). This is an arsenic based chemical and though there is strong debate as to the level of toxicity of CCA products, the official advice is that children should wash their hands after being in contact with CCA timber. A toy that requires a child to wash their hands after play is more than concerning, so probably is best avoided.
Imported Timbers - The issue of imported timbers and/or timber products is a big one and rarely if ever discussed. ALL natural products being imported into Australia need to be treated before customs will allow entry. This is a biosecurity measure in place to protect our country from infestations of foreign pests and fungi. The items included under this regulation are not only raw timbers but any finished timber products, including all those that are painted and varnished. Treatment can occur during manufacture or transportation. There are 3 ways importers treat their timbers; temperature, gama irradiation and pesticide/fungicide fumigation. As a consumer there is no transparency as to how a product has been treated. Which effectively means imported timbers purchased in a local timber yard , and disconcertingly a completed toy, may have been permeated with pesticides and fungicides. There is no legal requirement for imported toys to be treated in a chemical free option and not to be fumigated, it is at the importers discretion which treatment option is used.
2) Construction - Considerations for How a Toy is Made
Legally all toys for sale must offer age recommendations. Toys can fall into 2 categories, for children under 36 months and those aged over 36 months. Age considerations are primarily based on choking hazards.
Size - In the old days in early childhood we used to use a camera film canister to check if a toy was to small for little ones. The canisters were deemed to be the size of a child's wind pipe, so if a toy fitted inside, you didn't give it to young children. Today thanks to the internet we have more detailed resources, however all toys in the market place must legally state the age recommendations.
Strength - Size is only part of the issue, strength is also another consideration. Young children often, throw, bang and stand on toys and if they break under the force the pieces can become a choking hazard. So toys for younger children need to be strong and to be able to withstand the force of a young child during play. Toys that are more delicate and fragile can to be labelled for older children and not suitable for children under 36 months.
Joinery - How a toy is constructed is also an important consideration. Internal joins are always a much better option for toys. External metal nails, screws and hinges should be avoided as they can work themselves loose and again become choking hazards. All timber joins should be reinforced with quality wood glues that are also food grade. Standard construction glues are not appropriate for toys as they have various ranges of toxicity.
Smooth Finish - Well made wooden toys are well sanded. The rough edges should be removed. The last thing any child wants is splinters from their play toy. Take a close look at areas in and around holes and look for sharp edges.
3) Finishes - The Importance of Non-Toxic & Food Grade
There really are no substitutes when it comes to quality, non-toxic finishes. Paint and sealers after all are the external surfaces of a toy that children will have direct contact with.
All toymakers should keep MSDS (material safety data sheet) certification records for the products used in the crafting of their toys.
Paints - Most people are knowledgeable about the dangers of lead in paint. However cadmium pigment is also a real concern. This is highly toxic and can be found in acrylic and water colour paints. While lead has been banned in paint for many years here in Australia, artist quality paints may still contain cadmium. These paints are designed for art works not toys. Make sure your toy is only painted with certified non-toxic, child friendly paint that it is cadmium and lead free.
Sealers - Avoid high gloss shiny wooden toys, its a sure sign they have been sealed with a varnish finish. Estapols and varnishes are generally solvent based sealers designed for construction not toys, most often used for floors, doors and furniture. Although there are lower toxic water-based alternatives available, they are still not designed for children to place in their mouths or potentially chew on. Instead aim for food grade sealers. If its safe for a food preparation surfaces, its safe for a toy.
Ultimately the cheaper your toy is the less likely quality timbers and finishes have been used in its construction. Buying quality not only means your toys will last longer, it may also ensure the toys your children play with will be safe as well.
Points to Remember when Buying a Wooden Toy
What timber is the toy made from - Is it low toxic & untreated?
Has the seller listed an age recommendation?
Are there metal fixtures?
Is the toy smooth and the edges rounded?
Is the paint non-toxic, lead AND cadmium free?
Is the glue & sealer food grade?
- ACCC Choke Check
- Legal information on toy safety visit the ACCC Product Safety Australia
- Hardwood Toxicity List
- Information on current list of approved imported timber treatments.
- Study into pesticide exposure in children
- Information on formaldehyde in plywood & particleboard
- Information of cadmium toxicity