Toys are essential for developing young minds. Their role in every kid’s childhood is priceless. But do you ever think about what toys are made of?
Playtime should be 100% safe for our kids in a perfect world. But that’s not always the case. If you want to know if polyester toys are safe for babies, you’ve come to the right place.
Modern toys of various shapes and sizes constitute different fabrics. Some fabrics are reasonably safe, while others contain chemicals and toxins that pose risks to the environment, wildlife, and your baby.
Polyester is one of the most widely used fabrics globally. The clothes in your wardrobe, the upholstery covering your furniture, and baby products might comprise polyester. In this article, we explain the pros and cons of this fabric. We also discuss alternative, chemical-free options to polyester and offer tips for purchasing the safest toys.
What Is Polyester?
Technically speaking, polyester is manufactured plastic, which you might not realise by looking at your child’s polyester-filled plushie.
Unlike cotton and other natural fabrics, polyester is a synthetic material derived from petroleum oil, made by reacting acids and alcohol at high temperatures.
First patented in the 1940s, polyester has been widely used in the textile industry. The most common form of polyester is PET (polyethene terephthalate). It’s in the products we wear, use and enjoy, including children’s toys.
Are Polyester Toys Safe for Babies or Toxic?
With many manufacturers adopting cleaner and more ethical practices, it’s easier than ever to obtain the information we need about toys and know they’re safe to introduce to kids.
Brands also face enormous pressure to comply with strict safety guidelines, standards and regulations. That’s because there’s been an increased global focus and shift toward toy safety in recent years. In particular, ISO 8124 is an international safety standard regulation that tests for and minimises the hazards and risks of toys.
This means that many finished products are labelled safe and non-toxic. But exercise caution when shopping. Not all toys on shop shelves are put through rigorous safety tests. They might present big health risks for babies.
What Chemicals Might Be Found in Polyester Toys?
You might wonder why anyone introduces polyester toys to their babies if they’re so hazardous. But the truth of the matter is that polyester in its purest form is less potent than often described.
However, polyester blended with other compounds, such as harmful chemicals like formaldehyde or antimony, could affect your baby’s health, with formaldehyde being a known carcinogen for humans. Even dyeing toys can lead to other harmful toxins being introduced to the toy and absorbed by baby skin. Lead, in particular, can damage your baby’s brain and developing nervous system.
Therefore, any concerns you have about the chemical effect on your child’s developing nervous system, brain and organs are justified. While low-level exposure might not be cause for immediate concern, there’s no way to fully understand the overall impact. And that’s an alarming thought.
Watch out for these chemicals, pollutants and chemicals to watch out for.
1. Flame Retardant Chemicals
Many polyester toys are naturally flame-retardant or fireproof due to their tightly woven fibres. However, flame-retardant chemicals could still be added as a precaution since polyester – a plastic – can melt.
Exposure to flame-retardant chemicals might cause serious long-term consequences for your baby. Research has linked flame-retardant chemicals are linked to health issues, including neurotoxicity, cancer, neurodevelopmental problems, and behavioural issues, among other things.
Additionally, toxic dyes might also be used during production. This can be unhealthy for you as a grown adult; the health risks for babies exploring the world through their mouths are even more significant.
2. Perfluorochemicals (PFCs)
As kids are messy humans, it makes parents’ lives easier to own stain-resistant toys. Easy to clean, these specifically treated toys can remove even the toughest spills and marks.
But how are these toys made? Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) might be the answer. PFCS, added to polyester to make them stain-resistant, have been linked to health problems in children.
Used to make polyester products waterproof, PFOAS has been linked to reproductive issues and thyroid disease in babies.
Are Polyester Toys Ever Safe to Use?
Polyester-made toys, clothes and products are commonly used by babies, toddlers and older children alike. Although popular, there are potential risks linked to their usage, which we will explore now.
1. Not Breathable
Babies can’t regulate their body temperature as efficiently and sweat less. Since the material traps heat and moisture, polyester isn’t breathable and can lead to possible overheating in babies, even after limited exposure.
Being around non-breathable fabrics might make them hot, so keep a close eye on any polyester products around your home, especially if your baby interacts or plays with them.
2. Harsh on Sensitive Skin
Polyester can irritate the skin, leading to itchiness, redness and irritation. If your child has sensitive skin, avoiding polyester-based products is best.
3. Funny Smell
Have you ever caught a whiff of baby’s toys to find they smell horribly unpleasant? Although regular cleaning is a must for every toy, polyester playthings need extra attention. They attract lots of bacteria, and neglecting to wash them puts your child at risk for developing an infection.
The Environmental Impact of Polyester Toys
We can’t ignore the irrefutable harm that polyester toys have on our planet.
Annually, over 22.7 billion tons of polyester infiltrate the market worldwide. Derived from non-renewable sources, polyester is undeniably disastrous for the environment. Unlike other materials, which take a few months or years to break down, the decomposition of polyester toys can take decades or even hundreds of years, long outlasting the time your child plays with them.
The Case for Recycled Polyester
In 1993, recycled polyester emerged as a promising solution to address environmental problems linked with using normal or virgin polyester.
While technically identical, recycled polyester is made using existing plastic waste – like bottles – in contrast to burning noxious fossil fuels, as is the case for standard polyester.
From an environmental perspective, recycled polyester is less impactful. Not only does its production rely on less energy, but it converts old waste into new products.
Nevertheless, comprising non-biodegradable elements, recycled polyester still grapples with the same pollution concerns in the long-term.
How to Shop for Safe Toys
If the question of “Are polyester toys safe for babies?” keeps you up at night, regain control over your sleep by learning how to toy shop wisely. Discover fun and new toys and sleeping aids while making conscious purchasing decisions that protect your baby.
1. Pay Close Attention to Labels
Labels on clothes, toys, or whatever products you’re buying provide key safety information.
Many toy products are certified, meaning they’ve passed the universal safety requirements and tests. You’ll know a toy product has been certified if it’s endorsed with a certification mark. More specifically, toys in the UK might sport a UKCA marking, showing they comply with essential health and environmental standards.
There are other more comprehensive certifications to look out for, with some of the most notable ones hailing from Oeko-Tex. Oeko-Tex is a Switzerland-born association that features several certifications and safety standards. Their Standard 100 scans for over 100 harmful substances to humans and the environment. You’re guaranteed a chemical-free baby toy if you spot one of these labels at the shops.
2. See What the Products Are Made Of
Are you looking to switch from polyester to cotton? To the untrained eye, you might not spot the subtle differences between fabrics. Labels will tell you what materials the product includes.
Something to bear in mind: some certification standards allow manufacturers to add polyester fibres to cotton-based products. This means the product you’re buying might not be pure cotton, even if that’s what the brand’s promising you. You will find that most products rarely have a 100% fibre content.
If you want to avoid polyester altogether, choose products made from organic cotton instead.
Why Are Polyester Toys Popular?
If polyester toys are problematic, then why do people continue to purchase them?
Because polyester is highly affordable, making it an attractive option for budget-concious parents. With parenthood encompassing so many expenses, buying children’s polyester toys might fit your budget, with organic playthings simply being too expensive.
Not just cheaper, polyester toys are durable and known for their high degree of resilience. They can withstand a lot – rough play, multiple washings and general wear and tear without easily breaking, shrinking, creasing or losing their shine. Overall, polyester toys are regarded as good value for money because they don’t get damaged damaged nor require special care.
For manufacturers, polyester is cost-effective and versatile, making it the ideal material for mass production. It can also be molded into various toy forms.
What Are Alternatives to Polyester Toys?
If so many types of toys are potentially dangerous, are some safe? Yes, you can find or create toys containing these chemical-free materials – cotton, wood, bamboo, and wool are excellent choices.
Cotton, a natural fibre derived from the ripening seeds of cotton plants, is a safer and more sustainable alternative to the material polyester. Although free of harmful chemicals, cotton plants might be sprayed with pesticides. To minimise exposure to pesticides, look for toys constructed from organic cotton instead.
Although you might be spending more on cotton-based toys, they offer the following benefits.
- Cotton is breathable, thereby preventing overheating
- Typically chemical-free, ensuring your baby’s safety during playtime
- Cotton is biodegradable and, therefore, an environmentally friendly choice.
Recently, people have praised bamboo as the latest sustainable material to replace plastic across many industries.
Its popularity stems from its antimicrobial, odour-resistant and renewable properties. It’s also widespread, as bamboo crops grow easily.
But before you go out to buy your bamboo toys, the process of turning raw bamboo into fabrics is controversial. While growing bamboo involves clean practices, the subsequent production process, often chemical-intensive, raises concerns.
Sustainably-sourced wood has long been regarded as a potential replacement for plastic toys.
We can understand why – wooden toys last and are often beautifully constructed. They’re also timeless toys, so why not bring out your childhood toys for your kids to play with?
In addition, wooden toys aren’t painted or finished with toxic paint or chemicals. That’s one less to worry about if your kid likes to put things in his mouth. But do be mindful of splinters!
“Are polyester toys safe for babies?” There’s no definitive answer.
Indeed, chemicals are sometimes used for toy production to make them more durable, non-flammable, and weather-and-stain resistant. The question is, are babies exposed to harmful chemicals whenever they play with polyester toys? How seriously might they be impacted? Unfortunately, there’s no easy way of knowing.
We do know that polyester isn’t breathable. The fabric contributes to overheating and skin problems in babies, which is something to remember if you use polyester-based baby products.
If you worry about the planet and your children’s future, you might not be a massive fan of polyester. Polyester isn’t sustainable and will likely remain as waste long after your child’s outgrown a toy or baby product. But fortunately, eco-conscious companies are turning to renewable materials, including recycled polyester, as greener solutions.
Finally, can we make informed decisions when shopping for our children? Do we have any say over the toys that will inevitably land in our kid’s mouths? Yes – labels are everywhere and tell us a lot about what we should know, stopping us from buying unsafe products.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!