Baby/Kid Gear
Is Stuffed Safe? A Peek Into Your Little One’s Lovey

Is Stuffed Safe? A Peek Into Your Little One’s Lovey

January 4, 2023

By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director

Plush toys like stuffed animals and play pillows are squeezably soft, but they’re often less innocent than they seem. A chief concern is the use of toxic flame retardants. One set of tests found flame-retarding polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on all plush toys tested. Levels were highest on surfaces, where exposure risks were deemed greatest. PBDEs have been linked neurological and behavioral issues, lower childhood IQ, and reproductive development problems. Like phthalates in PVC, PBDEs are not chemically bound to materials treated with them and can easily slip into kids’ bodies via skin and mouth contact as they snuggle, play, and sleep with their stuffed animals. Oh, Teddy, no!

The same study that identified the presence of flame retardants in plush toys also found that most of those tested had surprisingly high concentrations of pesticides like hexachlorocyclohexane, chlordanes, and DDT. The study’s authors noted that the toys’ stuffing was virtually identical to the material used to collect airborne chemicals for analysis and suggested that plush toys can act as sponges that absorb pollutants from the surrounding air and environment. Kind of gives you pause about tucking your little ones in for the night with their lovies.

Both the stuffing and surfaces of plush toys are also often made from polyester, a synthetic fiber whose production typically requires a toxic metal called antimony. Antimony is also sometimes is added to brominated flame retardants to increase their effectiveness. One form of this metal, antimony trioxide, is listed as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the European Union, and animal studies have found that breathing low levels of antimony can cause lung, heart, and fertility problems. While it has been thought that any residual antimony in finished polyester was unable to escape, a 2003 study by the Danish government found that exposure to perspiration could cause up to 10% to migrate out of polyester fibers. In addition to these risks, plush toys can also contain PVC parts.

So what to do about Lamby, Piggy, and the gang? PVC-free stuffed animals and other plush toys made from and stuffed with natural fibers are safest. Still, the use of these materials offers no guarantee that the product is free of flame retardants. And unfortunately flame retardants and more are rarely mentioned on product labels. The only way to be sure a plush toy is free of flame retardants is to ask the manufacturer and/or look for toys labeled “flame retardant-free.” Regardless of their materials, it’s a good idea to launder stuffed animals regularly to remove any pollutants they’ve absorbed (in plant-based detergent!).

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