The 15 Riskiest Children’s Products You Can Buy

Recalls are a part of modern life. A manufacturer overlooks a defect or chemical byproduct. Somebody gets sick or hurt. People panic. The company offers refunds (a la McDonald’s recent Shrek glass refund), and people forget about it–at least until the next recall comes around.

Amidst all these recalls, one thing stands out: Children are most affected. Every year, the US government recalls a ridiculous number of infant and child products. Nearly 95% of toys marketed and sold in the United States are being produced in low-regulation factories in China. When something slips into the sauce in one of those massive factories, or cost-controlling measures lead to poor products, children are the ones who really pay.

To avoid injury, illness, or worse for your little one, you need to be prudent about what children’s products to buy. We figured out which products you need to be particularly cautious about–and how to buy nontoxic, safe products instead.

15. Jewelry

Kids’ jewelry has a reputation for containing lead and cadmium, which both contribute to varying levels of poisoning that may result in permanent brain damage and developmental delays.

The Good Housekeeping Institute is leading the charge on independent testing of popular children’s toys. After purchasing items at Kmart, the Oriental Trading Company catalog and the Rag Shop, GHI got to work testing the birthstone necklace-and-earring sets; and religious and heart-shaped charms marketed for kids.

One item came back with lead levels more than 400 times greater than government standards allow for. GHI’s advice to parents is to look for guaranteed 100% “lead free” or “no lead” labels; also look for jewelry that is made outside China and other developing counties. Opting for made in the USA is often a sure bet for safety.

In January 2010, Walmart announced it would be removing all items linked to cadmium from its shelves nationwide while it conducted its own investigation and testing. Walmart said in a written statement, “The findings in this report are troubling and as the world’s largest retailer we have a responsibility to take swift action and we’re doing so.”

How to buy smart:

If you have a budding princess, or knight in your home, consider going with knitted or felted crowns or musical magical wands. When age appropriate, look for items with beads and stones for added sparkle and skip the plastics and the lead-likely toys.

14. Clothing

Kids’ clothes sometimes contain synthetic fibers that are either flammable or toxic due to cheaply sourced flame retardants used in many China-based clothing manufacturers. Sleepwear and cheaply made Halloween costumes are especially notorious for their shady chemistry.

In 2001, the Disney Store, under the pressure from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), recalled nearly 55,000 Princess Arial (Little Mermaid) costumes after flammability and ignition issues were confirmed. One four-year-old girl suffered burn injuries while wearing her costume.

The same year, The Limited Inc. and its subsidiary, Mast Industries, agreed to pay $500,000 in civil penalties to settle allegations by the CPSC that the companies violated the federal Flammable Fabrics Act. The CPSC alleges that The Limited and Mast placed children at risk by knowingly importing and selling 100-percent polyester pajamas with a satin finish and 100-percent polyester fleece bathrobes that failed to comply with federal sleepwear flammability standards.

How to buy smart:

Natural fabrics like cotton, wool and silk are always a safe bet with kids’ wearables. Bamboo can be a great fabric to look for too, but if you’re eco-conscious, note that the bamboo is often prone to greenwashing. Cotton flannel pajamas are warm and snuggly and dress-up is more fun for both boys and girls when made with comfortable, wearing fabrics.

13. Baby bath seats

Image: Kids in Danger

For children under the age of five, drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death in the United States. A reported 103 children have died in recent years due to poorly designed and used child bathing seats. Well-intentioned parents can the mistake that bathing aids are actually safety devices that can result in child injury and death.

How to buy smart:

Some of the newest bathing tubs on the market are designed to correct the dangers of many now discontinued products. Spa Baby Upright Tub is setting the standard for bathing safety and comfort.

Spa Baby tubs are made of a safer plastic that contains no BPA, no paints (lead) and no sharp edges. Its upright bathing position is a more natural position for baby, similar to a fetal style position, which calms and relaxes. As with all baby bathing aids, its use is only safe for baby when a parent is engaged and at arms length at all times.

12. Infant walkers

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in 1999 an estimated 9,000 children under 20 months were treated in emergency rooms for injuries associated with mobile (rolling) infant walkers and stationary entertainers. Most injuries were occurred at home and in conjunction with stairs while in their mobile walker.

How to buy smart:

A safer alternative to the mobile walkers is E and I’s Bungee Baby Bouncer. The bouncer has been approved by CPSC and is made of high-quality components that aid to the safety and comfort of your little one. Used as intended, with a caregiver’s watchful eye, can mean hours of happy playtime for baby.

11. Toys with design flaws

Badly-designed toys contain hidden dangers that aren’t always obvious until you bring them home. Playskool’s Magic Start & Crawl Stand, for example, was designed to help babies figure out how to stand up. Thanks to bad design, however, the Crawl & Stand tipped over on infants, giving them black eyes and cut lips.

Another design flaw that proved dangerous was Mattel’s worldwide phenomenon, the Snacktime Cabbage Patch Dolls. The dolls were designed with battery-powered mechanical jaws that allowed kids to play-feed their toys, but these dollies developed an appetite for children’s hair and fingers, causing the Consumer Product Safety Commission to offer a refund program for the dolls.

How to buy smart:

Buy from a specialty store like, an online company that offers a large selection of quality and fun toys. Their selection of Natural Dolls offers a pleasing selection for infants and older children. The dolls and their changeable wardrobes are hand-sewn and fashion-forward.

10. Baby slings

In many developing countries, mothers carry babies in a long swathe of fabric. Here in the West, we try to emulate that kind of natural carrier by designing fancy baby slings. But our fancy engineering doesn’t always equate to safety, even with something as innocuous as a baby sling.

In March 2010, San Diego-based Infantino LLC finally caved to pressure by the CPSC to halt sales and recall their popular SlingRider and Wendy Bellissimo model baby slings (carriers). This came after the suffocation deaths of three babies were directly related to the use of their slings. “It does not matter how old your baby is at this point with the Infantino sling,” said CPSC’s Scott Wolfson. “Do not use it. This sling places the baby in a very deep part of the product,” Wolfson said. “What is so dangerous is when the fabric covers nose and mouth or when baby is turned into the body of the mother and the airway is restricted.”

How to buy smart:

The Sleepy Wrap is one baby carrier that securely and safely holds your baby close. The wrap is especially designed for a baby’s first year of life, but it may used as long it is comfortable for you and baby. The makers of the Sleepy Wrap know how proper use of any product increases safety and comfort, so their website dedicates an entire page to babywearing safety. And fashionistas, be still your beating hearts, because Sleepy Wrap will keep your baby and you looking great.

9. Sleep positioners

Image: StarMama/Flickr

Even products that claim they increase safety may threaten your child. Take the Graco Sleep Positioner. The company says it encourages side or back sleeping. They market it as a device used to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, these sleep positioners been known to suffocate children when they are not able to move their face away from the wedge.

How to buy smart:

The American SIDS Institute offers a list of what parent-to-be and current parents can do to reduce SIDS risks for their children. Rather than infant positioners, invest in a firm mattress that fits properly in the baby’s bed to reduce SIDS risk. Place the infant to sleep on their backs, with no covers, pillows or toys. Keep the sleeping crib in the parents’ room until the infant is at least six months of age.

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8. Electric toys

You’ve probably seen it on TV. A family smiles proudly as a young girl pulls a freshly baked treat from her Easy Bake Oven. What the commercial doesn’t tell you is that the girls just like her have seriously burned their fingers on that very same Easy Bake. Hasbro Corporation, the makers of the Easy Bake Oven, have been plagued with recalls on their famous ovens. Parents have reported second- and third-degree burns, even amputations, due to the defective toys.

The electrical toy danger doesn’t stop there. In February 2006 Creative Innovations and Sources, LLC recalled 8,000 of its Road Rage Stunt Machine Trucks; shortly after, it recalled another 180,000 of its Chinese-made radio-controlled Pro Flying Saucers. Both recalls came after reports of the battery charger overheating, smoking, melting or catching fire. The reports included burns to hands and fingers and household damages due to fire.

How to buy smart:

Be sure that what you are buying is age appropriate and suits the child’s abilities. Toy manufacturers declare the appropriate age range for all toys on the outside of the package. This helps to ensure the toy is being operated properly, lowering risk from improper use. You can also use the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website to review your toy before purchase.

One toy with a design that boasts moving parts and happy hands is the fantastic wooden fire truck by Fagus. The ladder is fully extendable, and detailed finishes are lead-free and safe for play.

7. Chemical-laden toys

Most recently, McDonald’s recalled its glass Shrek tumblers because they contained cadmium, a nasty industrial chemical. But the tradition of toxic chemistry in toys goes way back.

In the late 1940s, the infamous Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab was marketed as a smart kid’s toy. It contained actual uranium ore—not something you’d want to expose anyone to (learn more about it on this NPR show).

Season after season, chemicals are found in children’s Halloween masks. Kids are tucking their faces into masks that are painted with lead-intensive paints, and rounding out their alien costumes with x-ray guns loaded with heavy metals. Both are making children sick and have long-lasting health repercussions.

The Barbie is another well-loved toy with a toxic twist. In 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall of over 675,000 units of Mattel’s popular Barbie dolls and associated Barbie accessories after lead pain and other toxic components were found in independent test.

How to buy smart:

When you’re in the market for Halloween costumes, assume everything is dangerous until proven safe. Don’t buy lead-heavy costume jewelry, and avoid Halloween masks if at all possible. The Daily Green has a list of lead-free toys to start you off on the right foot.

A couple of examples of safe, chemical-free toys include the Smithsonian Institute’s crystal growing kit and Mama K’s Aromatic Play Clay.

6. Strollers

You’d think a subpar stroller would lose a wheel or maybe fall apart at the frame. The more common problem, it turns out, has to do with kids losing fingers.

In January 2010, the popular child’s gear company, Graco, recalled 1.5 million strollers after confirmed reports of finger amputations and other lacerating risks. British stroller-maker, Mclaren Company, had similar issues as Graco with finger amputations due to a faulty hinge design. Approximately 1 million recalls were issued as part of Mclaren’s clean-up.

How to buy smart:

In February 2010,’s Kate M. Cronan, MD in offered a great list of what to look for when shopping for a safe stroller. Britax USA is one company that turns out great kid’s products that are engineered and manufactured in the USA.

5. Children’s medicine

Over nearly 20 years, Tylenol has been plagued with massive recalls on a variety of their products, mostly due to sins repeated. Inspections continue to turn up unsanitary conditions in Tylenol plants, resulting in contaminated products ranging from their trusted children’s medicines to their popular adult products. A recall in 2009 involved 21 lots of children’s Tylenol products that were potentially contaminated by pneumonia-causing B. cepacia bacteria.

How to buy smart:

Manage the amount of drugs your child ingests by using natural remedies as a first line of defense. Oftentimes, an old-school salt gargle or bedrest will work wonders on your child’s ailment. Talk to you doctor or other parents to see what’s worked for them. Use drugs like Tylenol as a last resort, or when your doctor requires them.

4. Food

When it comes to food, we’re dealing with dirty, unregulated factories again. Yuck.

In a 2009 voluntary recall, cereal giant Kellogg asked stores to stop selling its popular Keebler and Austin brand peanut butter crackers. A national salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter was killing unsuspecting consumers.

Kellogg took the action as a “precautionary measure” after one of its peanut paste suppliers, Peanut Corp. of America, announced a nationwide recall of peanut butter made in its Georgia plant. The suspected cause of the salmonella contamination? Bird droppings from animals that have taken up roost in the Georgia plant.

Less often, even the innocent-sounding, non-multinational organic companies find heeby jeebies in their foods. Plum Organics issued a voluntary recall in late 2009 over a potential botulism scare involving their popular Apple and Carrot baby food. They discovered the “mixing error” through their own testing and recalled the batch in question.

How to buy smart:

Despite Plum’s recall, organics are usually a safe bet when comes to food choices for your little ones. They’re recalled far less often than the mass-produced, sprayed—err, conventional—stuff. MaraNatha is one clean and delicious choice for nut butters and snacks; you can find them online and in markets nationwide. Stonyfield and Earth’s Best baby foods are two more trustworthy companies that stay out of the headlines and in the cupboards of good shoppers.

3. Baby gates

An estimated 3,000 gate-related injuries to children under age of five required emergency medical care in 2004. Prior to new regulations put in place in 1985, many accordion-style gates with large openings allowed a child’s head to become entrapped in the opens resulting in strangulation. At least nine deaths were reported in connection with these older gates.

More recently, there have been reports of resulting amputation of fingers due to gate use injuries and choking risk due to the swallowing of broken plastic gate components. Faulty design and poor construction come into play again in baby gate safety.

How to buy smart: recommends looking for a safety gate that has been manufactory as recently as possible so that designs meet current regulations and standards. Be sure your gate has an ASTM/JPMA certification (American Society for Testing and Materials, and Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association). Look over all the components of your gate, including the attachment hardware that will keep your gate in position. Ask other parents what works for them and their families; look for gates that have an ASTM/JPMA certification and get high ratings from parents like you. Kidco is one company that gets high marks from users, while meeting or exceeding government standards.

2. Highchairs

Falls cause the most high chair injuries for children. But the risks don’t stop there. From highchair legs coming out of the seat to heads catching in the highchair tray or straps, leading to strangulation, the risks run the gamut.

How to buy smart:

When shopping for a new high chair, look for up-to-date safety features like a wide leg base, so the chair can’t tip. A five-point harness system consisting of a waist belt, a belt that fits between the child’s legs and shoulder straps keep the child upright and in the proper position. The Bloom Nano urban highchair is a stylish chair that is getting great reviews from parents putting it to use, and it fills the safety requirements set out by Consumer Reports.

1. Cribs

Poorly-designed cribs can trap or suffocate babies, something that we’ve been made all too aware of in the past couple of years. In April 2010, the now-defunct Simplicity caused a reported 13 deaths with their popular metal crib frame. Another recall was issued by Delta after its made-in-China cribs were connected to two deaths that they declined to publish details on.

How to buy smart:

A safe investment is to buy cribs that are made in the USA, for materials and painted finishes used, and structural integrity. Berg Furniture and Land of Nod are two companies that are making safe and beautiful furniture for families.

(Note: All images come from the CPSC, unless noted otherwise).

Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.