14 Toy Materials That Are Used in Designs Right Now
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Materials are important for toys because they influence durability, safety, educational value and environmental friendliness. Wood, plastic, bioplastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), textile, felt, metal, lead, plush, rubber, paper, cardboard, resin and foam all have different properties.
Most toys are made of plastic, but other alternatives may be better. Wooden toys are durable, environmentally friendly and educational. Bioplastic is a sustainable alternative to conventional plastic, but it also has disadvantages such as competition with food sources. PVC is strong and flexible, but contains dangerous chemical additives.
Textiles, such as cotton and wool, are durable and provide a rich sensory experience. Felt is durable and lightweight, but can be rough and less suitable for clothing. Metal is strong and durable, but can be heavy and have sharp edges.
The best material choice for toys is wood, due to its durability, environmental friendliness and educational value. The trend in the toy industry is towards natural materials and silicones, as they are safer and more environmentally friendly.
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What we discuss in this comprehensive post:
Wood is an organic material, a natural composite of high tensile strength cellulose fibers embedded in a lignin matrix that resists compression.
Wooden toys are therefore sustainable, environmentally friendly and educational. Unlike plastic, which breaks easily and can have sharp edges, wooden toys are sturdy and safe. They stimulate creativity through simple activities, such as cooking in a miniature kitchen or riding a rocking horse.
Wooden toys are better for the environment than plastic ones; they're renewable, non-toxic and biodegradable. Recycling plastic is expensive, while new production is cheaper. Wooden toys also have sensory benefits: the sense of touch is important for educational programs that help children develop. By touching and exploring wooden toys, children learn naturally.
However, there are also disadvantages to wooden toys. Wood can be heavier than plastic and sometimes less colorful. In addition, wood is more sensitive to moisture and can wear out over time. Despite this, wood remains a sustainable, environmentally friendly and educational material for toys.
Plastic is a wide variety of synthetic and semi-synthetic materials that use polymers as the main ingredient. The plasticity makes it possible to shape, extrude and press plastics into solid objects and shapes.
According to the 2014 UNEP report “Valuing plastics”, the toy industry uses 40 tons of plastic per $1 million in sales and is the most plastic-intensive industry in the world. 90% of the toys on the market are made of plastic.
Plastic is good for toys because of its durability, lightness and ease of manufacture. It's strong, wear-resistant and flexible due to the long molecular chains in polymers. There are three commonly used impact resistant plastics: polycarbonates, bisphenols and Eastman Tritan. These are usually safe, corrosion and chemical resistant.
However, plastic toys also have disadvantages. They contribute to environmental pollution, such as pollution of oceans and ecosystems. Its production requires a lot of energy and water, which leads to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. In addition, it's difficult to recycle and often ends up in landfills, where it takes hundreds of years to break down.
In terms of sensory experience and educational properties related to nature or Montessori, plastic may be less suitable than alternative materials.
Bioplastic is a sustainable alternative to conventional plastic, made from renewable raw materials such as vegetable fats, oils, starch and recycled food waste. It's biodegradable and helps reduce the problem of plastic waste.
Bioplastic is good for toys because it's stable, durable and safe for children. It's an environmentally friendly choice that reduces CO2 emissions and contributes to a cleaner planet. Bioplastic toys can have educational properties such as teaching about nature and Montessori principles, although playing with them doesn't offer much in this area. It offers a wide variety of designs, colors and textures, making it an attractive option for both children and parents.
However, there are also disadvantages to bioplastic. The growing demand could lead to competition with food resources and contribute to the global food crisis. Bioplastic does not degrade in landfills and can contaminate plastic recycling streams. Moreover, bioplastic does not solve the problem of marine litter.
#4 Polyvinyl chloride
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a widely used thermoplastic, produced from synthetic polymers, with 40 million tons of production per year worldwide, in both rigid and flexible forms.
PVC is good for toys because of durability, strength and flexibility. It's suitable for both indoor and outdoor toys.
However, PVC can be bad because of dangerous chemical additives, such as phthalates, lead, cadmium and organotin. These substances can leak and evaporate, posing risks to children, especially babies who put toys in their mouths. Sustainability and environmental friendliness are also a concern as PVC is difficult to recycle.
Textile is a collective term for materials based on fibres, yarns, filaments and threads, including various types of fabric. A good material for toys because of durability, environmental friendliness, sensory experience and educational properties related to nature or Montessori.
Textile toys can be made from natural fabrics such as organic cotton, wool, leather, hemp and linen. Recycled materials, such as old sweaters and blankets, are also possible.
Luxurious feel, rich colors and diverse textures are advantages. Choose lightweight, flexible, tear-resistant and recyclable textiles. Disadvantages include pilling, difficulty in cleaning, easier tearing and texture variation.
Textiles for the toy industry are Velboa (soft, medium weight, short pile), brushed tricot (polyester, sometimes polyamide) and velor (closely woven, cut pile, usually cotton, wool or synthetic).
Felt is a textile material produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers. Felt can contain natural fibers such as wool and animal hair, synthetic fibers such as petroleum-based acrylic and acrylonitrile, or wood pulp-based rayon.
Felt is ideal for small parts of soft toys, such as eyes, because it does not fray and doesn't require fixtures when sewing.
Felt is durable, hard-wearing and lightweight, making it suitable for toys. Wool felt is highly flame retardant and extinguishes quickly, which promotes safety. In addition, felt has sound-absorbing properties and is moisture-absorbent. Felt retains and transports water, oil and liquids, adding to the educational properties of nature and Montessori toys.
However, felt can also have disadvantages. The material is stiff, does not breathe well and is less soft than woven fabrics. This makes felt less suitable for clothing. Wool felt can pill, which is less attractive for soft toys. In addition, the roughness of felt, caused by the manufacturing process and natural materials, can cause irritation or damage to the skin.
# 7 Metal
Metal is a material that, when freshly prepared, polished or broken, has a shiny appearance and conducts electricity and heat. Metals are generally flexible and malleable due to the metallic bonds between atoms and molecules.
Metal is good for toys because of its durability, strength and sensory experience. Metal toys are often stronger than plastic and wood, making them last longer. In addition, metal toys, such as tin toys, are attractive due to their resemblance to real objects. However, older metal toys have drawbacks over plastic toys, such as a tendency to break and form sharp edges, which can be dangerous for children.
Durability and environmental friendliness are important aspects of metal toys. Although the use of paint containing lead was banned in 1978, children can still strip paint off metal toys, posing a health risk. This problem has been solved by using colored plastics that do not need to be painted.
Educational properties of metal toys can be related to nature and Montessori education. High quality aluminum and zinc alloys and casting processes have enabled the development of new generations of plastics and composites, reducing the popularity of steel toys.
Despite the drawbacks of older metal toys, such as breaking and forming sharp edges, metals remain an important material in engineering design and toy manufacturing.
Lead is a chemical element with symbol Pb and atomic number 82, a heavy metal that is denser and heavier than many common materials. Lead is soft, malleable and has a relatively low melting point. Freshly cut lead has a glossy gray color with a hint of blue, but turns a dull gray when exposed to air.
Lead would be a good material for toys because of its durability, malleability and sensory experience. However, it's also one of the most toxic elements, especially for children. To protect children from exposure to lead, we should pay attention to metal and plastic toys, especially imported and antique toys, and toy jewelry. These may contain lead, which is invisible to the naked eye and odorless.
Lead exposure can seriously damage a child's health. Since 1978, lead in paint on wooden and plastic toys has been banned in the United States and many other countries. Yet, it's still found in toys from some countries. The safe lead level in toys and children's products is up to 90 ppm, according to consumer product safety regulations. In reality, no level of lead is acceptable, but some toys still contain excessive levels of toxins.
Plush is a soft fabric with a cut nap, similar to velvet and fustian, known for its softness and luxurious feel. Plush is often used for toys because of its durability, sensory experience and educational properties.
Plush toys help children aged 12-18 months develop social skills and mimic everyday activities. Stuffed animals provide comfort, security, practice language skills and stimulate creativity and imagination.
However, plush also has disadvantages. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), soft objects, such as plush toys, should be kept out of babies' sleeping quarters to prevent overheating, suffocation, strangulation and SIDS. Sustainability and environmental friendliness are also concerns, as plush is not always produced sustainably and is not always recyclable.
While plush toys offer benefits such as developing social skills and providing comfort, there are also risks and environmental concerns to consider.
Latex is a stable emulsion of polymer microparticles in water, sourced from nature or made synthetically. Natural rubber, obtained from latex, is an elastic material obtained from the sap of trees, especially from the genera Hevea and Ficus.
Rubber is good for toys because of its durability, flexibility and sensory experience. It's a natural, safe and environmentally friendly material, suitable for teething and bath toys. Rubber toys fit within Montessori and nature-oriented education.
However, natural rubber can cause allergies in some people. Although biodegradable, the degradation process is slow. More research is needed to improve environmental friendliness.
Paper is a thin material produced by mechanically and chemically processing cellulose fibers from wood, rags, grasses and vegetable sources. Water is drained through a fine mesh, after which fibers are evenly spread and pressed, followed by drying. There are various paper types and textures: smooth, embossed, coated and uncoated.
Paper toys are good because they stimulate creativity and imagination in children. They can color, paint and create unique designs. Its use encourages imaginative play and fosters creativity. Paper is renewable, biodegradable and versatile.
However, there are also disadvantages. Paper production can cause deforestation, water pollution and chemical use. It generates a lot of waste and paper is not very sturdy.
Cardboard is a lightweight, rigid material made from wood pulp fibers, often recycled paper and wood waste. It consists of layers of heavy paper with a wavy center. Cardboard is 100% recyclable and biodegradable.
Cardboard is good for toys because of durability, environmental friendliness and educational properties. It's safe for children, with antibacterial properties and non-toxic pigments. Cardboard toys are simple, stimulate imagination and fit Montessori principles.
Disadvantages are susceptibility to mold, water, fire and more difficult to construct structures. Cardboard can carry less weight than plastic and can break more easily.
Resin is a solid, highly viscous substance of vegetable or synthetic origin, usually convertible to polymers and usually mixtures of organic compounds secreted by plants for protection in case of injury.
Resin is good for toys because of its durability, superior handling and flexibility compared to natural materials. Resins are safe for children and adults, but can break if dropped. Synthetic resins are very durable and suitable for detailed model figurines.
The disadvantages are that resins are less environmentally friendly than dried and cured plastic. Sanding cured resins can be harmful to the environment. Plastics made from synthetic fibers contain organic materials, which poses problems in the use of fossil fuels and chemicals. These can end up in the environment, pollute the soil and water.
Resin may offer educational properties related to nature or Montessori, but sustainability and environmental friendliness are important when choosing a toy.
Foam consists of 40% polyisocyanates, 10% water and 50% polyol. Polyisocyanates and polyols are liquid polymers that cause an exothermic reaction to form polyurethane foam. It's safe for children, soft and light, reducing the risk of injury.
Play blocks are suitable for various activities, individually or in a group, and in educational environments. Ethylene Vinyl Acetate Foam (EVA) is waterproof, shock absorbing and flexible, ideal for children's playgrounds.
Foam plastics, such as polystyrene beads and structural foams, are suitable for certain applications because of their properties, such as low thermal conductivity. EPS foam has been recyclable since 1971 and is used in plush toys, furniture and picture frames. EVA is a safer alternative to PVC, without plasticizers such as phthalates and BPA. However, EVA foam used to contain formamide, a carcinogen that is absorbed through the skin and breathing.
Belgium banned EVA foam mats for children in 2011. However, the Australian ACCC and Canadian government have tested EVA foam products and concluded that they are safe for children.
Polyurethane is an excellent material for toys because of its physical and chemical properties. It's soft, elastic and suitable for stuffed animals, dolls, mats and elastic toys. Polyurethane also has good molding properties for model and simulation toys, such as cars, ships, fruits and vegetables. In short, polyurethane is safe, environmentally friendly, durable and easy to process in toys.
Which material is best for quality toys?
The best material for quality toys is wood, followed by other natural materials such as cotton and wool, and silicone. Wood and natural materials are better than plastic because they are more durable and don't contain toxic substances.
Silicone is a robust choice that can handle high temperatures, extreme cold and tremendous pressure, making it better than plastic. Parents like to choose silicone toys because they are easy to clean and contain no harmful substances and the choice of material really matters for quality toys.
Avoid old wooden toys with peeling paint, as they may contain lead. Check whether fabric toys can be washed. Silicone beach toys are better than plastic and the trend is moving towards more natural materials.
Are plastics bad for toys?
Yes, plastics are bad for toys because they contain heavy metals (lead, cadmium), harmful chemicals (dioxins) and children often chew on PVC toys, releasing hazardous substances into their bodies. The toy industry is a plastic-intensive sector and studies show that eco-friendly toys contain fewer toxic plastics.
What are the trends in toy materials?
The latest trends in toys are: investing in comfortable, nostalgic toys that appeal to parents. Global toy experts predict more sales of classic toys despite the previous loss due to children playing more video games.
Nostalgic materials such as wood are reflected in toy design for creative, imaginative play and safety and sustainability are becoming increasingly important in design and materials used due to a growing demand for sustainable toys from consumers and corporate responsibility.
What are the best green toy companies?
The top green toy companies include PlanToys, Tender Leaf Toys, Tegu, HABA, and Le Toy Van.
PlanToys uses natural rubber wood from rubber trees that no longer produce latex in a sustainable process. Tender Leaf Toys make toys from durable rubber wood and non-toxic paint, good for teaching kids about nature. Tegu specializes in wooden blocks with hidden magnets, pays Honduran workers a fair wage and focuses on long-term career growth. HABA uses water-based stains, formaldehyde and lead-free wooden toys, certified. Le Toy Van, a well-known British toy company, makes classic toys from sustainable materials with a modern twist, such as dollhouses, double-decker buses, cars and trains.
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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Speelkeuze.nl is a content marketer, father and loves trying out new toys. As a child he came into contact with everything related to games when his mother started the Tinnen Soldaat in Ede. Now he and his team create helpful blog articles to help loyal readers with fun play ideas.