Tots, toys and toxic paint don’t mix

As parents, we do the best we can to ensure our children have the very best start in the world. We may breastfeed them, make their baby food from scratch, buy organic and whole foods, childproof our homes, teach them not to talk to strangers, and a myriad of other things. We trust that when we buy age-appropriate toys for our children, that they will be safe and not pose a choking hazard nor contain toxic elements like lead-based paint. Apparently we are trusting the wrong people.

Photo courtesy juhansonin
Photo courtesy juhansonin

Stephanie of Adventures in Babywearing wrote an interesting post yesterday about her desire to start making homemade gifts for children in light of the recent toy recalls – first with Thomas & Friends and lead paint, then with Fisher Price toys and lead paint and now with Mattel and a concern over magnets and again, lead-based paint. (Are you sensing a disturbing trend here?) All of which, I must add, are made in China. She then brought up the possibly lesser-known fact that Melissa & Doug toys are also made in China.

For those of you unfamiliar with Melissa & Doug, they make educational (including several wooden) toys. We only recently discovered them, but are big fans of them in this house.

I bought Ava the Melissa & Doug Cutting Food set for her birthday this year. She likes to play with it, as does her 8-month-old teething brother Julian, who loves to chew on the pieces of food. I figured they are made of wood, so they’ve got to be better for him to chew on than plastic (with who knows what kinds of chemicals in it). But in light of this scare over toys made in China perhaps I am wrong to assume that.

I checked the label on the bottom of the Melissa & Doug Cutting Food crate to verify that they were made in China (which is true) and also saw “All Melissa & Doug* products are carefully crafted by hand, using non-toxic coatings, and meet or exceed all U.S. toy testing standards.” That is a relief. However, the fact still remains that even the toys you are buying because you think they seem more natural, like wooden toys from Melissa & Doug, are being mass produced (under apparently sub-par safety standards) in factories in China. According to an MSNBC article, “…about 80 percent of toys sold worldwide (are) made in China.” 80 percent!

So where do we go from here? What can we do to product our children?

1) Stay on the lookout for product recalls Since most of us can’t afford to get rid of all of our children’s toys and start anew, we need to be on the lookout for any new toy recalls. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission site is a good source for recall information.

2) Sign petitions to help bring about change. After the recalls for the Thomas toys and then the Fisher Prices toys, MomsRising created an online petition to let Congress and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) know that, “Testing children’s products for toxic chemicals must be a priority. No more toxic toys and children’s products!” You can sign the petition here.

3) Buy “green” or Made in the USA toys — Here are a few resources to help you get started. Willow Tree Toys sells European Waldorf wooden toys that encourage creative, imaginative thinking. While some of their toys are made in China, they state, “We have received safety assurances from the toy companies represented in our store. The products are lead free, non-toxic and have passed all European and American safety tests.” You also have the option of searching their site for toys made specifically in the USA or in Europe. Green Toys Inc. “makes a line of classic children’s toys constructed of bioplastic made from renewable, sustainable resources like corn (yep, you read that right). This will help reduce fossil fuel use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improving the overall health and happiness of the planet. All Green Toys Brand products are manufactured and assembled in the USA!” Still Made in USA is a site with a list of several toy and game companies that are Made in the USA. I’m bookmarking this one. What a great resource!

4) Test for lead paint This might seem a bit extreme, but it’s always good to know your options. If you want to test any of your children’s toys (or anything else for that matter) for lead paint, there’s a kit – LeadCheck Lead Testing Swab Kits – that you can purchase. I’m sure other kits are on the market as well, but this is the first one I came across. Also thanks to Steph, I found out about a new blog called Not China“an exploration into the dangers of trading with China.” There is a lot of eye-opening information over there (some of which I’d already heard about) that will certainly make me think twice about buying China-made products. To help spread the word about the blog, they are currently having a contest and offering a $50 gift card to Remember, whether it be toy recalls or anything else in the world, knowledge is power. Be vigilant, arm yourself with information and help protect your kids.

*Edited to add: I wrote to Melissa & Doug last night to express my concerns about toys made in China and lead paint and here’s what they had to say about their product…

Hi Amy – Yes, we definitely appreciate and understand your concern. Please be assured, we test for lead VERY frequently. It’s quite possible to make great quality children’s items in China, which meet all safety regulations, but the key point is that you have to test and inspect very frequently to be sure that your factories are always following your instructions explicitly. I assure you that’s exactly what we do. From our experience, the key to doing this correctly is not simply to insist that your factories follow your instructions, but then to go one step further and to AUDIT, INSPECT, AND TEST very frequently. That is the most important part of the process, and it’s something our company has always taken VERY seriously. Thanks again for asking, and for your support also. Your Dedicated Customer Service Team Melissa & Doug, Inc. 800-284-3948 Monday-Friday 8:00-5:00 EST

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53 thoughts on “Tots, toys and toxic paint don’t mix”

  1. Melissa & Doug is a wonderful company. We had one of their toys break (my son dropped it down the stairs) and they replaced it for us no problem. Their customer service is wonderful!

    That being said, there are several wonderful european toy companies (Haba, Plan), but I’m not sure if their toys are made their or in China.

    There is also the alternative of making your own – won’t work for a lot of things, but you can make musical instruments, dolls, pillows…all sorts of things if you are handy and creative.

  2. We love Mellisa & Doug, but I’ve honestly never stopped to check where the toys are made. How sad is that? Thanks for sharing this, and for the toy links.

  3. I’m all about wooden made in the USA toys. My father has just recently finished making a set of alphabet blocks for my little girl.

    Thanks for this really informative post.

  4. I’m in the process of preparing a post about this. We reviewed HABA toys a little while back and I thought it might be timely to mention them again.

    It is so tough as a parent to know what to do. You can drive yourself crazy trying to avoid every little thing, and then miss something huge.

    I try to stay educated about these recalls but there is only so much I can process–it is very helpful when we share information with each other like you just did!

  5. Great article!! Thanks for the great links too.
    I’m a huge fan of Melissa & Doug, it is so nice to hear that they asnwered back to you so fast, and that they CARE!

    I am going to boycot Mattel toys for now. There is no excuse that something like this can happen – but greed.

    My kids play with Legos and Brio-train set, girls with the Melissa & Doug food. Luckily their favorite is reading books and drawing, and I think we are just getting new craft supplies next time we are shopping for toys.

  6. I new M&D were made in China (but also knew about the non-toxic disclaimer) but since I sell it, I’m happy to hear their great and quick response to your comment. Phew, now I don’t have to pack up all Cricket’s toys or feel like I sold my soul to the devil for selling it 🙂

    Great links, bookmarking now!

  7. The one thing that we can be thankful for is that THIS situation will likely never happen again. Companies like Mattel would not sign off on using lead in paint. It was not some CEO saying yes that is the way to make a better profit margin, poison children. Obviously, the checks and balances where not being followed as closely as they could have been, but they will be now. Mattel will probably have the safest toys from now on. No one wants to place their children at risk and all of us strive to do the best we can. It definitely adds to the buy local argument.

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  9. Good advice – I would like to buy more NZ made toys but there are fewer sources unfortunately. What scares me perhaps more than the issue with toy recalls, is the amount of imported food products we have on our market that are made in or with ingredients from China. It bothers me because they apparently a high users of pesticides, herbicides and AFAIK do not use sustainable farming practices. I recently discovered that much of our pork comes from China. I can’t say that thrills me.

    I’m reading labels a lot more these days, and trying to buy local or at least Australasian.

  10. I love Melissa and Doug stuff, but I’m only partly comforted by their response. They can’t reasonably test every batch of toys, and they would need to if the manufacturing supply chain is as fluid in China as it is here. It isnt just their assembly plant, but the paint supplier, and the paint suppliers pigment provider, and on and on it goes.

    I’m taking some of the great advice here, paying closer attention to recalls, and I’m buying local. Does my 2 year old really need a Dora doll more than a hand crafted wooden train? Nope!

    Thanks for the article!

  11. I spoke with Melissa and Doug Customer Service supervisor right after the first Mattel recall, and she detailed their testing standards, however she said that nothing is 100 percent. I dont think there is a toy company that can put a 100 percent gaurantee on their toys being lead free. Retailers and Toy manufacturers, if they are committed to the safety of our children should put a guarantee on their toys…. You bet they would take it seriously with a guarantee on their box, otherwise it would leave them libel for a class action suit.

  12. I have to say that I have been searching for some type of customer service number for Melissa and Doug for the past 30 minutes on the web. I come back with all the stores that carry their toys, not a website or phone number for the actual company. I called the number listed in your response from them and got the most insane answering machine that just states that you’ve called Melissa and Doug and to leave a message. ANYWAY, sorry to blah blah blah. I have a wooden block set and the paint has chipped off of two pieces so far. It’s the shape sorter blocks. I would like to contact the company regarding this because I believe that my son has ingested the missing paint chips. He likes to chew on them. Any ideas?

  13. I also emailed Melissa & Doug regarding the safety of their toys and got the same response as Amy. So sad to say it is an automated response. Does not make me want to buy their toys..

  14. There is another great source here in Vermont for natural toys made responsibly. The company is called Nova Naturals and I believe the web address is They have great stuff, none of it made in China. We’ve been really happy with everything we’ve ordered.

  15. I feel very uncomfortable buying ANY toys made in China from now on. How can a company assure me that they are testing? How can a company have any kind of quality control when the production is in another country. I don’t believe them, and that includes Melissa & Doug. It has saddened me to learn they are producing their toys in China as well, especially the “food” toys. Little children will always put these in their mouths. I plan to remove all of them from my grandchildren’s toy box at my home. I will only buy American-made toys from now on.

  16. Thank you for the wonderful article! It is nice to see that M & D replied so quickly to you. As the mother of two young daughters I want to say that I completely understand the concerns expressed about toys, but want to add that it’s not WHERE the toys are made rather it is the QUALITY of the toys. I am a Discovery Toys consultant, and some of our toys are indeed made in China. However, most of our products do not have any paint on them. Also, Discovery Toys has always had an idependent company test the products before shipping to them. Once Discovery Toys receives them, they re-inspect, and products must meet or exceed U.S. & Cananda standards to get through. If one item does pass, Discovery Toys will deny the entire shipment! You can view their “Quality & Safety Promise” here:

    There you can also click on a link “Quality is our motto” to read more about the safety & quality of Discovery Toys products.

    In case you’re not familiar with Discovery Toys, they offer fun, SAFE, developmental/educational toys, books, games & music for ALL ages. All the toys come with a LIFETIME guarantee. If you’re interested in checking them out, please see my website:

    Feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance! My eamil is:

    In honor of promoting SAFE, fun, learning products, I would like to offer you 10% of all orders up to $50 or FREE shipping on orders over $50. To receive discount, you must place your order through me, not my website. Just mention “Safe Toys” promotion to receive your discount. Thank you and I look forward to assisting you in any way I can!!

  17. I appreciate your writings, after reading I googled and found the link below about lead paint in the yellow paint of a Melissa & Doug shape sorting clock. I called the company about it and they were unaware of this and were sending my info to product management for further review. If that toy had lead paint what other toys of theirs have lead paint? Especially anything yellow since that is what the lead was found in. I’ll write back with their response.

  18. The whole lead paint scare is even more reason we should all work diligently to research and buy AMERICAN MADE products for our children.

  19. I just wanted to chime in here and say that there are many toy manufacturers outside of the US that are not made in China and do not use paint, but a water based stain on their wooden toys. Plan Toys and Haba are just two of the larger ones. Besides just the lead paint, you also need to be careful of what pesticides are in the wood drying process. Many “cheaper” wooden toy companies don’t want to put the time or money into pesticide free drying.

  20. Hey All,

    I am the founder of Toys n’ Tots Lead Detection and Home Safety. Our company conducts in home screening of children’s toys for lead. We use an XRF analyzer to quickly and accuraltey detect lead in a toy. We have found some alarming trends. 1 ) Toys made in the USA are not exempt from having lead. 2 ) Brand name toys are not exempt 3 ) There are still many toys that contain lead on the shelves of toy stores nationwide. 4 ) The same toy, may have lead in one shipment, and not another. 5 ) The only sure way to be positive that your child is safe is to test the toys he or she plays with.

    That is what we do at Toys n’ Tots Lead Detection and Home Safety. Look for us.


    Jeff Hagopian

  21. I know that this is an old post – but in Canada, Health Canada has issued two recalls on their products within the last month for excess levels of barium.
    Here are the recalls notices:
    Geometric Stacker
    Stackable Train

    I have contacted Melissa and Doug regarding these recalls because they are not issuing product recalls for their Canadian distributors and only contact the stores affected to remove any remaining products. If they issued recall notices then the information could also get to the consumer so we could remove the product from our homes.

    I have stopped buying Melissa and Doug and don’t stand behind any of their products simply because they are not issuing recalls to help product their consumers.

  22. Hi,
    Seeing this blog, I had to comment. This is exactly why my husband and I are launching a new online store, Yankee Doodle Baby – The All American Baby Boutique ( . We have serious concerns about the safety and quality of toys and clothing made overseas and want to help stimulate this country’s economy. We will sell high quality American made products for babies and toddlers.

  23. The melissa and doug peg set you have shown here has been recalled as well as the kitchen set you talked about and the stacking train. Be careful about things you buy made in china even if the company says it is ok!

  24. My daughter received a Melissa and Doug puzzle for Christmas this year. I thought it was great that they use non-toxic coatings and paints, but I am concerned about the use of formaldehyde in the the chip board. My daughter puts the little animals in her mouth all the time. I have emailed them, but no response yet. I hope this company that promotes health and wellness in their products would not mislead consumers and use toxic chemicals.

  25. Concering the “Lead Check” colormetric lead testing kits. These devices are only checking for Lead Based Paint (i.e. >0.5% lead) and often give a false positive. (Which i guess is better than a false negative.) At any rate a negative result by these devices does not mean there is no lead in the material.

  26. Just thought that I would add another resource link. My father and brother make handmade wooden toys ( as well as many many other things) They do not have a website… but have a facebook fan page and they sell their items on e-bay and etsy.
    They also will custom make what ever you need. If you want or need it and it is possible… they will do it.
    Here is a link to their fan page. These guys can help you with anything…. and EVERYTHING they make passes the standard that it is something that Dad’s 18 month old grand daughter ( my own daughter) can suck and chew on with no worries!!/RyallWayWoodworking

  27. Hi…. I publish a magazine and wanted to use a photo from your site as we are doing naturally dyed easter eggs.. also a quote…. can you please get back to me asap as I am working with a deadline.. thx

  28. I know this post was YEARS ago, but I found it with a Google search because my 9 month old has a Melissa & Doug wooden block set that she’s been chewing and I noticed green paint around her mouth the other day. Yours was the only useable information I found! Thank you!

  29. I too was concerned by Melissa and Doug Toys. And after there non response to my more direct question I will not have them in my house anymore. I asked them, what is “wooden” mean in Melissa and Doug toys? Because is certainly isn’t wood. I soaked washed some other toys that were listed as wood and they were actually pressed cardboard that swelled. Lead in paint is one big thing yes, but who knows what is in this conglomeration of goop that is molded together to resemble wood. After over a month, Melissa & Doug didn’t respond to my request to know simply what is “wooden”. I have an excellent list of toys I have since purchased and LOVE that are either wood or wool, if any one is interested. I am opposed to plastic too. Thanks and yes big toys companies today cannot be trusted.

  30. There are a number of soft toys made from organic cotton and printed with ecofriendly inks available at green sellers like Also, there are hard wood toys made from organic bamboo wood and painted with ecofriendly paints. Most all of the bamboo toys are imported from China. In today’s eco-conscious market places, there are plenty of safer substitutes for toxic toys.

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