Kids love to cut, glue, draw and make things. Unfortunately, the less expensive conventional arts and crafts products often contain ingredients that are unsafe for small children. For example, finger paints may contain toxic heavy metals and developmental toxicants. Not very kid-friendly!
What to Look for
Luckily, there are lots of eco-friendly and non-toxic arts and crafts products on the market now. When shopping for eco-friendly arts and crafts materials, I look for (click on links for examples):
- lists of ingredients: manufacturers of arts and crafts supplies are not required to disclose ingredients but eco-friendly businesses usually advertise their safe and sustainable ingredients
- renewable materials
- natural dyes
- recycled content
- no or low VOCs
- recyclable packaging and materials
An easy way to find such products is to shop with green businesses such as MightyNest or Abe's Market, which both have a great selection of arts and crafts products. Another easy option is to subscribe Green Kid Crafts, an earth-friendly craft project subscription service (see my review here). You can also try making certain arts & crafting materials yourself from scratch.
What to Avoid
If using conventional arts and crafts products, skip the most hazardous products by avoiding the following:
- Products with cautionary statements such as Warning, Caution, or Danger
- Products labeled with California's Proposition 65 Warning Label (contains ingredients known to cause cancer)
- Products that are intended for professional artists. Instead stick with products labeled as "non-toxic" with the AP or CP symbol. These products may not be completely safe for children, but they are less hazardous than other arts and crafts products.
- PVC. Avoid Sculpey or Fimo modeling clays, both of which are PVC-based. Choose PVC-free art aprons and tablecloths.
- Solvents. Avoid solvent-based adhesives such as rubber cement, model glues, and epoxy. Elmer's white glue and glue sticks are safer choices. Do not let children use permanent markers which typically contain toxic solvents like xylene. Remember that if a material has a strong smell, it probably contains solvents and is giving off VOCs.
- Oil, enamel, and gel-based acrylic paints which contain VOCs, toxic ammonia stabilizers and formaldehyde preservatives. Choose water-based watercolors, tempera paints, and non-gel acrylic paints instead.
- Scent or fragrance. Markers, bubbles, stickers, play-dough. Everything seems to be scented these days. I try to avoid any products with a fragrance since it may contain phthalates or harmful VOCs.
- Sprays. Avoid aerosol sprays which can be inhaled. Also use caution to avoid inhaling the dust from clay or powders used to mix paints.
- Microban. One of my pet peeves is antimicrobials in everyday consumer products. Why? Many pencils and other school supplies and art products now gratuitously contain these substances which may be contributing to the very serious problem of antibiotic resistance.
When working with arts and crafts supplies, particularly conventional ones, be sure to:
- Work in well-ventilated areas (we like to work outside whenever possible).
- Wash up well afterwards.
- Keep hands and art materials out of mouths (a real challenge with small ones, I know).
- Keep creating and eating as separate as possible: do not eat or drink while working, do not use kitchen surfaces and utensils for art projects.
What are your favorite eco-friendly arts and crafts supplies?
Sources and Additional Reading
- Eco-friendly and Budget-friendly Arts & Crafts Supplies (Eco-novice)
- Make Sure Your Child Is Playing with Nontoxic Games, Arts & Crafts (Healthy Child Healthy World)
- Creativity Without Chemicals (Washington Toxics Coalition)
- Art and Hobby Supplies (Washington Toxics Coalition)
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