The Complete Guide to Toxin-free Sensory Play

As parents, we would like to believe that when something on the market is created with kids in mind, it is completely safe for their use. Unfortunately, this is often not the case; regulations are not as stringent as we think.

Add to that, the environmental waste factor of many sensory items, and it really is an area that we should put a little extra thought into. That’s why I have put together this guide to toxin-free sensory play.

What’s so Toxic About Sensory Play?

A young girl displaying her hands that are covered in multiple colors of paint
opt for toxin-free sensory play
Toxins through mouthing

The first thing parents tend to think about in regard to safety and substances, is the foods their kids eat. The problem with that limitation is that young kids put a lot of the non-edibles that they play with in their mouth as well. It’s simply their way of experiencing their world. In fact, I have found that sensory seekers like my own daughter, engage in this behavior well beyond the expected age.

Toxins through skin absorption & inhalation

The other ways that our children can receive toxin exposure through play, is by skin absorption and inhalation of chemical off-gassing. Young people are most affected by these routes, because their brains and bodies are rapidly developing.

Exposure to plasticizers such as BPA, for example, can disrupt the endocrine system. This is where our hormones are managed, so this type of toxin exposure over time can lead to reproductive issues and even some cancers. Other harmful substances used in some of these toys include phthalates, which are used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics.

Sensory toys

Sensory toys come in a variety of shapes, sizes, forms and textures. The main purpose of this category of toys, is to capture the attention of our children through their senses. This type of play allows a child to interact with the world in new ways and expand their mind, as a result. For a child with sensory issues, such as someone with autism, exposure to sensory toys can be very calming.

However, beyond the harmful chemical exposure with many of these toys, is the environmental weight created as a result of a mom’s well-meaning purchase. The harsh reality is that most of these toys will quickly end up broken and in the trash, then taking hundreds of years to decompose in our landfills.

Playdough &Slime

Playdough has been around for generations and is considered quite safe for kids’ enjoyment. There are a few ingredients that give rise to concern, however. The primary reason for alarm is the ingredient, borax, a substance that has historically functioned as a cleaning product. Exposure can lead to skin reactions, respiratory problems and hormonal issues.

Slime-based toys are a newer idea, but their ingredient list also contains borax, often at high levels. Borax is also toxic to aquatic life. Glue and other chemical substances often make up slime products as well. There are much safer versions of both slime and playdough for a parent’s peace of mind. I also try to avoid all of the plastic accessories that are offered for playdough.


A little girl holding out a bubble on a bubble wand.
bubbles can be toxin-free sensory play

Blowing bubbles with your kids is a traditional summer pastime. At first glance, it seems completely harmless. The thing is, most of the containers I see in stores have a made in China label, and it’s hard to know exactly what the concoction consists of. I would suggest making your own whenever possible, and also putting together your own wand, since all the plastic accessories that come with the bubbles don’t tend to be recyclable.

Homemade does not always mean Toxin-free

When we aren’t satisfied with the health and safety of commercial products, we often turn to diy. The important thing to remember is that there are still unsafe ingredients available to us when making our own. Conventional shaving cream is one that comes to mind.

Think of nature when filling your child’s sensory tables. Food-based ingredients like pasta, flour, oatmeal, beans, rice, and cereal, are alternatives that cause no need for parental worry. Items from nature such as leaves, sand, water, snow, rocks and dirt, are also great eco-friendly options.

Model Toxin-free Play for Your Kids

A young girl in a dress and sunhat bent over picking daisies in a field.
Play with their future in mind

Of course, we want kids to be kids, and not have all the worry of the world on their shoulders. However, we must remember that we are teaching them to be responsible adults at the same time; and that should involve learning to preserve the beauty and resources around them.

Together, we need to look beyond the traditional toward new, more sustainable approaches to achieving the same play opportunities. Practicing toxin-free sensory play is an important part of that goal.

What are some of your family’s toxin-free sensory play ideas?

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Non-toxic and sustainable sensory play
toxin-free sensory play

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