The Toxic Truth Behind Children’s Non-Toxic Art and Craft Supplies

Parents of toddlers know that having children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies available are a must. Not only are they a fun way to keep children entertained and busy, but they provide much needed creative and developmental stimulation as well.

To those of us who’ve come round to doing things a bit more naturally, the problem isn’t with arts and crafts in general. The problem is with many of the children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies that are readily available on the market these days. Sure almost all products created for children say “non-toxic”, but what does that really mean? If it says “non-toxic,” does that mean we as parents don’t need to worry about it at all? If so, why do the products recommend calling poison control if the product is ingested?

For older children who know not to paint themselves with markers and not to eat the glue, this may not be as much of a concern, but with young children who are curious about everything, this can be a real concern for parents.

Today I want to talk briefly about the concern that many natural parents have when it comes to children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies as well as what you can do if you want to make your child’s supplies a bit safer.

What Does “Non-Toxic” Mean?

When you see children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies that say “non-toxic” on the label it means that the product isn’t going to be toxic to your child’s body if they inhale it, if it gets on their skin, or if they ingest some of it. It doesn’t mean they won’t get sick. It just means that it won’t poison them. I mean, how would you feel if you ate a tube of glue? Your stomach probably wouldn’t feel too great. You may feel nauseous. You may get a headache. You may even get some diarrhea. But, you won’t die. It may be taxing to your body and some of your organs, but it won’t overload them and cause any major or permanent damage.

This may be reassuring to most parents, and in many ways, it’s reassuring to me as well. I’m grateful my kids have something semi-safe to play with, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t have to worry or keep an eye on them when they’re using them.

We all know that there are chemicals and ingredients used in children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies that we don’t really like. Things that we don’t really want being absorbed into our children’s skin or going into their mouths. Like I said before, older children are at an age where they would rather use their supplies on paper than rub them all over their skin, but little ones aren’t there. They want to taste and feel everything. That’s natural. They’re curious. Plus, they’re messy which means accidents are bound to happen.

What About Poison Control?

Another big concern when it comes to children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies is the poison control label. This article on Art Supplies and Poison Control by PediatricSafety.net states, “In 2009, the nation’s 57 poison control centers received more than 35,000 calls about exposures to art products; of these, more than 26,000 calls concerned children younger than 6.” This is 2013. I’m curious if these numbers have changed for the better or for the worse.

Many parents wonder why children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies even need that warning label if the product is “non-toxic.”

The reason is that the products are not poisonous in small amounts, but some could be in large amounts. Some products contain chemicals, alcohols, pigments, and more that can in fact poison a small child if ingested in large amounts.

So does that mean that non-toxic isn’t really, non-toxic?

The Reality Of It All

All of my children are currently under the age of 6. I don’t know about you, but I’m a busy mama with a lot to do. Sometimes it’s nice to set all the kids at the table and give them some craft supplies to play with while I make lunch in the next room. But even though I’m right beside them, where I can see them and check on them often, I still don’t feel comfortable with the risk that could be involved in using certain children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies. Kids are kids. There is a chance that they’ll ingest them, and that means that there’s a chance that their bodies could be harmed. My job is to keep them safe. So either I stay right with them when they’re using these children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies, or I find something else that truly is non-toxic for them to use.

Another Safer Option

Thankfully there are safer options out there. Google is awesome for finding recipes for homemade art and craft supplies that you can make with your kids. This post on 35 Homemade Art Materials Kids Can Make by ArtfulParent.com is my absolute favorite! This way, not only do you know what goes into your craft supplies, but you can change up the ingredients you don’t like for the ones you do.

For example, if you’d rather not use cornstarch you can use arrowroot powder. If you’d rather not use pigments or dyes you can use powdered herbs and food. There are lots of options!

If you don’t have time to make your own art and craft supplies, you can always go for more eco-friendly options like Clementine Art Natural Glue, Glob All Natural Paint Kits, International Arrivals Natural Beeswax Crayons, Eco Kids Natural Plant Dye Modeling Dough, Edible Veggie Sidewalk Chalk, and more!  These may not all be totally edible like the majority of homemade craft supplies, but they can be better than the store-bought art and craft products.

What are your thoughts on children’s non-toxic art and craft supplies, and what are you doing about it?
  1. Magic and Mayhem says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve often wondered how they get away with the non-toxic label when we know things like markers are absorbed into the skin and are not good for them. I didn’t realize it just didn’t kill them or do permanent damage.

    Keep in mind that some of the “natural” recipes you linked also contain toxic ingredients, like borax in “gak.” It is a natural poison, but it is a poison nonetheless and should be used around kids with an abundance of caution.

    • Meagan says:

      Thanks for you comment! I do realize that some of the eco-friendly products linked too aren’t necessarily “ideal”, but they’re a step ahead of store-bought products in my mind. That’s why I said you still need to watch your kids with these and not let them eat them.

      As for borax… I know there’s a lot of controversy on whether or not it’s okay to put in natural products. From what I’ve read on it so far, it’s fine in my opinion, but I’ve not really read anything that has showed me that it’s a poison. I believe it’s a natural mineral produced from the earth, and the only negative effects I know of can be skin irritation which is rare. If you know of any great articles or research that shows it actually is harmful (not just people’s opinions), I’d love to read it. I’m always trying to learn more about these sorts of things anyway.

  2. Spramani Elaun says:

    Very good article and glad more bloggers are starting to talk about these things.
    I have spent the last ten years studying this and blogging myself about this topic.

    You give a lot of good reason but almost scare parents into thinking non-toxic labels are also unsafe.

    There are many ways parents can be safe by getting educated on labels and how to set up working art station for their kids.

    Natural art supplies can also be harmful if not handled correctly also.

    You list several companies at the bottom, please beware some of these companies have been know to say they are 100% natural but are not.

    The true reality is there are many harm chemicals everywhere around homes not just art supplies. In fact children are more likely to absorb chemicals in cars, household products, new built homes, flame retardant on stroller and furniture.

    Children spend little time playing with art supplies.

    Non-Toxic means the product has been tested by a toxicologist and is not harmful.

    Wether non-toxic labeled or natural should still be used in a safe manner with all small children.

    • Meagan says:

      Thanks for your comment Spramani. I’m sure you are well versed in this subject since your business revolves around it, but I stand by what I said about the majority of “non-toxic” labeled art and craft supplies being something I’d rather not use with my small kids as there are many times ingredients in those supplies that aren’t okay for my kids bodies. You said you felt that I was “almost scaring parents into thinking non-toxic labels were unsafe”. My goal with this post was to point out that just because it says “non-toxic” on the packaging doesn’t mean that it’s 100% safe and okay for your small child to ingest. If that’s scary for a parent, then so be it. Would you say that a non-toxic label means the product is 100% safe? I’m sure you wouldn’t.

      As far as the companies I linked to, I linked to them because they are better than big brand companies like Crayola when it comes to their ingredients. I didn’t say they were perfect. To me personally, homemade is best as you know exactly what goes into the product, but not everyone has time to make homemade craft supplies so they’d rather buy them.

      And yes, there are many harmful chemicals all around us and our children. I think it’s impossible to get away from them all as we can’t live in bubbles, but I do think that we natural mamas can make a difference in small areas like this one to keep our kids from extra toxins and chemicals.

      • Erin says:

        I know this in an old past but I just found it and still believe it it is relevant today. I wanted to thank you for the information. I don’t feel giving honest information on why a product can have a “non toxic label’ is fear mongering at all. You explained it very well and even stated how ingesting these products in small amounts is considered safe but in large amounts is why you might need to contact poison control.

        And you responded to Spramani with grace. It’s fine to disagree with someone but honestly they sounded like they were outright trying to discredit you, like maybe they have an investment in conventional chemicals.

        Comments like “The true reality is there are many harm chemicals everywhere around homes not just art supplies. In fact children are more likely to absorb chemicals in cars, household products, new built homes, flame retardant on stroller and furniture.” is a red flag that someone is trying to discredit the natural movement. This statement(as you picked up on) tries to claim that because you probably can’t get away from all toxins, you shouldn’t bother to reduce you (and your families) exposure.

        If a full grown adult chooses not to be concerned with these things that’s fine. But others do care and I agree with you parents are supposed to keep their children safe, and they need the tools to do so.

      • Ysenia says:

        Back in 2017 I was pregnant with my second son. I was nine months pregnant in September that year. They were celebrating something at my sons preschool so I volunteered to help make banners. The full school day I was in the craft room working with non toxic paint. My son was stillborn shortly after and they never found a reason for why. I’m wondering if I inhaled too much of this “non toxic” paint and it led to my loss. It is sad that we live in a world full of harmful chemicals and toxins. They are everywhere and in everything. I’m glad I came across your article and am trying to detoxify our home of many things I have recently learned are harmful to us.

        • Meagan Visser says:

          Hi, Ysenia. I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your child. While that is an unfortunate experience, I can’t imagine children’s non-toxic paint causing that type of effect. It’s usually uncomfortable respiratory or digestive symptoms that are experienced. While there are many things that can contribute to a stillbirth, minimizing toxins in your life is a good way to go to prevent further issues. All the best!

  3. Priya Harris says:

    hii!!! thank you so much for this website. im doing a really hard project and this actually helped me! i love hoe u set this ite up, its so calm and creative and i absolutely lovee it and i loveee you!!! ur really helpful and i love ur attitude and spirit1 once again thankss

  4. Amanda bennett says:

    Can glitter glue kill you if eaten

    • Meagan says:

      No, I don’t think so, Amanda, but it’s definitely worth keeping it away from your kids. If they do eat it, it can give them a decent belly ache!

  5. bk says:

    After checking the Material Safety Data Sheets for ingredients used in “Non-toxic” textas, I have to conclude that anything labelled “non-toxic” should be treated with caution. It seems companies can get away with labeling something “non-toxic” if the effect on humans is unknown. The “non-toxic” textas I looked at had materials in them that cause cancer and other deadly consequences in animals but the effect on humans was stated as being unknown. The materials haven’t been proven to have no effect on humans and therefore in my opinion should not be able to be labelled in such a misleading way. I haven’t found any textas yet that are ‘safe’ so I suppose that if anxiey is to be avoided, don’t check out the MSDSs for materials that are found in off the shelf products for human use. Anyway I thought people should know that ‘non-toxic’ seems to mean the effect on people is unknown and in my opinion it helps the companies to make a buck to include certain labels.

    • Meagan says:

      Interesting. Thanks for sharing, BK.

    • Erin says:

      Thanks for sharing your research bk.

      Additionally if I may add, from my general research on safer products I’ve learned there isn’t much regulation in the United States regarding conventional (non GOTS certified) clothing, personal hygiene products, or any non food items it seems. I’ve read in other places like Europe they practice the precautionary principal and companies have to prove a product or ingredient is safe before it’s approved for use. But in the US they do the opposite and approve most things untill they are proven to NOT be safe, meaning consumers are basically unconsenting test subjects. I am not familiar with “textas” but if you were looking at ones produced in the US I’m not surprised with what you discovered.

  6. Teddy Angert says:

    Please don’t conflate calls to poison control with toxicity.
    “35,000 calls to poison control” about art products means 35,000 calls were placed asking for information and advice. It does *not* mean 35,000 people experienced symptoms after exposure to art products.
    I have national certification as a specialist in poison information and 11 years’ experience taking calls at poison control, and I can assure you that few, if any, of those calls involved anyone with symptoms (other than worry, of course).

    • Meagan Visser says:

      I understand your point of view. I guess I’m just wondering why companies even need a poison control label on their products if they’re “non-toxic?” By putting it there, aren’t they asking for parents to call when their kid eats the glue? If these products are truly non-toxic and only cause stomach aches when ingested, shouldn’t they state that and remove the poison control label? Perhaps that label is there for legal purposes only. No matter, I’m sure it does fill poison control with plenty of calls each year. Thanks for your comment!

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