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  • Writer's pictureNicole

Why some High Chairs are toxic for your child.

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

Why some High Chairs are toxic for your child.

Every parent who has experienced this milestone can confirm that switching to feeding solids is a very exciting time in your baby’s life and your life as a parent. It’s a big change for those little humans and it will help them jumpstart their development into a higher gear.

Unfortunately it happens all too often that this jumpstart is being slowed down by our inexperienced decisions as a parent. We have to admit that it is not common knowledge that High Chairs can indeed be toxic for your child, but why are some High Chairs toxic?

Some materials used in High Chairs contain toxic chemicals like BPA, phthalates and PVC, these are constantly leached into the surroundings. When your child comes in contact with these materials, small dosages of these toxins can enter the body and cause adverse health effects like hormone disruptions.

We know that this is not the most pleasant news to read but it is better to be well informed so that you understand the severity of the matter and you can make the smartest decisions for your child. Luckily not all High Chairs on the market are bad for your child. More and more manufacturers are fully aware of this issue and they offer some great alternatives to their toxic and dangerous counterparts.

Toxicity in High Chairs, all you need to know.

Toxic chemicals are only bad for you when you come into contact with them and they enter the body in dangerous concentrations. For a lot of materials and chemicals there is still no consensus about the dangers and the long term health effects. What we do know is that young children are a lot more susceptible for the negative influences toxins have on their health.

So, what are the ways your child can get into contact with certain chemicals? The first way is through skin contact. Children are often seated in a High Chair with exposed skin, like the legs or the upper body. This way there is a direct contact with the skin through which leached chemicals could enter the body and potentially cause harm.

Another common way that chemical substances enter the body is through the mouth and the digestive system. When your child is eating directly from the High Chair plate, there is a chance that the plate, if containing toxic substances, is leaching directly into the food of your child.

Young children also have a tendency to nibble on just about anything that comes their way, this also includes parts of the High Chair like the handles, the tray or the cushions. The question arises: is it all that bad?

Below we made an overview of all the materials that are used in High Chairs, per material, we will have a look at their toxic components and the potential negative effects they can have on the health of your child.

  • Plastics

The first and most prominent group of materials that are used in High Chairs is plastics. Plastics are cheap, light weight, easily formed in just about any shape, chemically resistant and its raw material, petroleum, is still abundantly available. So, it comes as no surprise that this is the primary choice of material for manufacturers to produce products all over the world.

Even though European and American regulations around the use of harmful plastics have been tightened, thanks to globalization it still happens that plastics with harmful toxins reach our households. You can read cases of this in the news on a regular basis as not every product batch can be tested before consumption or use.

Below we will look at plastic and certain chemicals to avoid, but we will also debunk some of the myths based on the latest research done by the FDA and other public health institutions around the globe. This way you will know what to avoid and what is safe.

  • BPA

What is it?

BPA or Bisphenol A is an organic synthetic compound that is colorless and solid. It is soluble in organic solvents, yet poorly soluble in water.

What is it used for?

This industrial chemical is used to manufacture hard and clear plastics like polycarbonate and epoxy resins that act as a protective lining in metal based food and beverage cans.

Where can you find it?

BPA’s can be primarily found in food and drink packaging in the form of bottles (water & infant), medical devices and safety gear like goggles. It’s also used in epoxy resins to coat metal for food cans and bottle caps.

Finding BPA’s in plastic High Chairs is not that common as many manufacturers are aware of the public health concern.

How does it get into the body?

Food and drinks that come into contact with BPA containing packaging and coatings can absorb little quantities of the chemical through a process called leaching. The degree of leaching is influenced by the temperature of both the food and the packaging during contact, as well as the age of the packaging.

While consumption of BPA’s is the main way it enters the body, there is also the exposure through small particles (micro plastics) in the air.

What are the risks of exposure to BPA?

There is still a lot of controversy around the use of BPA’s and its effects on health. Some studies on animals indicate that there is a possible link to negative health effects BPA has on the brain and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and young children. There is also a plausible assumption that it can alter the behavior of children as well as blood pressure.

However, according to the FDA, the use of BPA appears to be safe in modern day low levels of consumption. The FDA is also continuously monitoring the research on this topic.

What are the alternatives?

Nowadays there are more than enough alternatives on the market and you will find that most of the commonly known High Chair brands offer BPA-free products. Since there is such a hype around this topic, any product that has no BPA in it will have a clear label saying it is BPA-free.

If you have a High Chair with a dishwasher safe tray, it is good practice to check if they are BPA-free as washing in heat can accelerate the leaching process.

When you are heating up food for your little one, it is best to use glass or stainless steel instead of plastic. Food that is at an eating temperature can be placed in a plastic food grade plate or tray for your child to eat. The heat is no longer high enough to initiate leaching.

  • Phthalates

What is it?

Phthalates is a name for a group of chemicals, also known as the everywhere chemical.

What is it used for?

It is used to plasticize certain plastics and make them more flexible and durable. A more commonly known term is “plasticizers”

Where can you find it?

Phthalates are mainly used in PVC plastics, which is used for plastic packaging films, garden hoses, building products, personal care products, children‘s toys, High Chairs, medical devices, detergents, food products and the list goes on. If a plastic product is flexible it is more than likely containing phthalates.

How does it get into the body?

Since Phthalates are just about everywhere, it is hard not to get exposed to it. Because it leaches into other products or through environmental contamination, it can enter the body through ingestion, inhalation and skin contact.

What are the risks of exposure to Phthalates?

In recent studies, researchers found that lab animals generated reproductive and development abnormalities when exposed to the same levels of phthalates as humans.

This could be: male reproductive malfunctioning, sperm damage, fertility impairment, female reproductive tract diseases, early puberty in girls as well as asthma and negative effects on the thyroid gland.

There has also been evidence that points into the direction of adverse effects on organs like the lungs, the liver and kidneys. Although this concerns very early results of limited studies, the results are not reassuring.

For children under the age of 3 there is an even greater concern with phthalate contamination as they are still developing and have a much smaller body size compared to adults. Children this age also tend to use their mouths to explore the world around them and are therefore at a greater risk to get exposed to higher levels of phthalates.

What are the alternatives?

You can look for products that clearly indicate they are phthalate-free. Alternatively you can check the labels underneath and look for the following numbers within the arrows: 1,2,4 and 5. Avoid the following numbers: 3,6 and 7 or the letters V or PVC.

  • PVC

What is it?

PVC or Polyvinyl chloride is a polymer or plastic that is based on long repeating units of vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is an easy flammable, colorless gas.

What is it used for?

PVC is mostly used for plastic applications that need to be very durable. This can be in a rigid/stiff state or in a very flexible state after phthalates have been added.

Where can you find it?

In its rigid shape, PVC can be found in all sorts of construction materials like piping, wall coverings or casings. Other uses include parts for the automobile industry or in-and-outdoor furniture.

In its plasticized shape PVC can be found as liners for seats and high chair cushioning as it allows for easy replication of leathers, known as faux leather or leatherette. Also floor tiles are a common application as well as shower curtains, coatings for wires and cables and inflatable toys.

How does it get into the body?

Just like all other plastics, PVC can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. It leaches phthalates and vinyl chloride into the surroundings. This plastic is also part of the microplastics pollution issue.

What are the risks of exposure to PVC?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the International Agency for Research on Cancer, vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen to all living animals and humans. It also works as a strong hormone disruptor.

Long term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride can cause cancer of the brain, the liver, kidneys, the lungs and the blood. It also has effects on the immune system and can damage nerves, bones and skin. The above type of risks are only measured in high doses among people who work in an environment where vinyl chloride is being manufactured.

As with all other toxins, vinyl chloride is extra dangerous for young children as they are still developing and less resilient to negative effects from the environment.

What are the alternatives?

Even though products made from PVC are considered safe as the leaching process is very low, it is not a bad idea to opt for products that are not made of this type of plastic. It’s not only a wise decision for your child’s health in the short term, but also for the long term effect it has on the environment.

The best alternative at hand is still 100% cotton as a padding liner. Make sure to check for labels like the “STANDARD 100 with OEKO-TEX certificate, Product class 1”. This type of label tells you that the cotton is not contaminated with all kinds of toxic coatings to make it easily wipeable.

In case you already bought a High Chair with a PVC padding, you can always replace this padding or cover it up with some old cotton towels to avoid direct skin contact.

  • Polyurethane Foam

What is it?

Polyurethane or PUR/PU is a polymer or plastic that is made of organic units of urethane links.

What is it used for?

PUR is used for applications that require a high performance insulation material with good thermal stability and flammability resistance as well as a good impact resistance.

Where can you find it?

In its rigid form, polyurethane can be found in wheels and tires for skateboards, forklifts, shopping carts and escalators as well as gaskets, surface coatings and hoses.

In its foamed condition it can be found as durable foams for seating in cars, baby cribs and chairs and High Chairs as well as insulation materials like panels and foam cans for construction applications.

How does it get into the body?

PUR itself can enter the body through ingestion and inhalation after microparticles have become airborne and end up in the lungs or on the hands of your child.

VOCs (more on this in the next section) such as phthalates, flame retardants, phenol, neodecanoic acid and linalool are emitted from the flexible foam and the leaching process is increased by mere body heat. These chemicals can then enter the body through inhalation and contact with the skin.

PUR is made from highly toxic chemicals called isocyanates, however, these chemicals are inert once the compound reaction has reached its final state. This means that the initial state of the chemical, and thus its toxicity, is no longer present.

What are the risks of exposure to polyurethane and its VOCs?

Certain fire retardants can cause cancer and may cause genetic defects. They are also linked to fertility damage and adverse health effects on unborn children. It also affects learning and memory functions in adult lab animals.

For the effects of phthalates, please read the above section about phthalates.

As for the isocyanates, usually there is no exposure to this compound unless you are living next to or working in a PUR manufacturing plant. In case of exposure, the effects can be quite drastic: asthma, lung damage and general respiratory issues, skin damage and eye irritations as well as cancer. By the use of a finished High Chair, there is no such risk.

What are the alternatives?

Foams are likely here to stay as they are such a versatile and useful product. Luckily they are constantly scrutinized and updated according to higher safety standards. This means that many of the dangerous chemicals used to manufacture PUR are being replaced by safer ones.

Whenever you purchase a High Chair with foamed PUR padding, it is good practice to ventilate the room when you unpacked it for the first time, hence the smell when opening a package.

You can also look for products with the label CertiPUR-US or CertiPUR as these labels ensure that the foam has been thoroughly tested on the use and emission (VOCs) of toxic chemicals.

Courtesy of CertiPUR

High Chairs that don’t have any padding can also do the trick as babies have enough cushioning of their own. Another way to solve this is to use a soft cotton towel for your baby to sit on.

  • VOC’s

What is it?

VOCs or volatile organic compounds are a collective name for emitted chemical gasses from solids or liquids.

What is it used for?

They have no use, they are just a byproduct of just about any material as all materials gas off a little bit.

Where can you find it?

In just about any product, here we are concerned about the toxic VOCs that come from toxic chemicals used in High Chairs.

How does it get into the body?

Through contact with the skin, inhalation and ingestion.

What are the risks of exposure to VOCs?

This really depends on the level and duration of exposure as well as the toxicity of the particular compounds. In the short terms VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes and airways. In the long term it can cause damage to the nervous system and other organs. In some cases, long term exposure to VOCs can cause cancer.

More and more safety measures are being taken to ensure there is no danger to the public health in the use of commercially available products. Unfortunately this is a long and ongoing process as substitute materials need to be engineered and tested before improvement can be done.

The good thing is that we are going in the right direction. High Chair brands are increasingly aware of the dangers and are working towards better products to offer their customers.

What are the alternatives?

Look for products with as little dangerous compounds as possible. Keeping the list above in mind is already a very good start and in addition look for" Low VOCs" on the label. This ensures you that the emission is within safety regulations.

It's also a smart move to purchase products from companies within countries of which you know to have strict safety regulations.

For example: Cheap products bought directly at a manufacturer in a foreign country could be a bad idea as these are often not tested since they are not distributed on the local market by a registered seller, whereas a seller in the US or Europe needs to conform to local safety regulations. Thank you globalization!

When it comes to plastics, whether that is in High Chairs or other consumer products, there have been lots of improvements to make them as safe as possible. But as you probably have noticed by now, it is not so much about the products themselves that is worrisome but it is more about the use of plastics in general and how we are recycling them.

Plastics are a great material and we cannot live without them but we certainly can make smarter choices about how to use, reuse and recycle them to keep the environment clean. If you have to ditch your High Chair, try to bring it to a recycling center as it can have many more lives before its material life cycle ends.

  • Wood

Here we need to make a distinction between all natural solid wood and engineered wood.

Natural, solid wood is a fully renewable, non-toxic resource that makes for a fantastic material to construct High Chairs. It is strong enough to build very rigid and safe constructions, yet soft enough to give it just about any shape the craftsman can imagine. It offers some uniqueness to each individual product as the natural patterns in wood are never the same.

Engineered wood on the other hand is a toxic, hard to recycle combination of wooden fibers and plastic binders or glue that contain formaldehyde. Even though it is easy to process and sturdy, it is a material that is better to be avoided because it emits harmful VOCs. Because of our consumption behavior, this is the material of choice for many manufacturers as it is cheap and relatively low cost. Examples are MDF (medium density fiberboard) or particle board.

Wood, whether engineered or solid, needs to be protected from external influences like water, food stains or scratches. Therefore it is protected with a finishing layer or protective coating that allows you to easily clean off the mess your child made while learning to eat in its High Chair. Unfortunately, adding a coating is also often the reason why once harm free, non-toxic wood becomes toxic.

The type of finishing used on a High Chairs has a big influence on the amount of VOCs that will evaporate in your indoor environment. It is best to look for water-based wood finishes or a natural oil like linseed or tung oil and to avoid petroleum and solvent based finishes like lacquer as they contain carcinogenic compounds such as benzene, toluene and xylene.

Choosing a natural, water based finisher is also an investment into the future of your children as manufacturing and recycling is less toxic for the environment. Luckily this is becoming more and more of a standard for most manufacturers.

In case you are thinking about refurbishing a vintage High Chair family piece, we recommend to read this article we wrote as there are a number of things you should know concerning the removal of paint and the overall safety standards.

How to choose a non-toxic, healthy High Chair.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the materials used in High Chairs, it is time to have a little checklist that helps you choose a non-toxic High Chair for your child.

If you go for a plastic High Chair:

  • Check for “BPA and phthalates free” labels, especially concerning the tray.

  • Avoid faux leather and other PVC lining materials on the seat.

  • If the padding is made from PUR, check if it has the CertiPUR-US or CertiPUR label.

  • Look for food grade plastics such as Polypropylene (PP) or High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

If you go for a wooden High Chair:

  • Look for 100% solid wood with an FSC label, this ensures that the harvested wood is being replaced with new trees for future generations.

  • Look for wood that is treated with water-based low VOCs finishers. (the manufacturer will be pleased to show this on the website if this is the case!)

In general:

  • Silicone bibs and tray mats are 100% food safe, so ideal for those messy meals.

Looking for ASTM F404 and JPMA labels. These labels ensure that the High Chair is conform the latest safety requirements according to both the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials and the JPMA (Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association)

Best non-toxic High Chairs

To help you get started in your search for a non-toxic High Chair, we have put together a selection of our favorite non- toxic High Chairs. For this selection, we didn’t only look at toxicity but also overall performance with regards to stability, ergonomics and safety.

Abiie Beyond wooden High Chair with tray

Why this High Chair?

The materials used in the Abiie Beyond Wooden High Chair contain no harmful substances like PVC, Latex, BPA, nitrosamine, Formaldehyde or phthalates. The main material is 100% eco friendly, cultivated beech wood, meaning: for each tree that is harvested, Abiie makes sure that several others are planted for a sustainable future.

The High Chair is designed to make your life as a parent easy. It has a dishwasher safe tray, it is super easy to clean because of its simple shape and it has a no-tool seat adjustment system that allows you to set the seating height in a matter of seconds.

A wide and sturdy footprint, together with a 3-or 5-point harness makes this an ultra safe option for your child. It’s even recommended for children with special needs because of this!

The Abiie Beyond wooden High Chair complies with the following standards:

Stokke Tripp Trapp

Why this High Chair?

The Stokke Tripp Trapp is a true icon under the wooden High Chairs. Conceptualized in 1972, the High Chair was way ahead of its time and compared to many other modern day High Chairs, it still is!

Its contemporary design, that will fit just about any interior, is created with 100% locally harvested beech and oak wood, without losing attention for the sustainability of ecosystems.

This also translates into other parts of the High Chair as Stokke pledges to use no harmful substances in its paint finishes and plastics (the plastic is BPA and phthalate free), ensuring a healthy and sustainable environment for your child.

It has a wide footprint and a confident stance thanks to its sturdy wooden frame. The 5-point harness ensures that your little sprout won’t be able to escape without your help and in terms of comfort, this High Chair is ergonomic as it can get.

The Stokke Tripp Trapp complies with the following standards:

Did we mention already that Stokke offers a 7 year warranty on its High Chairs? This is very hard to find and it shows just how confident they are about the quality you are getting.

Stokke Steps

Why this High Chair?

We’ve added the Stokke Steps to the list because it’s a High Chair that combines non-toxic plastics and wood in an outstanding design that carries the Stokke DNA from aesthetics over to ergonomics and safety. The seat and other accessories are made of food grade PP and PA.

We love the versatility of this High Chair as it allows you to bring your newborn to the table with the Stokke Steps Bouncer while using the same High Chair until your child reaches the age of about 10.

The Stokke Steps complies with the following standards:


Why this High Chair?

Just like its fellow wooden grow-along High Chairs, the Keekaroo offers a simple yet appealing design that fits most interior styles. The main material is 100% rubberwood, a natural and renewable resource that is used in staircases because of its sturdiness.

The Keekaroo is constantly being tested on its quality and they are proud to announce their High Chair contains no harmful or toxic materials, nor does it emit any dangerous air pollutants.

Its grow-along design allows you to adjust the seat and the footrest according to the needs of your ever growing child. A wide footprint prevents tipping, even when your child has the tendency to wiggle and wobble.

The Keekaroo complies with the following standards:

The above High Chairs are for sure not the cheapest High Chairs on the market but the fact that they are grow-along chairs, some of which last until adulthood, make them an affordable long term investment into the future of your family.

You bought a non-toxic High Chair, how do you keep it non-toxic?

Purchasing a non-toxic High Chair is one thing but now it’s up to you to keep it that way. This is done through a routine maintenance with the right kind of products that not only get rid of odors, stains and bacteria but also ensure that you are not coating the High Chair with chemical toxins that end up in the food or on the hands of your little one.

For an in-depth view on how to keep a High Chair clean in a healthy way, please read this illustrated article we wrote here.

After reading this article, you are fully armed to make the smartest, most durable and healthy decisions for your child and future generations. We hope you liked this article, if you do, please help us spread the love and share this with friends and family.

Thanks for reading!!!


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