Did cleaning my old plastic toys make them unsafe?
September 14, 2009 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Should I dump my old toys, or give them to my toddler to play with?

I have a large box of Fisher-Price "Little People" and various related plastic/wood toys from 30-40 years ago that were well-loved by me and my siblings. They were very grimy, so I dumped them in a sink full of warm soapy water and used a scrub brush to try to get the dirt off. That did nothing. I then used a Magic Eraser, which did really well getting the old grime off of the plastic.

My husband wasn't so happy about this - he reminded me that the Magic Eraser is just very fine sandpaper, and what I did was remove very fine layers of plastic from each toy. Now I wonder if I have rendered these old plastic toys unsafe for my small child to play with.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (19 answers total)
If they're the same plastic all the way through then I can't imagine it makes a difference.
posted by Solomon at 12:48 PM on September 14, 2009

I would use them, personally, but we have a child who eats books.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:49 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Unless you have created edges or surfaces so rough as to be sharp, you're fine.
posted by mikepop at 12:53 PM on September 14, 2009

Those Fisher Price things were made to be bitten and chewed... more damage than you did with your very fine grit.

I'm still alive, even if Mr Policeman died from multiple toothmark wounds.
posted by rokusan at 12:58 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

You should not use them. You should instead send them to me to be properly disposed of.*

*by me giving them to my daughter. The old little people ROCK.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:00 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your sandpapering is nothing compared to the ongoing onslaught of a small child. You've got toys that make commercial airliners' black boxes look fragile; they'll be fine.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:05 PM on September 14, 2009

Do you know what they're made of? Do you know what the paint is made of?

I wouldn't be worried about the toys, I'd be worried about what they're made out of ending up inside your kid.
posted by kathrineg at 1:06 PM on September 14, 2009

Lick them. Do they taste like plastic? You're good to go. If they taste like paint or wood, I might not use 'em.
posted by davejay at 1:13 PM on September 14, 2009

if you're not willing to lick them at all, don't give them to your kid
posted by davejay at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

You should keep them. If you want, you could wait until your child is three. The toy-chewing really does drop off dramatically at that age. Big or complete sets of vintage Little People sell for quite a bit on eBay.
posted by peep at 1:19 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Upon posting, check your Little People to see if they fit through a toilet paper tube. I bet they do, in which case you may not want to give them to a child younger than 3 anyway.
posted by peep at 1:20 PM on September 14, 2009

Some of those old toys were painted with lead paint. I might be wary of of the painted stuff because the cleaning could have exposed new layers of lead based paint. The plastic stuff should be fine.
posted by COD at 1:20 PM on September 14, 2009

Another "if you don't want them I'll take them" here ... I'll even pay you to ship them to me.

I let my own son play with vintage FP toys all the time, without concern. I'd be very, very, very surprised if any of the old Fisher Price toys have lead paint, but if you're concerned about that there are good lead testing kits on the market. I am actually far more concerned about new FP toys testing positive for lead than I am for any of the vintage ones doing so.

There is a persistent rumor that the original Little People were discontinued by FP in 1991 due to concerns over them being a choking hazard (they do not, in fact, pass the "toilet paper tube test") but I can't find anything to back that up on line. It may be the FP just voluntarily changed the design.

Solid plastic: I wouldn't worry at all.
Plastic heads/wooden bodies or wood head/wood bodies: I'd be more concerned re: germs and/or splinters than any damage done from the Magic Eraser.

But, again, if you don't want them Mefi mail me and I'll cheerfully take them off your hands at no cost to you.
posted by anastasiav at 1:35 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was SUPPOSED to clean my old Fisher Price toys (castle, boat, two houses, 2 barns, 48 little people) BEFORE I gave them to my kid??????????

I am so screwed.
posted by jeanmari at 1:41 PM on September 14, 2009

(Is it bad that I play with them more than she does? Is that very, very wrong?)
posted by jeanmari at 1:42 PM on September 14, 2009

re: lead paint

They were your toys, and you are still alive, right? If you loved them enough to keep them all this time it would be insanity to throw them out now! Little people are excellent, give them to your kid.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:48 PM on September 14, 2009

Get a lead testing kit, and make sure they aren't lead-bearing. Old plastic toys are done out-gassing any fumes, and probably aren't yet decomposing. Magic eraser is extremely fine grit, so I wouldn't be concerned. Also, I'd dole them out. Toddlers can't really deal with a lot of new input. Let them sit for a while in a sunny spot, which kills germs.

You'll really enjoy sharing these toys w/ your child, so the child gets double the benefit; new toys & engaged parent. Everybody wins.
posted by theora55 at 1:49 PM on September 14, 2009

My uneducated guess is that Fisher-Price toys from 30 years ago are probably just as safe as anything coming out of China today.

My toddler plays with a bunch of metal cars and trucks and planes that were my dad's toys when he was a kid in the 50's. I'm sure they're not perfectly "safe" since I bet there's at least a bit of lead there, but, hell, you gotta live a little. We encourage him not to chew on them.

My parents grew up in an era of lead paint, x-ray machines in shoe stores, leaded gasoline and handling mercury with their bare hands. We're an order of magnitude safer than they were (literally...blood lead levels of kids today are about a tenth of what they were in the 70's). Lead is also much more dangerous when breathed than when eaten. Handling lead paint is almost entirely harmless.

I'm not saying lead is safe, but I _am_ saying you shouldn't freak out because in general the world is becoming a safer place.
posted by paanta at 2:00 PM on September 14, 2009

My wife and her siblings had big arguments about who got the box of toys. Legos, FP, matchbox, etc. Her sister won. The "losers" got a box of new toys from Grandma and Grandpa (her parents) and did we ever feel we got the short straw. Heck , we had three kids and she had one and he is a slug anyway and hardly plays with the toys.

Yeah, use them.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:42 PM on September 14, 2009

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