We never dreamed how difficult it would be to find PVC-free baby/kid pools, floaties, life jackets and toys. After 5 years of searching, you'd think we would have quite a long list of options – but that's not the case. Summer's here, so have a look ahead at our newly updated list along with tips for avoiding pool toys that are generally made from PVC.
Products Typically Made with PVC
Inflatable Pools, Floaties and Toys
We found that almost all inflatable toys are made from PVC (usually listed as Vinyl). In fact, we didn't find a single one made from an alternative material, as there still doesn't seem to be a suitable substitute after five years of searching.
We realize that it's almost impossible to avoid them, so if you can't find an alternative product to meet your needs, we suggest you consider buying them used. This gives them a chance to off-gas before using it with your children, and also helps reduce the use of PVC (which is regarded as the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics).
Keep in mind that buying used doesn't help with phthalates, lead and other toxins common to PVC. We don't have the man (or woman!) power to research every single inflatable pool toy to find out which are phthalate-free, so you may want to contact the manufacturer before buying used items. Please note that this category includes the spring style floats as seen here. We confirmed with several manufacturers that the inflatable ring inside the nylon casing is made of PVC.
Dense Foam Life Vests and Mats
Most dense foam kickboards, life vests and mats are made from closed-cell PVC foam and are covered in a layer of waterproof vinyl. Even the floaties made from non-PVC foam were mostly covered with a layer of PVC on the outside. You can identify them by their shiny and slightly rubbery exterior. You can see an example of a PVC life vest here.
Life Vests with Neoprene or Nylon Covering
We were surprised to learn that most of our good old standby life vests were made with a PVC foam core. Their neoprene and nylon covering hides the interior, so be sure to contact the manufacturer to confirm what type of foam is used for buoyancy. Not all of them contain PVC foam, so it's worthwhile to double check. You can see examples of neoprene covered PVC life jackets here. This is another time where either buying used, or doing your own investigation with the manufacturer is definitely warranted.
PVC-free Pools, Floaties, Noodles and Mats
Polyethylene and EVA Foam Floaties, Noodles and Mats
Noodle style pool toys are usually made from polyethylene foam, which is PVC-free. This material is often used in packaging and as insulation as well. It can be identified by its more lightweight feel and porous appearance as compared to the dense, heavy PVC foam. Also, it typically doesn't have an exterior covering like PVC foam does. You can find a giant list of great polyethylene foam toys here. We also came across floaties and mats made from non-toxic EVA foam here, here, here and here.
Thank goodness there are still old-fashioned molded pool made with PVC-free polyethylene around! They are getting harder to find, but we've seen them at Lowes here and here, at Academy Sports here. There's a great hard-sided pool made by Little Tikes, the Butterfly Beach Sandbox and Wading Pool here, and also the Step2 Play & Shade Pool here.
Be sure to look for recycling codes #2, #4 and #5 because some hard-sided pools like this one are made with PVC.
Framed Wading Pools
We recently came across the H2OGO! My First Frame Pool designed with hard frames and a flexible liner made from a 3-ply polyester material. Please note that frames are made from hard PVC piping, which is wholly different than flexible PVC because it doesn't require toxic plasticizer chemicals like lead and phthalates to make it less rigid.
What PVC-free pool toys have you found in your own research?