Consumer Watchdog

Water beads: Amazon, Walmart and Target to stop selling dangerous sensory toys

Pressure mounts as Congress, CPSC weigh bans on toy that has injured thousands of children in recent years

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The bottom row shows water beads in their original form, about one-quarter inch in diameter. The top row shows how big they get once we exposed them to water -- about the size of a golf ball. You can see the enlarged beads compared to a quarter.

Following a barrage of criticism and public pressure aimed at water beads, which have injured thousands of children in recent years, Amazon, Walmart and Target have announced they will prohibit sales of water beads marketed for young children.

The announcements follow months of mounting outrage, one major recall, warnings from numerous toy safety advocates, looming regulator action and a bill introduced in Congress to ban water beads for children entirely.

The plans were disclosed Tuesday by Consumer Reports, which conducted an investigation in September and began pressuring retailers to stop selling water beads.

Amazon now says: “In the interest of safety, product listings for water beads will be removed if they: Refer to children, or use terms such as ‘child,’ ‘kids,’ ‘youth,’ ‘boys,’ or girls;’ include images of children with the product; (or) describe their use as a toy or use terms such as ‘sensory play,’ ‘arts,’ or ‘crafts.’ “

Walmart told Consumer Reports it will ban the sale of water beads as toys or crafts if they’re aimed at children younger than 9 years old.

Target initially declined to say whether it plans a new policy. In September, Target recalled 52,000 sets of water beads after a 10-month-old baby in Wisconsin died in July after ingesting Chuckle & Roar Ultimate Water Beads. Then after news broke about Amazon and Walmart, Target said it would start pulling water beads marketed for children 12 and younger.

Nearly 7,000 children were treated in emergency rooms from 2018 through 2022 for injuries or illnesses caused by water beads, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The onslaught of pressure in recent months has included:

  • Water beads were a key focus on PIRG’s Trouble in Toyland report released last month.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission in September issued a direct warning to consumers, which it rarely does about a product that hasn’t been recalled or banned.
  • Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., (D-N.J.) last month announced legislation that would ban  water beads marketed to children.
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