We encourage parents to check out our companion article, The Best Toddler Sippy Cup Review, to hear more about the award-winning cups and how they stacked up against the competition.
Our related article, Are Plastics Safe for Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups? may also be of interest.
Why Get a Toddler Leak-Proof Cup?
- Hydration—Leak-proof cups offer a nice way to help keep active toddlers hydrated, without the mess and concerns of a regular cup. These cups allow toddlers to help themselves to liquids without the aid of an adult. This can potentially increase the amount of hydration they consume in a day, and help them avoid dehydration.
- Transportability—Toddler cups are easy to transport spill-proof cups that make taking fluids with you when you leave the house so much easier.
- Convenience—Toddler cups are a convenient way to give children some independence without having to worry about a mess to clean up or stains if a spill goes unreported.
- Bridge—These cups are normally age specific, easy to use, and easy to clean products, that when used in conjunction with regular cups, can be a nice (though not necessary) bridge between real cups and bottles.
Most parents appreciate the convenience of cups that limit spills, can be thrown in a diaper bag or stroller, and are less likely to break during normal use. So while it is important to continue helping children to master the proper skills necessary to drink from everyday cups, this kind of product can be a nice addition for parents looking to make life just a wee bit easier.
- Potential Injury—
- Increased Risk of Dental Decay— Because sippy cups offer a nice spill proof vessel, that allows parents to avoid the dreaded spill, parents are more likely to fill the cups with items other than water; for example, milk and colored juice products. Because increased exposure to sugary, carbonated, or carbohydrate type beverages can increase the risk of dental decay, the American Dental Association has concerns that potential increased exposure might increase dental caries (aka cavities).
- Delay Using Real Cups— There is a small concern that if children use leak-proof cups, their parents will forgo or avoid teaching them how to use ordinary cups. In addition, children might balk at practicing the skills necessary to master regular cups when a simpler, more easy to use, option is so readily available.
Types of Leak-Proof Cups for Toddlers
This review is for cups for toddlers at least 9 months of age; the cups we reviewed in this category have features that were age appropriate for children in that range. Cups designed for younger children, or babies, are called "transitional cups", and serve as a stepping stone between bottle feeding and toddler cups. Transitional cups typically have handles, hold less liquid, and use softer spouts to ease the transition from nipples. Transitional cups are covered in our Transition Sippy Cup Review. Some cups, such as the Thermos Foogo Phases line, offer different tops that provide more variety with lids that are transition cup worthy.
There are three common types of leak-proof cups; toddler cups are just one possible stage. The others include, transition cups, and kid bottles.
- Transition Cups—
- Toddler Cups—
- Kid Bottle—
Toddler Cup Design
Toddler cups usually have some kind of leak-proof valve that prevents the cup from leaking if toddlers drop or toss the cup on the fly. The cups are usually slimmer and taller in the main body, so they can fit in cup holders and be held by little hands that have more dexterity than those of younger babies. Toddler cups often have more recognizable characters on them to entice children to choose the cups that display their favorite cartoons, as opposed to the plainer transitional cups. Not many of the toddler cups had handles, but more than one sported some kind of silicone sleeve or rubberized hand area to increase toddlers' ability to grasp and hold the cups for longer durations.
The photos above are some examples of typical toddler cups; from left to right they are Sassy Grow Up Cup, Playtex Little Gripper, Pura Kiki Toddler, OXO Straw Cup, and Thermos Foogo Phase 3 Insulated Straw Cup
Toddler sippys are also designed to be easy to assemble and clean, and durable enough to withstand the bumps and tossing tantrums that toddlers dish out.
Not all toddler cups are created equal. But there is much more to consider when looking for a good cup than just the test metrics we outlined in The Best Toddler Sippy Cup Review, or its companion article How We Test. It is also important to consider some of the different cup design variations, and how they can impact the daily use of the product. These variations can be the difference between a cup parents and kids love, and a cup they never use.
Toddler cups come in a few different body styles. The body style can be an important consideration depending on the needs and skills of your toddler.
- Tall and Slim—
- Shorter and Contoured—
- Squat and Wide—
Toddler cups can be made of glass, stainless steel, plastic, and silicone parts. Some cups are made entirely of plastic, but most of the cups used a combination of materials. The highest scoring cup, Pura Kiki Toddler, was a combination of eco-healthy materials, with silicone for the spout, and stainless steel for the body and collar. The kind of materials used also dictated the overall longevity of a cup, as well as, a parent's ability to clean it. The materials can also potentially impact overall health of toddlers, so it is important that parents understand the benefits and drawbacks to each kind of material.
Given the importance of the material makeup of cups, we encourage you to read our article on plastics. We will discuss plastics here, but Are Plastics Safe for Bottles and Sippy Cups? is a more in depth look at the concerns and issues surrounding plastics used in these types of products. This is such an important issue that it always is worth repeating and learning more about.
Lifefactory Glass Sippy was the top scoring glass cup in our tests, and it came with a silicone sleeve so there was nothing extra to buy.
However, glass does have its drawbacks when used in sippy cups. Glass can shatter or break, and given enough time and opportunity, it will eventually. The glass toddler cups we tested came with a silicone type sleeve that helped prevent the glass from breaking as a result of minor bumping and short drops, and it also made it easier to hold. The sleeve does the job fairly well under normal use, but normal use for a toddler is variable, and more gregarious tykes might quickly break this cup. Any resulting pieces could potentially cause injury if parents are not immediately on hand to clean up the mess, which makes this kind of cup a little more high maintenance than plastic or stainless steel. We suggest not leaving little ones alone with glass for this reason.
Glass is also heavier than plastic, and often non-insulated stainless steel as well. This meant it was better suited for older, or stronger, toddlers who could heft its weight easily to avoid the dreaded accidental dropping that might result in a broken cup.
Glass is a unique and interesting answer to the concerns of plastics in leak-proof cups. It isn't a bad choice, but it is one parents should really think about before selecting as their go-to cup. For instance, glass cups might be better suited to children who always put cups down on flat surfaces than toddlers who toss cups to the floor after taking a sip.
Thermos Foogo Phase 3 Insulated was an award winning stainless steel cup for being insulated. It combined two of our favorite qualities in a cup, steel and literal coolness.
However, there is some evidence that suggests that stainless steel may allow the nutrients of breast milk, and similar nutrition, to cling to the insides of the cup; this is something to consider if you will be using the sippy primarily for feeding. Since most toddlers are no longer drinking breast milk, this isn't a deal breaker in our book; but even if they are, an insulated steel cup should at least be able to prevent the milk from spoiling.
Steel is a better option, in our opinion, than containers that potentially leach chemicals into their contents, and because it doesn't break or shatter it also rivals glass options depending on how you and your toddler will being using the cup. But, stainless steel can be heavy, especially if it is insulated, and some toddlers may have difficulty holding them for longer periods of time. This wasn't as big of a concern in the toddler stage as it is in the transition cups, but it might be something to consider if your little one has special needs, or limitations, that make holding heavy items more difficult.
Stainless steel is a great option for parents looking for a healthy alternative to plastics cups. It is also eco-friendly, and extremely durable so toddlers can use the cup for many years instead of several months. The Klean Kanteen Kid Kanteen was one of the most eco-friendly cups we tested; their website had a lot of good information on how they work to keep the environment as well as your child healthy. The Editors' Choice winner, Pura Kiki Toddler, and the Top Pick for insulated were both steel cups, proving that steel had what it took to rank high and please parents.
Tommee Tippee Sporty Bottle, which ranked 2nd out of 21 cups tested. These cups come in lots of different body styles and graphics, and given their cheaper prices usually don't cause distress if they go missing or are lost at the park. However, plastics have some eco-health concerns that we think parents should be aware of and consider when they choose which leak-proof cup is right for their child.
There have been numerous times where we have spoken about plastics in previous articles. For a full break down on how we feel about plastics, and the resources we considered in our thinking, please see our article entitled Are Plastics Safe for Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups?. However, because this topic is so important to us, we feel that much of it is worth repeating.
When plastics became "BPA-free", the plastic industry implied, or the public assumed, that all plastics were now safe, and there was no longer a problem with leaching chemicals. Unfortunately, some studies indicate that some of the BPA-free plastics can still potentially leach chemicals into the items they hold; which means the plastics used in some children's leak-proof cups may not be any safer than the old BPA plastics.
A study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives stated that:
In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than did BPA-containing products.
Another study we found looked at whether or not the BPA replacement plastics still potentially leached estrogenic chemicals . This study was published in Environmental Health, and indicated that some of the plastics they tested did.
Many unstressed and stressed, PC-replacement-products made from acrylic, polystyrene, polyethersulfone, and Tritan™ resins leached chemicals with EA, including products made for use by babies. Exposure to various forms of UV radiation often increased the leaching of chemicals with EA.
Now before you grow paranoid of plastics, we will say the jury is still technically out; however, we feel that less is more when it comes to potentially exposing children to chemicals. And the studies we found made us feel that more research is necessary before we can close the debate on plastics.
So even if you are initially drawn in by the cheaper price tag that comes with plastic, we feel that over time stainless steel is not only potentially a healthier option, but possibly the more economical choice since it is far more durable than plastic, and should have a significantly longer shelf life.
Silicone is a nice material that allows spouts and valves to be more flexible and mouth friendly than their plastic counterparts. In addition, silicone spouts are less like to cause injury to children who may fall while using the cup, since silicone gives and plastic does not. It is worth nothing however, that some preliminary studies indicate that silicone can break down when heated and release small particles over time. So we recommend hand washing all silicone spouts, valves, and straws as a precaution to help avoid this potential issue.
The silicone sleeves, or outside the cup use, helped cups be easier to grasp and hold. The sleeves also aided in picking up hot cups left in the car, and acted as a buffer to help prevent damage to the cups they held. Cups in our tests that had silicone components tended to score better than cups that did not.
Philips AVENT Natural Drinking Cup had a lot of parts that were more difficult than most to assemble, which resulted in low scores for this cup in some metrics. In general, most of the cups got easier to assemble over time, but the number of parts was still and issue when it came to cleaning them, or potentially losing them. Nothing is more frustrating than throwing away a perfectly good cup because you can't find the necessary part to make it work properly.
There are different kinds of spouts found in toddler cups. The possibilities vary between hard plastic spouts, softer silicone spouts, straws, and cup-like 360 degree edges. Each spout type has attributes parents should consider before making a purchase.
Nuk Active Cup Silicone Spout and Pura Kiki Toddler had soft spouts; in fact both spouts were identical to their transition stage counterparts.
Zo-li Bot Straw Cup. Because of this, they are a great spout type according to the ADA and most dentists. Given that a straw helps move the fluid to the back of the mouth, bypassing most of the teeth, this kind of spout could potentially lead to better overall oral hygiene and less dental decay. Straws are also generally soft and pliable, which helps in preventing injuries; however, it is important to note that while the Kid Basix Safe Sippy has a straw option, the exterior spout is hard plastic, so we did not consider it a "true" straw. The only real disadvantage to the straw spouts was the extra time it took to dismantle theses cups, and the special straw brush that was necessary to clean them properly. However, given time and practice, this really turned out to be not that big of a deal, and certainly wasn't a deal breaker in our minds. OXO Straw Cup was a well-liked cup by the toddler testers, with one tester even hoarding the cup from his sibling. The straw cups also all came with some kind of lid, which was a bonus in our book; two even had a fancy twist lid that covered the straw and was fun to "play" with.
Sassy Grow Up Cup was one of these cup edged cups, and it ranked 3rd out of the 21 cups tested. It's fun design, and grown up feel was a hit with toddlers.
The benefit to these cups is a more ordinary cup experience, less chance of injuries during a fall, and an increased "feeling" of being grown up that could translate into an increased interest in regular cups. Parents or toddlers looking for a grown up experience might find this unique spout more interesting than the others. It really didn't have any specific drawbacks, with the exception of requiring sucking, which just puts them on par with most of the other cups we looked at.
EIO Glass Kids Cup, also had a cup-like edge, but that is because it is just a cup with a lid. This cup is specifically designed as a training cup to aid in learning how to use a regular cup. For parents who want to skip the leak-proof cups for whatever reason, this kind of cup is a good option. Given that it is not necessarily leak or spill proof by design, it will require more patience and toddler assistance until the skills necessary to work the cup well are mastered. It was somewhat spill resistant, in that there was time to pick the cup up before it lost all of its contents.
Valves are an integral part of most leak-proof cups. The valve prevents liquid from exiting, but still allows toddlers to drink the contents as they like. Some valves were more difficult to use than others, but there did not seem to be any correlation between materials or brands to indicate how well a valve might work. This meant that choosing a valve just based on looks, shape, or composition would not ensure a good valve that both prevented leaks and was easy to drink from. Even choosing based on brand isn't always a sure thing. Last year's Playtex cups were far easier to drink from than the "new" Playtex Anytime Spout Cup, which had a different valve that we found extremely difficult to use.
ADA article, or our article on The Best Sippy Cup Review.
The main problem with this advice, is that most parents prefer an easy to use, leak-proof cup they can use at home and on the go, but the ADA criteria doesn't support that kind of cup. While we can't disagree about children being safe with cups, having good oral hygiene, or moving them over to regular cups quickly, we do feel that realistically most parents are not going to toss out their leak-proof cups just because the ADA tells them too. The ability to prevent leaks was the highest weighted metric in our tests, because most parents wanted a cup that doesn't spill, and is good on the go. Some cups offer a happy medium, like a cup edge with a valve that is leak proof or a training cup, but there are no cups that are both leak-proof and have no valve.
a potential hazard to children on the go. Between 1991 and 2010, approximately 45,000 pediatric injuries presented to ERs as a result of sippy cup use.
Leak-proof cups are only a convenience item; they are definitively NOT a developmental milestone, or a requirement for teaching toddlers to drink properly from a cup. Some specialists even feel they can delay a child's ability , or interest in mastering a real cup. The EIO Glass Kids Cup might be a good alternative for those worried about this issue.
So given the popularity of leak-proof cups, and their ability to keep children hydrated in a neat and tidy manner, what should parents do to meet the standards and meet their own needs? Let's face it, who wants to ride in a car smelling of rancid, sour milk? You? No? We didn't think so.
Is this a murky conundrum? A stalemate? Not necessarily so. Happily, there sort of IS a middle ground.
The following are best practices for leak-proof cup use, as outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the ADA:
- To avoid injury, children should be stationary, preferably sitting at a table, when drinking from a no-leak cup
- To avoid Early Childhood Caries (dental decay), cups should only contain water, NEVER sweetened or carbonated beverages
- To avoid complications related to dental decay and dentition formation, toddlers should only utilize a leak-free cup for short defined periods, like during a snack or mealtime
- It is also recommended that parents offer children a real cup whenever possible
It is important to consider the kinds of spouts available, the drawbacks of using them, and why the ADA has the concerns that they do. However, we feel there is a place for no-leak cups; when used thoughtfully and on a limited basis they can be a great convenience, without the inconvenience of spills and clean ups. After all, the goal of a no-leak cup is to offer spill-free hydration for the toddler on the go. This usually requires a leak free valve, but as long as your toddler still works on the skills necessary for using a regular cup, it can be a useful item in the arsenal of hydration options.
How to Choose the Best Toddler Sippy Cup
First, Choose a Body Material
We think stainless steel cups have the most to offer in the way of toddler cups, with the fewest drawbacks. In addition, the steel cups had the most variety of the preferred spout styles, than plastic or glass. Plus, several of the steel cups come in an insulated option, so it is easy to make personal choice within the available steel line up.
Two of our favorite cups, and award winners, were stainless steel; Pura Kiki Toddler, Editors' Choice, and Top Pick for Insulated, Thermos Foogo Phase 3 Insulated. We know that budget is often a concern when buying new products, but we believe that the longevity, durability, and versatility of steel cups will save most parents money over time. Klean Kanteen Kids Kanteen was the cheapest steel cup in our tests, with a 6th place ranking.
Next, Pick a Spout Type
Eco Vessel Insulated, both had soft silicone spouts that doubled as a no leak valve. We liked the feel of both spouts, but the Eco Vessel was significantly harder to use than the Pura. The Thermos Foogo Phase 3 Insulated, had a soft flexible straw spout that was easy to use, and could be protected from debris by an attached lid. There was virtually something for everyone; but the straws and soft spouts are probably more appealing if you are worried about injuries or dental hygiene. However, if your toddler is a chewer, nothing but a hard spout will survive very long in their clutches, which leaves you with the Klean Kanteen Kid Kanteen or the Thermos Foogo Phase 2 Insulated. Don't forget that training cups, like the EIO Glass Kids Cup, can allow you to forgo the spout altogether.
Last, Choose Insulated or Non-Insulated
So before you stand with wide-eyed bewilderment in front of a giant shelf of leak-proof cups, think again about the performance characteristics we discussed, and which are the most important to you and your child. In our review of 21 toddler sippy cups we really feel there is an option for everyone, no matter what performance attributes decide on, or metrics you feel are most important. BabyGearLab has found great options that we believe encompass the same priorities most parents share, but with enough variety to meet most toddler needs. In the end, our award winners reflect what we would, and have, bought for our own children.