The Best Full-Size High Chair

Between bites of pureed peas and finger foods, you'll scrub down your baby's high chair hundreds of times. Rather than tear your hair out, buy a chair that makes cleaning simple, while offering a safe and comfy seat for your little one. I'd pick the OXO Tot Seedling, which at $150 has everything you need and saves you time when it comes to cleaning.

There are several good high chairs on the market, and some not-so-good ones. We sorted through more than two dozen models from well-known and lesser-known manufacturers to pick the best of the bunch. The OXO Tot Seedling ranked well in every category. Flimsy trays, hard-to-maneuver wheels, and tough-to-clean seat fabrics or straps marred some competitors. But the Tot Seedling excels in those areas and offers a variety of other features that will please parents.

Who Should Buy This?

Parents who want a separate spot for junior to sit during meals will want a full-size, sturdy high chair that will accommodate baby from infancy, or about age 6 months, through toddlerhood—and maybe longer. Full-size high chairs tend to be pretty bulky, so if you're pressed for space in your kitchen or dining area, you may want to opt for more compact portable seat. (Our guide to these chairs is still in the works!)

What Makes A Good High Chair?

Basic high chair design has changed very little in the past 100 years. Then and now, this essential piece of baby gear has sported a sturdy base, a high seat to make spoon feeding easier for Mom or Dad, and a tray to stow food. Any chair on the market will certainly meet these very basic criteria.

But, to be good—great, even—today's high chairs need to meet the demands of modern parents. Safety, durability, cleanability, and comfort are must-have features. And, to be honest, we also want a chair that looks great at a great price.

High-chair-related injuries have increased 22 percent between 2003 and 2010, according to a study published in 2013 by the journal Clinical Pediatrics. Children aren't always properly restrained and fall. Good high chairs feature a wide, sturdy base to prevent tipping, an easy-to-use 5-point harness, and a post or bar (called a "crotch post") that goes between the baby's legs so he doesn't slip under the tray. If the chair has wheels, they need to be able to lock and swivel easily.

Cleanability is about practicality. The easier a high chair is to clean, the more time Mom or Dad will have for something else. (Like snuggling the baby!) Crumbs fall into tough-to-clean crevices, purees seep into the the seat cushion, mushed carrots stain the tray, and crusty, dried foods spackle the cracks. Getting the picture? High chairs can get pretty gross. When they come with contoured lines that make wiping easy, seat cushions that can be scrubbed or laundered, and dishwasher safe trays, cleaning is a breeze. An adjustable tray that fits snug to baby's belly also prevents spills and speeds clean-up.

Parents' style preferences are going to vary, but most will want a comfortable seat and a design that either blends in with the decor or matches the other baby gear. There are pricey high chairs on the market, with chrome details, pneumatic lifts, and a $300 to $500 price tag. And, there are chairs in the $50 range, which may lack some of the durability and ease-of-use features. In our research, we found that $100 to $200 is more than enough to buy a high chair that exceeds in safety, style, and cleanability.

One option available are high chairs that convert to do other things. The seat portion, for instance, can be removed and strapped to a dining room chair when baby is ready to sit at the table. But that added function isn't always practical. And sometimes adding these options means adding several mediocre functions, but none that are excellent.

"I'm all for gear that multitasks, but parents need to be realistic about if the additional functions are actually useful. ...Make sure those extra functions are practical and not just cool," said Kate Bayless, gear editor at Momtrends.com, in an interview.

The functional features that catapult a good high chair into greatness are storability, a small footprint so it saves space, height-adjustment options to accommodate different tables or counters, an adjustable tray that will sit close to baby's tummy, easy access to replacement products, and pieces that are safely constructed and environmentally friendly.

When it came to testing and picking our top high chair selection, the contenders didn't bring all of those features to the table. But we did require that they meet our criteria for safety and easy of use. We automatically nixed the chairs that didn't have a crotch post (you'll hear more about those below); chairs that were cumbersome to clean (with fabric covers that aren't machine washable, for instance); those with wheels that don't lock in place; awkward trays that are tricky to use; and any chairs with user reviews questioning their sturdiness or tendency to tip over.

How We Tested

We combed through page after page of user comments on Amazon, Babies R Us and Diapers.com, watched video reviews and read dozens of blogger reviews to narrow down the long list of high chairs to just a couple of dozen standouts.

From there, we ruled out models without a five-point harness, locking wheels, a secure crotch post, and a sturdy base for added safety.

We then took our front-runners and rolled, folded, adjusted and shook them. We checked to see if trays removed with one hand or two, if the wheels rolled easily, and if height and recline buttons were intuitive. We checked out the cushions to see if they felt scratchy, rough, or overly plush. We looked for nooks and crannies where food and crumbs could get stuck. We looked at the high chairs side by side to see which were most practical size- and design-wise for today's modern parents. A clear top pick stood out.

Our Pick

The Best Full-Size High Chair

Incredibly easy to clean, great-looking and sturdy, the OXO Tot Seedling wowed us in every category. But, truthfully, there are other high chairs on the market that clean up well and offer a safe, good-looking seat. The Tot Seedling boasts added features that set it apart from the competition: removable, cleanable straps; one-handed tray removal; a flat tray bottom; parts made of environmentally friendly materials; replacement parts that are easy to get; and more. And, at just $150, it's a great deal.

Let's start with the basics. The Tot Seedling will grow with your baby from 4 months to 3 years, or up to 45 lbs. It features five different height settings, a foot rest, and three recline positions. It's light-weight: just 23 lbs. and made of BPA-, PVC-, and phthalate-free materials. It also comes with four, locking and scratch-resistant wheels that move easily on hardwood or carpeted floors.

The Seedling also features an adjustable, five-point safety harness—a required safety feature to earn Consumer Reports' highest rating. The straps are T-shaped at each end, which parents can fold flat to slip through slots in the seat back and bottom. This allows parents to easily remove the straps and throw them in the washer. No more mashed bananas forever caked within the weaving.

The chair's tray isn't too big (like the ones on mammoth high chairs) or too small (like a well-known Swedish brand); at 11" x 19", it's just right. There is plenty of room for a child-size plate or even a dinner plate. The tray features a removable, dishwasher-safe liner (top rack only) that snaps on to completely cover the tray. The liner is deep enough to contain spills and, because there are no exposed seams, liquid won't seep onto the tray and double your clean up. We dumped 8 ounces of water on the tray and none seeped or spilled off. Removing the tray is easy: Just pull the lever located on front. It can be removed easily and attached with one hand, leaving your other hand free to hold your baby.

Another bonus feature of the tray is its flat bottom. The chair's crotch post is attached to the seat—an added safety feature—rather than the tray like several other high chairs on the market. Picture this: Your toddler has just finished a spaghetti dinner, but she and the chair are covered in sticky pasta pieces and sauce. To get her out of the seat, you undo the straps, remove the tray, and lift her out. But, you'll need to set the tray down and get her to the bath. The Tot Seedling tray will sit flat on a counter or table and contain the mess until you can clean it. Other trays, with the crotch post attached to the bottom, cannot sit flat and the mess could slide off creating an even bigger mess for you to clean up.

The tray on the Tot Seedling also adjusts to four positions so it fits snug to your baby's tummy, reducing the spills onto her lap, even as she grows.

This high chair isn't your mother's high chair, with cutesy baby prints, pastel colors, and a scratchy cushion. The Tot Seedling is sleek and modern-looking, with curved, contour lines and a comfy seat. The stain-resistant seat cushion is available in four bright colors: blue, graphite, mocha, and green. Spaghetti sauce, chocolate milk and mashed green beans all wiped easily with a just damp paper towel from the graphite gray cushion we tested. When and if the cushion gets really soiled—like if your baby has a blowout diaper while sitting in it—just toss the cushion into the laundry on a gentle cycle and air dry. Additional cushions are available online for just $30, if you decide you want a spare or a new color.

The gray, metal-finished legs of the Tot Seedling are wide. (Maybe too wide, according to one Amazon.com reviewer who compared them to a walker.) While the wide legs mean a bigger footprint, they also ensure that the chair has a sturdy base and won't tip. The metal legs also look a tad industrial, a minor criticism. Although the industrial look complements a modern decor, OXO might consider offering the Seedling with wooden legs like the brand's more expensive Tot Sprout highchair.

The one misfire about the Tot Seedling is its portability, or lack thereof. It doesn't fold flat for easy storage. But, the legs pop off easily and the the seat doesn't take up a ton of room. The tray also can hang on the back of the legs when not in use. Most parents aren't going to store the high chair away after each use or drag it along to Grandma's house anyway. (See our pick below if this is something you need in a high chair.).

Who Else Likes It?

The Tot Seedling is a relatively new high chair to the market; it debuted in late 2013, but reviews so far have been mostly positive. Pregnancy and Newborn magazine gave the Tot Seedling a great review, calling it the perfect combination of kid-friendly comfort and parent-centric ease. "Hands-down, the best thing about this chair is that it's entirely self-sustaining. It doesn't require extra tools, time commitments or storage space for additional parts to make any adjustments as our baby grows," the reviewer noted.

Pishposhbaby.com also highly reviewed the Seedling, giving it 4.25 out of 5 stars, ranking it above the new Inglensina Gusto, which is also a pretty good high chair. "The Seedling is made to be easy to clean. No extra crevices to catch crumbs."

On Amazon.com, users have given it 4.5 out of 5 stars, complimenting its ease of use and sleek design. The primary complaint in the two or three-star reviews is size. At 22" x 33" the base is wide—especially if it'll be used in a small kitchen or dining space. But, as one reviewer said, "What I don't like about this high chair: it's pretty big, and takes up a fair amount of space. Not good for small spaces. What I like about this high chair: everything else."

If the wide base is a concern, keep in mind that a wide base ensures its stability. Should your baby stand up in the seat, dance around, or even crawl onto the tray—believe me, it can happen—you'll want a high chair that can support the weight, even if it is unbalanced. And you'll appreciate the locking wheels so it won't roll around.

The Step Up

The Best Full-Size High Chair

If you really need to be able to fold your high chair flat for easy storage or you have some extra cash to spend on a high chair, splurge on the Peg Perego Siesta. The Siesta is compact and features nine height adjustments, automatic locking wheels, a wipeable stain-resistant seat cushion in six color options, and it folds flat fast. It'll even stand on its own while folded. Users say that the seat crevices do catch crumbs, but overall it wipes well. It's a great chair with a hefty price tag at $299.

The Step Down

If money is a concern, you'd like to spend $100 or less, or you just need a second high chair to keep at Grandma's house, go for the Graco Contempo. It's $109 but can be found on sale for less than $100. It folds flat and features a one-hand removable tray and a snack tray connected to the crotch post. But, be warned, it has a plush seat cushion with lots of crevices that can be tough to clean.

The Competition

We considered these alternatives from manufacturers, but can't recommend them.

  • Stokke Tripp Trapp ($250) — If you have your heart set on a wooden high chair, the Tripp Trapp earns 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon and many parents consider it an heirloom piece. It can hold up to 300 lbs. and is ergonomically made for comfort and stability. But the Tripp Trapp doesn't come with a high chair tray and pricey accessories, like the Stokke tray ($50) or the Baby Set infant support ($70), add to your overall costs.
  • Graco Blossom 4 in 1($190) — A popular high chair made by an even more popular manufacturer. However, the wheels don't lock and the crotch post is attached to the tray. The added value of the removable booster seat is less impressive, given that there weren't many consumer reviews of seat used as a booster.
  • Boon Flair($230)— An expensive, heavy chair that boasts a pneumatic lift height adjustment (like a barber chair) as its distinguishing feature. The lift is problematic, according to many users though, who say it doesn't work right.
  • Chicco Vinyl Polly($150)— The crotch post is attached to the tray, but we might be willing to overlook that if the seat cushion were machine washable. The cushion is wipeable but can't be tossed in the laundry for a thorough cleaning, which isn't practical when dealing with baby messes.
  • Valco Baby Astro($100) — At first glance, the Astro resembles the Tot Seedling. But its seat cushion isn't machine washable. It also doesn't recline, doesn't have wheels, and the tray doesn't adjust.
  • BabyBjorn High Chair($300) — This pricey chair with a great brand recognition can fold flat, is lightweight, and features a wipeable surfaces, but its tray and seat are small. Even though the seat is made to accommodate children up to age 3, several reviewers say it can't. With a pricetag that high, it doesn't seem worth the risk.

Care, Use, Maintenance, and Repair

Cleaning the Tot Seedling will be a breeze. That's one of the primary reasons it ranked so well. Wipe down the cushion or legs with a damp paper towel. The straps and cushion can be laundered and air dried for big messes. The foot rest is bright white and could get scuffed over time. Take a damp sponge or Magic Eraser to it when necessary. As for the tray, only the liner is dishwasher safe (top rack only). The tray itself can be wiped down or scrubbed with dishwashing liquid. Do not use abrasive cleaners.

OXO offers a 60-day satisfaction guarantee. It also offers a four-year warranty on all metal and plastic parts and a one-year warranty on the cushion and harness straps. Your receipt will be required for all warranty claims. Replacement or spare cushions are available online at www.oxo.com. To order other replacement parts, contact customer service.

Wrapping It Up

As parents, our free time is limited. Don't waste extra time fumbling with a tough-to-clean, annoying high chair. The OXO Tot Seedling looks great and functions even better. And, $150, you'll have money leftover for other baby gear must-haves.

Sources:

1. Dr. Gary Smith, Clinical Pediatrics study about high chair safety

2. Kate Bayless, interview, gear editor at Momtrends.com

3. Essential High Chair Features, Highchairhub.com

4. High Chair Buying Guide, Consumer Reports

5. High Chair Guide, Parents.com

6. The Best High Chairs of 2013: Which One Should You Buy?, ivillage.com

7. The Top 10 Highchairs of 2014, ezvid.com

8. The Definitive Guide to Buying a High Chair, babyzone.com

9. Buying Guide to High Chairs, buybuybaby.com

10. OXO Tot Seedling High Chair Review, Pishposhbaby.com

11. High Chair Gear Reviews, Pregnancy and Newborn magazine

12. 10 Best High Chairs, babble.com

13. Tot Seedling specifications, oxo.com

14. High chair user reviews, amazon.com

15. High chair reviews, youtube.com

Journalist Sarah Hale Meitner is a Midwest mom of five kids—all under age 10, and, in between school runs and kid activities, she freelances for publications, websites and other clients.