One of your most critical roles as a parent is keeping your children healthy—a challenging task that can seem like a full-time job! Kids love to explore, get dirty, and play with friends, but they rarely wash off the dirt they can accumulate, much less germs and bacteria. They play in sandboxes, crawl on dirty floors, chew on toys, and will pick up anything that catches their eye. Then they eat with their hands!
Many of the germs your kids will encounter are harmless; some can even be helpful. But others can spread colds, the flu, COVID-19, and other illnesses. You can’t protect your children from everything, but you can minimize the germs and viruses that cause illness when you learn how to sanitize toys and keep them clean.
How frequently you should clean and disinfect toys depends on how much they are used, the overall health of your family, and how much contact your children have with other kids.
Keep reading to learn how—and how often—you should disinfect and clean baby toys to keep your children healthy and safe.
How to Clean Baby Toys
Babies love playing with toys and just about anything they get their hands on. They drag or roll toys across dirty floors, drool and spit up on them, and then they put those same toys in their mouths. That’s a lot of germs and bacteria that could make your baby sick.
To understand how quickly and how far germs can spread, check out this chart from the EPA. Keeping baby toys clean is a critical first step for preventing the spread of bacteria and germs, so read on for our field-tested tips on how to clean baby toys.
Fabric toys can get dirty quickly and become homes for germs and bacteria. Start by checking the label on the toy for the recommended cleaning method. Some are machine-washable; others you must wash by hand. If they are machine-washable, wash stuffed toys with a gentle detergent formulated for babies.
You can machine dry some stuffed toys on the low-heat dryer cycle after hand washing—check the label. For stuffed animals that can’t go into the washing machine, hand wash them in mild soap and water and let them air dry in the sun.
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Bath toys go through a lot. From dirty bathwater to pee, these toys are exposed to a range of pollutants. What’s more, wet bath toys are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, germs, and mold. Wash bath toys after every bath with soap and water and hang them to dry in a net bag.
Plastic toys range from rattles to battery-powered toys. Some plastic toys are dishwasher safe, and you can clean most plastic toys by hand with hot water and dish soap. If the toy you’re washing has a battery compartment, remember to remove the batteries before wiping it down.
Soft, silicone toys are fun for babies, but they also easily pick up germs and bacteria. Cleaning silicone toys with heat or hot water can damage them. Instead, wipe them down with a 1:1 mixture of white vinegar and water. Rinse the toy off and let it air dry.
Building blocks, train sets, and rocking horses are often made from wood. Wood is porous, so keeping these toys clean takes a little extra care. If you get the wood too wet, it can warp as it dries; this is also how you end up with moldy toys. Use a soft brush to remove any buildup or dirt in grooves and wipe down the toy using a 1:1 mixture of white vinegar and water. Let it air dry.
Dolls and action figures are often made from materials that may require different cleaning approaches. Clean plastic bodies and parts with detergent and warm water, wash doll hair with baby shampoo, and wash fabrics with warm water and baby shampoo. Regardless of the materials, let the doll air dry after you clean it.
Keeping your baby’s toys clean and dry will help reduce the spread of bacteria and germs in general. But you should also know how to properly disinfect your children’s toys, particularly if it’s flu season, or if there’s an illness in your home.
How to Disinfect Toys
Exposure to germs helps a child’s immune system develop; that immune system, in turn, learns how to defend your child against the bad germs that can make them sick. A cat licking your child’s face or a pacifier falling on the ground probably won’t do your kiddo any harm. But because children will inevitably be exposed to harmful germs, there are times when you’ll need to know how to disinfect toys.
Keeping your kids’ toys clean is a good thing, but there’s a difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning is the physical removal of germs and dirt using a cleaner and/or water. Disinfecting kills germs using chemicals. While both can reduce the risk of infection, disinfection gets rid of germs and viruses.
If you want your disinfecting to work effectively, always clean your children’s toys first.
Use Your Dishwasher to Disinfect Toys
If your child’s toy is dishwasher safe, run it through the dishwasher about once a week. This works great for rattles, plastic blocks, and certain bath toys. Put little toys in the silverware holder or a net bag so that they don’t fall through the racks. Don’t wash toys that contain fabric, buttons, or electrical components in the dishwasher.
Disinfect Toys Using Your Washing Machine
Stuffed toys, as well as blankets, pillows, and other fabric items can be disinfected in your washing machine on the hot cycle. To keep stuffed animals safe and sound during the wash cycle, put them in a pillowcase.
Disinfect Toys Safely Using Natural Ingredients
White vinegar is one of the best ways to sanitize toys. It’s a safe, proven solution multipurpose cleaner; it’s particularly good for disinfecting toys because of its high acidity. This versatile kitchen staple is safe for sanitizing most surfaces and can kill various food-borne pathogens such as E. coli. It’s important to know that white vinegar is not strong enough to kill most viruses.
Let the Sunshine In
Sunlight is a natural killer of bacteria. On sunny days, put your child’s toys outside and let the UV rays disinfect them. This is also a great way to freshen stuffed toys with lingering odors!
How Often Should I Disinfect Toys?
Under normal circumstances, it’s a good idea to disinfect toys about once per month. Favorite toys that are used daily may require weekly disinfecting to prevent the buildup of germs and bacteria.
Disinfect toys anytime you suspect bacteria, germs, and viruses may be present. Here are some examples when disinfecting toys is a must:
- Someone in your family is sick.
- Your child’s friends or their family members have been sick.
- Illness is spreading at your child’s school.
- A toy gets food, milk, vomit, or mucus on it.
Did you know the flu virus can live on a surface for up to 48 hours? And norovirus, a virus that typically causes stomach bugs, can linger for days or even weeks! If your child’s playmate has the flu or another communicable illness, it’s time to disinfect.
Fight bacteria, germs, and viruses when you use these tips to keep your kids’ toys clean and sanitary. Your family will enjoy a healthier home, and you’ll have greater peace of mind knowing you can protect your children from illness.
If you need help getting your home clean and healthy, cleaning for health is our specialty. Learn more about The Maids and our unique approach to residential cleaning.