Cuddly teddies, cute plastic ducks, big-eyed dolls, and colorful board books … if you’re a parent with a baby at home, you’re no doubt shopping for toys of all kinds to amuse, entertain, and educate your little one. While you bring home toys that are age appropriate and certified safe, are you also keeping them clean? Regularly cleaning and disinfecting babies’ toys reduce the chances of germs spreading and your child falling ill. Stuffed or soft toys, for instance, make a perfect home for dust mites over a period of time, a potential cause of allergies.1 Bath toys can harbor molds and bacteria.
Different types of materials used to make toys – fabric, hard plastic, metal, or rubber – need different cleaning methods.
All toys don’t come with instructions for cleaning, but you can follow a few simple, common-sense ways to keep your baby safe from likely health hazards. Let’s explore some ways to clean babies’ toys.
1. Wash Or Surface-Clean Stuffed Toys
If the label on your baby’s stuffed bear says it’s water-safe, you can wash it in a sink and let it drip dry on a drainer. Alternatively, you can just chuck it into the washing machine and have it come out squeaky clean.
You might choose to buy only machine-washable stuffed toys. Look for toys made of acrylic fur or with “100 percent nylon stuffing” labels. Air dry washed toys and leave them in the sun for a while. Sunlight is among nature’s most powerful disinfectants!
Steps To Follow For Machine Washing
- Check your stuffed toys for any split seams or spots. Mend if any.
- Zip them into a mesh wash bag and place in the washer along with a couple of towels or other soft fabric items that need washing.
- Use a mild detergent and wash on a delicate cycle.
- Dry the soft toys on your dryer’s stationary rack. Better still, put them out in the sun to air dry.
Steps To Follow For Surface Cleaning
If teddy doesn’t look overly grubby, just spot clean. Dip a clean washcloth in soapy water, partly wring out, and wipe the toy. Rinse very well.
- Run a small hand-held vacuum cleaner over the toy to suck out embedded dust.
- Make a diluted solution of very little mild detergent and water and work into a lather. With a sponge, skim off only the suds, and lightly rub the soiled portions of the toy.
- Wipe clean with a cloth.
- Rinse off the solution with another washcloth or sponge dampened with water.
- Dry the toy immediately with a clean towel; alternatively, you could use a wet/dry vacuum cleaner to suck out the remaining moisture.
- Place the toy in an area with effective air circulation and let it dry out over a couple of days.2
2. Machine Wash Or Dry Clean Fabric Toys
Cloth dolls filled with polyester fiber can be washed just like stuffed animals in a washer (read the label to make sure). With some dolls, you can detach their heads and wash only the body. You could place the doll in a pillow cover before washing so that the stitches on its feet and hands remain intact. Doll clothes should be hand washed in a mild detergent-and-water solution.3
Don’t pop fabric toys which have a battery pack or make sounds into a washing machine as this will render them silent.
While some fabric toys may need hand-washing, others can be “dry cleaned.” You will need:
- An old pillow cover
- 500 g wheat bran (unprocessed)
- Clean hairbrush
Fill the pillow cover with bran and place the toys inside. Hold the cover tightly closed and shake vigorously for at least 5 minutes. Remove the toys from the pillowcase and brush out the excess bran on the toys.4
3. Wash Plastic Toys And Wipe Wooden Toys Clean
Never soak wooden toys in water as this can cause the material to warp.
Most plastic toys need only be washed with mild soap and water, rinsed well, and towel dried. Wooden toys, on the other hand, can be washed with a natural cleaning solution (see our recipe below) or a mix of baby soap and water. Wipe thoroughly with another damp cloth.5
4. Wash Bath Toys With White Vinegar Solution
When shopping for bath toys, look for products that don’t have a hole in the bottom as these tend to harbor more bacteria and mold.
Soak your baby’s bath toys about once a week in a 50:50 mixture of hot water and distilled white vinegar. Rinse and air dry. Wash bath books with soap and warm water and stand them upright with the pages separated for quicker drying. If they are dishwasher-safe, bath toys can be put in the dishwasher as well. This will get rid of any residual mold and bacteria.6
5. Hand Clean Metal Toys Or Use A Dishwasher
On a pair of old pantyhose, place 2 drops of baby oil and wipe the toys clean to remove food stains and grime. Wipe the toys again with another clean cloth. Using baby oil prevents metal toys from rusting as well.7
The type of metal toy you have will determine how it’s to be cleaned. Many metal toys can safely go into a dishwasher. However, if they have flimsy rubber parts like car or truck wheels, avoid this method of cleaning to prevent the heat from disintegrating the rubber. Instead, opt for hand cleaning with a natural solution or diluted bleach – 1 tablespoon bleach should work for a quart (4 cups) of water. Air dry.
6. Disinfect Toys, Especially When Baby Is Unwell
If your baby is sick and the pediatrician says it’s an infectious ailment, take extra care to keep the toys clean and disinfected. This is even more important when there are other children in the family. Here are a few tips:
- Most baby toys can be cleaned with mild soap and water and then disinfected with alcohol. Some experts even recommend a mild bleach solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) as an alternative to alcohol.
- Many washing machines have a disinfecting or sanitizing setting. Use this if you are machine washing fabric or stuffed toys. If you’ve used a hot cycle on your machine, the toys don’t need to be disinfected again.
- The same goes for hard plastic toys cleaned in the dishwasher – they don’t need additional disinfection.
- Plain white vinegar, diluted with plenty of water, is yet another mild disinfectant you can try. Before using, do a spot check on the toy for color fastness and also to ensure it doesn’t cause any other damage.
- Baking soda is another effective cleaning and disinfecting option. Dip a moist washcloth in baking soda and sponge the toys that need cleaning. Now, rinse with clean water. Soda helps remove unwanted odors too.
- To hand clean hard plastic toys, scrub them thoroughly in lukewarm soapy water. Use a brush to get at tiny crevices. Turn on the hot water tap and rinse the toy well. Keep a mild bleach solution ready and dunk the toys in the solution. After 10 minutes, take out the toys, rinse them in cool water, and leave on a rack or in the sun to air dry.
- Babies’ toys that cannot be washed, such as some dolls, should be kept away from other children so that there’s not too much handling.89 10
7. Swap Chemical-Based Cleaners With Natural Cleaning Solutions
While store-bought mild detergents or cleaning agents, used minimally, are recommended by many experts, not all parents are comfortable using these on babies’ toys. If you’d rather make your cleaning solutions at home with natural or mild ingredients, here are some ideas. These can be equally effective at cleaning toys and, importantly, safe for your baby.
Castile Soap Solution
Castile soap is a detergent-free soap made with plant oil-based glycerin (usually, olive oil) minus fats, animal-based ingredients, or chemical detergents. It’s a versatile and completely natural product that’s good for baby’s bath too. A cleaning spray with castile soap can be used on toys when your baby is ill. You can use it on other occasions, too, as an alternative to regular soap if you want to give the toys a quick bath.11 12 13
Tea Tree Oil Solution
Tea tree oil contains antibacterial and antifungal compounds that make this solution a good choice when cleaning and disinfecting toys. Bonus: it smells good. Fill a 1-liter spray bottle with water. Add 30 drops tea tree oil and shake well. Spray over plastic toys and wipe off with a clean cloth. Rinse the toy thoroughly with plain water and air dry.14 15 You can add a few drops of glycerin to the same mix and use this to spray clean and buff wooden toys.
3. White Vinegar Sanitizer
Mix 2 tablespoons of white vinegar in 4 cups of water and use to disinfect toys. You can also clean up crayon stains and other grime with a cloth dipped in vinegar. Add a splash of vinegar to soap water to clean and disinfect in one shot.16
8. Clean Toys Depending On How Often They Are Used
You don’t have to let a cleaning routine overwhelm you! Here are a few thumb rules that sum up when – and how often – to clean toys, without going overboard.
Keep a “dirty toy ” bin and promptly drop in any toy that is visibly dirty, say once your child has finished playing or if they’ve put into their mouth. Don’t forget to keep the bin out of your child’s reach!
Clean toys immediately if
- The toys are visibly dirty or stained, or have food particles sticking to them.
- Your baby is getting over an illness like a cold or an upset tummy.
- You’ve just had a play date, and other babies or small children might have put toys into their mouths.
- Your baby has rediscovered a toy he or she has not played with for a while.
Clean these toys once a week
- Your baby’s favorite toys that they play with most frequently
- Toys that you carry around in a diaper bag
Spring clean once a month
Even if there’s no particular reason to clean up, set aside one day in the month to clean all your baby’s toys thoroughly.
|↑1||Nagakura, T., H. Yasueda, T. Obata, M. Kanmuri, T. Masaki, N. Ihara, and K. Maekawa. “Major Dermatophagoides mite allergen, Der 1, in soft toys.” Clinical & Experimental Allergy 26, no. 5 (1996): 585-589.|
|↑2||Aslett, Don. The Cleaning Encyclopedia: Your A-to-Z Illustrated Guide to Cleaning Like the Pros. Random House Publishing Group. 2009.|
|↑3||Aslett, Don.The Cleaning Encyclopedia: Your A-to-Z Illustrated Guide to Cleaning Like the Pros. Random House Publishing Group. 2009.|
|↑4||Lush, Shannon & Erin Lush. Kids Can Clean. Harper Collins Australia. 2011.|
|↑5, ↑7||Lush, Shannon & Erin Lush. Kids Can Clean. HarperCollins Australia. 2011.|
|↑6||Rapinchuk, Becky. The Organically Clean Home: 150 Everyday Organic Cleaning Products You Can Make Yourself–The Natural, Chemical-Free Way. Simon and Schuster. 2014.|
|↑8||Rhinehart,Emily & Mary M. Friedman. Infection Control in Home Care. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 1999.|
|↑9||Yaron, Ruth. Super Baby Food: Your Complete Guide to What, When and How to Feed Your Baby and Toddler. FJ Roberts Publishing. 2013.|
|↑10||Lansky, Vicki. Practical Parenting Tips. Book Peddlers. 2012.|
|↑11, ↑15||Improve the Home Environment. Chicago Community Climate Action Toolkit.|
|↑12||Ford, Dionna & Mandy O’Brien. Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxin-Free Recipes to Replace Your Kitchen Cleaner, Bathroom Disinfectant, Laundry Detergent, Bleach, Bug Killer, Air Freshener, and more. Ulysses Press. 2014.|
|↑13||Marin, Pamela. My Organic Baby. AuthorHouse. 2015.|
|↑14||Dittmann, Roy OMD, MH. Brighton Baby: A Revolutionary Organic Approach to Having an Extraordinary Child: The Complete Guide to Preconception & Conception. Balboa Press. 2012|
|↑16||Lansky, Vicki. Vinegar: Over 400 Various, Versatile & Very Good Uses You’ve Probably Never Thought of. Book Peddlers, 2004.|