Parents, you already know childhood is messy. Your little one gets bathed regularly, but without a regular washing schedule, toys that sparkled right out of the box can begin to lose their shine. Worse yet, they can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, exposing your child to germs that should be avoided.
Toys don’t come cheap, and cleaning them with improper methods can damage their look, feel, and utility, so it’s important to know the correct cleaning method for the toy you’re trying to clean. Though it’s sometimes as simple as a quick machine wash, others have more complex cleaning needs. Check out our simple guide to learn how to clean baby toys effectively, as well as why it’s important and how frequently cleanings should occur.
In this article:
Why is it important to clean my child’s toys?
While neither you nor your baby might be bothered by a toy’s slightly dingy appearance, the very nature of toys makes them a magnet for germs. Playtime often takes place on floor mats, and toys make their way into the mouths of curious kids. They may be handled by other children at a play date or family gathering, or a relative or babysitter from a different household may touch them when playing with your child.
There are few, if any, other objects in their lives that meet this criteria and aren’t washed regularly. Even the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that germs and bacteria can be spread by dirty toys and that regular cleanings are essential.
How can I establish a healthy toy cleaning schedule that doesn’t disrupt my child’s routine?
Visible dirt on toys indicates a clear need for cleaning, but even if they don’t appear to be dirty, a weekly surface cleaning is wise to remove dirt, debris, and unseen bacteria. About once a month, it’s a good idea to a thorough disinfection of your child’s toys; scheduling this in rotation by toy type will make this less stressful for both you and your child.
There are a few ways you can mitigate the disruption that this cleaning process will have on their routine. Cleaning in the rotation is helpful, but age-appropriate kids can also get involved in the process and may enjoy “bathtime” for toys. If they’re a bit too young, planning a movie night for the kids to keep them busy or cleaning toys after bedtime are good ways to avoid kids feeling stress or anxiety about toy cleaning.
In what situations do toys need to be cleaned immediately?
While most minor scuffs and spots can hold out for a weekly cleaning, there are some situations in which a toy (or toys) should immediately be disinfected. They are as follows:
- Your little one has been sick: When your child comes down with an illness, any of the toys they played with directly before or during their sick time must be disinfected to prevent infection in other family members and reinfection in your little one. Remember that they were likely contagious before showing symptoms and err on the side of caution when deciding which toys need to be cleaned.
- A family member has been sick: If anyone in the house has been sick, and has touched or been near your child or their belongings, sanitizing anything that came into contact is wise.
- They were used during a play date: Even if your child and their friends are showing no signs of illness, each child who touches their toys brings with them a host of new germs from outside your home. As such, it’s wise to do a wipe-down after play dates, though a deep clean probably isn’t necessary.
- A pet decided to borrow them: If your kiddo decided to share their possessions with Rover or Snowball, they’re not destined for the squeaky toy bin, but they do need a deep cleaning to ward off the bacteria and slobber that were likely transferred to the toy during this exchange.
How can I safely and effectively clean my child’s toys?
Easy: Plastic toys and silicone / Rubber toys
- Plastic toys: This describes a huge number of hard-surfaced baby, toddler, and kid toys. Some are dishwasher safe, but that should never be assumed; check manufacturer’s instructions before attempting a run through the dishwasher. A damp cloth with a solution of mild soap and water will clean plastic toys effectively. If the toy is battery powered, make sure you remove the batteries from their compartment before cleaning the device, but do not use a damp cloth on conduits. Instead, use a small, dry scrub brush to remove debris from crevices.
- Silicone / rubber toys: Soft, squishy, and comforting to younger children, this describes many pacifiers and teething toys as well as some sensory and stacking toys common to the toddler years. Not all of these types of toys are safe for boiling water, though many are heat-safe and indicated for top shelf dishwasher cleaning; consult manufacturer instructions to determine if this is safe for individual toys. Otherwise, cleaning is as simple as a half hour soak in mild, soapy water followed by a thorough hot water rinse and air dry, or a wipe down with a solution made from equal parts water and naturally antibacterial white vinegar.
Intermediate: Wooden toys and dolls
- Wooden toys: Wood is a classic material choice for natural, durable toys, but it also has a textured surface that’s a breeding ground for dust, bacteria, and other yucky stuff. It’s particularly important that wood be cleaned properly in order to preserve its appearance and texture, but doing so isn’t exceptionally difficult. The number one rule here is no soaking, which can warp and crack wood. Minimal moisture should be used; a 1:1 water and white vinegar solution on a wrung-out cloth followed by a dusting with a soft-bristled brush to remove debris is ideal.
- Dolls: While some soft, fully fabric dolls come with machine washing instructions, this isn’t the case with many, including hard plastic dolls with soft hair which will require each to be cleaned independently. Mild soap and water and a scrub brush create a suitable “bath” for the doll, while baby shampoo and warm water are best for washing hair. For age appropriate kids, creating a “doll salon” can be a great backyard activity for a sunny day that will help to accomplish the task.
Difficult: Bath toys and soft toys
- Bath toys: Moisture creates an environment that’s hospitable to bacteria, mold, and mildew, and the time that bath toys spend exposed to both water and human germs make them especially prone to getting filthy and unusable. For that reason, it’s important to clean them every time your child bathes, including thorough washing and drying. Investing in a net bag or plastic slotted basket where toys can effectively dry after cleaning will make your life easier, but isn’t foolproof; toys should still be disinfected regularly with a dip in a solution of 1.5 tbsp of bleach to 1 gallon of warm water. If toys are cracked, discolored, or don’t seem to get clean, toss them, as they’re no longer safe for your child to use.
- Soft toys: From dolls to stuffed animals and pillows, there are many types of soft toy, and cleaning instructions vary widely; fortunately, though, most picks do include them. As a rule of thumb, it’s okay to spot clean soft toys with a solution of mild detergent and water, but should be hand-washed or machine-washed at least once a month depending on their cleaning instructions and frequency of use. Most require air drying — direct sunlight is best for this as it has UV rays which also kill bacteria — but some soft toys allow for the use of the dryer.