Are you looking at your baby’s toys and wondering how they got so grubby? You know they need to be cleaned, but where do you start? What do you use, and how often should you clean baby toys?
Luckily for me, my child’s favorite toy was a soft-bodied baby doll. It was machine washable, so when I could get away with it, I would sneak it away and pop it through the machine and dryer while she was asleep. Voila — one nice, clean doll.
It’s not always that easy though. Let’s look at why we need to clean baby toys, the materials they are made from, and the best way to clean them.
Why Should You Clean Baby Toys?
Babies love playing with toys, but just think about what they do with them. They throw them around the floor, drool on them, spit up on them, and after all this, they put them in their mouths.
These toys may harbor germs that could make your baby sick. This is especially the case if another family member has been ill recently and handled the toy. Or you might have had a playdate where other babies have played with the toys and left germs behind.
Regular cleaning of baby toys is essential to ensure bacteria can’t take hold. This is especially the case with soft toys, like teddy bears and spongy toys (1).
How to Clean Baby Toys
Different toys will present different challenges when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting them. Let’s explore some of these in more detail.
1. Teddies and Soft Toys
Fabric toys can get dirty quickly and end up housing nasty germs. Check the label on the toy to help you decide which is the best way to clean them.
Some will go through the laundry, and others won’t. If you notice your baby spit up on a teddy, clean it right away with a damp cloth and a mild soap solution.
If they are machine-washable, make sure you use a gentle laundry detergent that’s suitable for babies. You could add a cup of vinegar to help deal with bacteria.
For the toys that can’t be laundered, lightly hand wash in mild soap, and then air dry in the sun. Alternatively, these toys can be run through a low-heat dryer cycle after hand washing. In either case, heat helps to kill germs. As with machine washing, disinfect them regularly.
2. Bath Toys
Bathtime is fun for babies, but they inevitably pee in the bathwater, and you pray that’s where it stops. Then there is the dust and grime you wash off their little bodies. Those plastic ducks and other toys are swimming around in all that.
You get the picture. This is a perfect breeding ground for nasty microbes and mold. These toys must be washed and dried every time they’re used (2).
Wash them after every bath, and hang them to dry in a net bag or an open basket that allows the water to drain. You could also dip them in a bleach solution at a ratio of 1.5 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water to disinfect them.
Some moms add a drop of hot glue to the “drain hole” in bath toys to prevent water from getting inside them. While this works great, you also have to ensure that your child doesn’t chew or suck on the toy, as you wouldn’t want them consuming the glue.
In my opinion, bath toys are the most challenging baby toys to clean. My child had a few bath toys that I eventually threw away because my best efforts to clean them failed. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out. Your baby’s safety is more important than saving an inexpensive bath toy.
3. Plastic Toys
Plastic toys are a favorite with all babies. They come in many shapes and sizes, from a simple rattle to a battery-powered toy with lights and sounds.
Some simple plastic toys are dishwasher safe, which is an excellent way to clean them. Otherwise, wipe them down daily with some hot water and dish detergent.
If it’s a toy with a battery compartment, remove the batteries before wiping them down. Use an old, dry toothbrush to clean the battery compartment.
4. Silicone and Rubber Toys
These toys are soft, squishy, light, and flexible for your baby to play with. They can be easily handled, but they also pick up a fair amount of germs.
These materials cannot be boiled, as heat changes their texture. They should be wiped down with a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water, left for a few minutes, then rinsed and air-dried.
They can also be cleaned by soaking them in warm soapy water with some added baby shampoo or mild detergent or disinfectant. After about 30 minutes, rinse them in clean water, and pop them in the dish rack to dry.
5. Wooden Toys
Cleaning toys made from wood requires some care. You don’t want to get the wood too wet, as it can warp as it dries out. Wood is also porous, so moisture can get trapped and become a source of mold.
Use a damp cloth with a 50/50 vinegar and water solution. Scrub gently with a soft brush to remove any dirt from the grooves.
These can be tricky ones to clean unless, like my little one’s favorite toy, you can launder them. There are many different materials that might need different types of cleaning.
You can wipe down plastic doll bodies with detergent and warm water. You can wash doll hair gently with baby shampoo. Your child might find this a fun activity to help with.
You can also wash fabric dolls or doll clothes with warm water and baby shampoo and allow them to dry out completely.
When using a disinfectant or cleaning product for toys and other household surfaces, it is crucial to ensure it will not harm your baby. The AAP offers some safety suggestions, including comments about the use of bleach. It appears that hydrogen peroxide is the least toxic cleaner, resulting in the least amount of adverse reactions.
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
How Often Should I Clean Them?
Toys need to be cleaned when you can see they’re getting dirty. But even if they look good, you should clean them at least once a week and disinfect them monthly.
However, if your baby or others have been sick, if other children have been playing with them, or if your fur baby has licked them, disinfect them immediately.
This will kill off germs and bacteria that regular soap and water won’t eliminate. That way, you can reduce the risk of your baby or other family members being reinfected.
You can use the bleach solution mentioned above to disinfect baby toys. But remember to clean baby toys with soap and water first to remove dirt and dust, then wipe them with the disinfectant (3).