Toys and play area surfaces can be sources of germs swapped between babies, toddlers, and adults, sometimes transmitting illness. While daycares and children's centers have their specific guidelines for toy cleanliness, you can use practical solutions to clean baby toys safely and effectively at home.
Soap and Water
Simply washing hands with soap and water is a great way to prevent spreading bacteria and viruses, and it works for toys and surfaces as well. Toys such as plastic blocks, infant rattles, and teethers can easily be cleaned in the sink using dish soap and warm water.
However, it is never safe to wash any electrical toy that can be plugged in by submerging it or placing it in soap and water. Even toys that include batteries with lights and sounds should not be cleaned in soap and water. Any water that enters the electrical parts can lead to shorts and the toy may no longer work.
Some toys may be labeled as being dishwasher safe. Infant rattles, plastic blocks, large plastic pegs, plastic shape sorter pieces, and some bath toys can be placed on the top rack of the dishwasher. The hot water and soap in the dishwasher will help sanitize and clean toys. The dishwasher is also great for certain bath toys, which can begin to develop mold and mildew over time.
Environmentally Friendly Surface Cleaners
Some cleaners have harsh chemicals that will remove germs, but many parents do not want their children to come in contact with them. Environmentally friendly cleaners include wipes and sprayable surface cleaners, which are safe for babies.
Look for baby toy cleaners the do not include dyes, are biodegradable, and are free of phthalates and parabens. Since babies and toddlers mouth toys (especially when teething), environmentally safe cleaners are preferred.
There are entire aisles in stores dedicated to disinfectant surface wipes. Surface wipes are a great way to clean plastic toys that have batteries and cannot be placed in soap and water or the dishwasher.
Wipe down the toy using a disinfectant surface wipe. Let it air-dry for several minutes before giving it to a child to play with.
For items such as pacifiers, there are also special pacifier wipes. These use food-grade sanitizers that are safe for babies who put items in their mouths.
Cleaning Stuffed Animals and Baby Dolls
Many people clean stuffed animals and baby dolls by placing these toys in the washer and dryer. But without proper care, over time some stuffed animals and baby dolls will get ruined with repeated washings. To help the toy survive machine-washing, place it in a pillowcase before laundering.
You can also use Teddy Needs a Bath, which is a large zipper bag used to wash plush toys. Stuffed animals can be placed inside the bag, then washed on a gentle cycle in a front loader washer and dryer. Read the labels on stuffed animals before washing them. Some specialty teddy bears specifically state they cannot be washed.
After washing, check for any loose eyes, seams, threads, or other attachments to ensure the stuffed animal is still safe for your child to handle.
How Play Areas Spread Germs
Kids quickly spread sickness to others simply by touching a toy or item that has germs on it, then touching their mouths or putting the toy inside their mouths. Adults and other kids can pick up viruses and bacteria this way. This can happen anywhere, especially during playdates and visits to community area playgrounds, children's museums, and daycare centers. Public places should sanitize and clean every day, but it is hard to keep up with cleaning high-traffic areas quickly and regularly, especially when they are busy.
Kids need to keep their hands clean to keep germs from spreading. Using the tips above can help parents and others clean toys to minimize the spread of germs to other kids and family members.
Berger, Kimberly P., et al. Personal Care Product Use as a Predictor of Urinary Concentrations of Certain Phthalates, Parabens, and Phenols in the HERMOSA Study. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, vol. 29, no. 1, 2018, pp. 21–32., doi:10.1038/s41370-017-0003-z
Azor-Martinez, Ernestina, et al. Effectiveness of a Hand Hygiene Program at Child Care Centers: A Cluster Randomized Trial. Pediatrics, vol. 142, no. 5, 2018, doi:10.1542/peds.2018-1245