The Real Reason You Need to Clean Baby Toys
- Colin Maynard
- Written By
- Elyse Moody
“Research shows that 80 percent of cuddly toys harbor bacteria that can trigger food poisoning,” says Sarah Huff, senior manager, customer and community at BabyQuip, a company that rents children’s equipment like strollers, play yards, and more to make family travel easier and has a nontoxic detailing service for kids’ stuff. (Yes, they’ll come to your home and deep clean your car seat for you. How genius is that?) “Nothing is worse than having a sick baby on your hands, so preventing more serious illness is the goal.”
On the other hand, you don’t want to go nuts. You can’t provide a sterile environment. Babies are going to drop things on the floor, and they’re going to put things in their mouth. You can’t stop them, nor would you want to. There are just certain things you should clean often, and toys are one of them. We asked Huff to share her let’s-be-reasonable take on what to clean, how to do it, and how frequently.
Why Clean Toys
Babies’ immune systems are still developing, which means they’re more susceptible to catching bugs than adults are, explains Huff. “It may be true that a little dirt doesn’t hurt, but it’s important to protect babies by cleaning their toys regularly,” she says. “You never know what germs or viruses toys are picking up and harboring.”
How Often to Clean Toys
“A general rule is to wash slobbered-on or chewed toys daily, soft toys once per week, and hard toys every other week and up to once per month,” says Huff. Once you get into this routine, you want to stick with it even as your child ages. “Toys don’t pick up less dirt, germs, and viruses as kids get older.”
There are instances when you want to clean toys more often, she adds. When your child is sick, for one. And if a family pet likes to steal a particular toy, you’ll want to clean it frequently, too.
How to Clean Different Types of Toys
Plastic, rubber, wood, organic cotton, polyester, handknit cashmere—baby toys are made from all different types of materials, and there’s an ideal way to clean each one.
Plush or Soft Toys
“If the tag or manufacturer instructions allow it, the easiest way to wash soft toys is to toss them into the washing machine and dry on low heat,” says Huff. If the tag says to let it air-dry, lay the toy out on a rack or hang it so that air can circulate around it. Always make sure a toy is completely dry before giving it back to your child.
What if the tag says spot treat only? Handmade toys or items with more detail might specify this. “That just means don’t immerse it in water,” says Huff. She recommends applying a mixture of warm water and baby-safe detergent with a cloth, then letting it dry completely. Fragrance-free castile soap is her go-to. We also love Noodle & Boo detergent for this and so many other things.
Hard Plastic or Rubber Toys
Chances are your kid has a bin of dinosaurs, action figures, or Legos—solid plastic toys without holes. Huff recommends them soaking in warm soapy water for 30 minutes then wiping with a soft cloth. After that, dry them off with an absorbent towel or let them air dry fully.
Hollow plastic toys that have holes—like Sophie la Girafe and her ilk, as well as bath toys—require more attention, says Huff. That’s because water can get stuck inside and grow mildew or germs. After you soak them the way you would other plastic toys, “squeeze the water/soap solution in and out several times,” she instructs. “If the hole is large enough, you can use a pipe cleaner or cotton swab to help loosen and remove any gunk.” One of those tiny brushes that comes with baby bottles works too. Then make sure it gets completely dry.
Want to keep water and gunk out and avoid the hassle? “Put a dollop of hot glue over the hole,” Huff says. Or avoid toys with holes altogether. (Sorry, Soph.)
Obvious, maybe, but just to be safe: Don’t submerge toys that play music, dance, or vibrate (aka anything that plugs in or requires batteries) in water. Instead, wipe them down with a damp cloth. Then, says Huff, “use cotton swabs to get into the little crevices.” If a toy is super dirty, you can wipe it with a mixture of warm water and mild soap. “Just make sure to get all of the soap wiped completely off,” says Huff.
Easy: Just wipe them with a damp cloth and let them dry. Do be cautious of getting the wood too wet, though: “If the wood gets saturated, you’ll want to check for any splintering after it’s fully dried,” says Huff. It’s also a good idea to check wood toys for splinters periodically. It’s unlikely, but dropping and banging around can cause splinters too.
Cleaning Products for Baby Toys
Use only nontoxic, baby-safe cleaning products. Unscented castile soap, like Dr. Bronner’s, is BabyQuip’s go-to.
Huff’s secret weapon? A handheld steamer. “It can be a parent's best friend for cleaning and disinfecting toys,” she says. “Steam cleaners can get up to 220 degrees Fahrenheit and when used correctly, kill 99 percent of germs.” A steamer is great for other things you need to clean but can’t remove to put in the washing machine, like bassinet mesh or sofa cushions.
Can Baby Toys Go in the Washing Machine?
Some can. Check the tag or contact the manufacturer to be sure. Huff recommends putting stuffies in a mesh laundry bag or pillowcase to protect them and keep all the parts together.
Can Baby Toys Go in the Dishwasher?
PSA: Sophie and her friends like FanFan the Fawn should not go in the dishwasher or sterilizer.
“Some hard plastic toys can go in the dishwasher, but again, you’ll need to read the tag or contact the manufacturer to see if this is allowed with their products,” advises Huff. “The last thing you want is to open the dishwasher to find a bunch of melted plastic toys!”
It also depends on your dishwasher. If it’s a newer European model like a Bosch or Miele, it most likely uses condensation drying, which means that hot air rising off dishes after the rinse cycle dries them instead of an internal heater. These types of dishwashers won’t melt plastic baby toys on the top or bottom rack, so go ahead and put them wherever they’ll fit.
If you have an older dishwasher or one made by an American manufacturer, it may use an internal heater to dry dishes instead—that gets a lot hotter. With these dishwashers, it’s important to put plastic and silicon baby toys (and things like baby spoons and food storage containers) securely on the top rack only. If they’re on the bottom, or if they fall down there, there’s a good chance they’ll melt.