Let's face it: Your child's toys are their most prized possessions, often by his or her side 24/7. That means they get played with, tossed around, slept with, chewed on and who knows what else? Before long, that beautiful, pristine teddy bear looks like a gnarly mess. Besides the visible dirt and grime, toys can harbor germs, allergens or worse, mold.
Different toys require different cleaning methods not only to get them clean, but to keep them looking and working their best. Below, our Good Housekeeping Cleaning Lab recommends how — and how often — to clean and kill germs on toys to help keep your children safe.
How often should I clean toys?
How frequently toys need cleaning depends on how loved they are (a.k.a how much they get played with). These are general guidelines for when your child is healthy. It's always important to clean and sanitize toys more frequently when your child is ill or has the flu and to do it all again once they've recovered.
Hard plastic and bath toys are the easiest to maintain and should be cleaned and sanitized weekly if they are played with daily.
Plush toys are often machine washable and dry-able, so it's easy to launder them once a week (especially if children sleep with them), every other week, or as needed. Freshen and spot clean non-washable plush toys when they need it.
Electronic toys are only safe for surface cleaning and should get a sanitizing wipe down weekly and always whenever a child is sick.
Baby toys that are the most likely to be put in a child's mouth and dropped on the floor are the ones that need the most frequent attention. Clean these every one to two days. Others can be done weekly.
Can I disinfect toys with vinegar?
In a word, no. Vinegar is a great household grease cutter and limescale remover and while it can kill some germ strains, it's not powerful enough to reach the sanitizing and disinfecting levels required to be recognized and registered by the EPA. You are better off just washing toys in hot sudsy water to clean them.
If you are looking for a more natural, plant-based alternative to chemical disinfectants, products like Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes, kill germs with thymol, a component of thyme oil. They are EPA registered, but keep in mind that they work more slowly than traditional disinfecting wipes and the surface needs to stay visibly wet for 10 minutes to be the most effective.
How to clean bath toys and plastic toys
Solid plastic toys, like rubber rings, animal figures and building blocks and bricks can easily be cleaned in your dishwasher's top rack. Here's how:
Nestle large toys securely between the tines in the rack and put small toy pieces into a mesh bag to keep them from jostling around with the forceful water spray.
Select the normal or sanitizing cycle and heated dry and be sure to thoroughly air or towel dry any toys that may come out of the dishwasher still wet.
You can also disinfect or sanitize all colorfast plastic baby and children's toys with:
Clorox or Lysol wipes.
A cloth wet with a a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution.
1/2 cup chlorine bleach and one gallon of water.
Be sure to keep the toy's surface wet for at least 10 seconds to sanitize with a wipe (or for the time recommended on the product's label) and for five minutes to disinfect with the bleach and water solution and let it air dry. Always make a fresh bleach solution each time. While these are all safe ways to clean, sanitize and disinfect baby and children's toys, after air drying, you should always give them another thorough warm water rinse and let them air dry again. This will remove any remnants of the cleaning solution.
Keep in mind: Bath toys with holes in the bottom are particularly problematic. When water gets trapped inside, mold grows. Even mesh toy caddies may not allow enough air to circulate to completely dry the toys inside. It's safest to avoid using hollow toys with holes — even rubber duckies — in the bathtub, but if you do, make sure to vigorously shake or squeeze out as much water as you can and allow them to thoroughly air dry after each use. If you ever see mold inside a toy or mold comes out when you shake or squeeze it, immediately toss the toy out.
How to clean plush toys in the washer
Colorfast, plain stuffed animals and fabric books are usually safe to clean in your washing machine. Sturdy plush toys can be washed and dried on the sanitizing cycles, if your machines have them, but many plush toys come with care labels, so it's a good idea to check how the manufacturer recommends cleaning it, especially if the toy is new. Here's how to clean 'em in the washer:
First, put plush toys in a pillowcase to protect them and knot the top.
Select the gentle cycle, warm water, and a slow spin.
Dry the toy (in the pillowcase) in your dryer on a low-heat setting. Or, if your dryer has a rack, take the toy out of the pillowcase and set it on the rack to dry without tumbling.
For a gentler approach, use a hair dryer on low heat and speed settings. When the teddy reaches the just-damp stage, switch to the hair dryer's medium setting to fluff up the fur.
Keep in mind: Never wash plush toys with built-in battery packs, noise makers or other metal parts, as the water may damage them. Make sure all decorations and buttons are securely attached, any rips and holes are repaired.
How to clean plush toys that can't be washed
Some toys can only stand up to hand washing. Before tossing a toy in the washer, check the colorfastness of all fabrics and trims on the toy with a drop of water. If the color bleeds when you blot the drop with a paper towel, don't machine wash it. Spot clean it instead. You'll also want to hand wash delicate stuffed toys that can only handle surface cleaning. Here's how to hand-wash and spot clean stuffed toys:
Dip a cloth in a warm sudsy solution and go over the entire toy.
Rinse with a cloth that you've dipped in clear water and wrung out well.
Allow the toy to air dry or use a hair dryer to help speed drying and fluff the fur.
Finally, to eliminate bacteria, dust mites and other allergens from plush toys without washing them, go over them slowly with a garment steamer, then vacuum the toy thoroughly with your vacuum's upholstery attachment.
How to clean electronic toys
Just like your TV's remote control, electronic toys can usually only take surface cleaning. Start by turning off and disconnecting the toy or removing any batteries (but replace the battery compartment cover) before cleaning. Here's how:
With a clean cloth dipped in warm soapy water and well wrung out, wipe the toy to remove any dirt and grime.
Make an extra pass over sticky spots, around buttons, and in crevices, being careful not to let any liquid seep into the electrical components.
Rinse with a clean damp, well-wrung cloth, and air dry.
To kill bacteria and viruses on the surface, use a disinfecting wipe, an alcohol wipe, or dip a clean cloth in a mix of four teaspoons of chlorine bleach to one quart of water. Wring the cloth well and wipe the toy.
Make sure the surface remains wet for five minutes or the time required on the wipe's label and let it air dry. If this toy is likely to wind up in your child's mouth, rinse it well with a damp clean cloth and let it air dry again.
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