Safe and Sanitized: How to Clean Kids’ Toys like a Pro

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As parents, we know how attached children get to their toys but we also know those Lego, bath toys, and wooden blocks can also harbor germs, allergens, and even mold. Cleaning toys is essential for maintaining a safe and healthy play environment, but you also want to ensure the cleaning methods don’t harm the toys or your child.

In this guide, I cover safe methods to clean kids’ toys and proper steps for disinfection, plus I share a few pointers to get your kids involved in cleaning their toys so they look forward to it.

Understanding the Importance of Toy Cleaning

So much playtime happens on the floor, which means your kids’ toys spend a lot of time on the same surface as your shoes and pets. Not surprisingly, toys accumulate dirt, grime, and bacteria. If they’re shared among more than one child, they’ll pick up a variety of other germs, too. That includes cold and flu viruses, gastrointestinal illnesses, and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection).

How Often Should You Clean Kids’ Toys?

The more often your child plays with a toy, the more often it needs to be cleaned. The general guidelines which follow are for toys handled by individual, healthy children. Any time your child is ill, it’s important to clean their toys once they’ve recovered. Toys that multiple children share also need to be cleaned more often to prevent the spread of illness.

  • Baby Toys: Toys which babies put in their mouths or frequently drop on the floor collect a variety of germs, making it important to clean and sanitize them at least every other day.
  • Plush Toys: Plush toys collect dirt and germs. If your child has allergies or a cold, these toys often get coated with phlegm and mucus, too. Wash those your child sleeps with every week or two. Clean others as needed, or monthly if your child has allergies.
  • Bath Toys: Rinse bath toys after each use and clean them thoroughly once a week to remove soap residue and prevent mold growth. Shake or squeeze excess moisture from toys after rinsing or cleaning so they do not develop mold inside. If you see mold in the toy, immediately discard it.
  • Outdoor Toys: Toys that your child plays with outside, like sand toys, balls, and ride-on toys, can collect dirt and germs from the environment. Clean these toys at least once a week, or more often if they are visibly dirty.
  • Toys During Illness: When your child is sick or has been playing with other sick children, it’s essential to clean their toys more frequently. Disinfect high-touch toys and wash plush toys during and after illnesses to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Toys Shared on Play Dates: On special occasions, like playdates or parties with many children, it’s a good idea to disinfect toys before and after the event to reduce the spread of illness.

A Safe Approach to Disinfection

To disinfect toys, the CDC recommends using 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of room temperature water then allowing 1 minute of visibly wet contact time before rinsing or wiping away the solution. Not everyone is comfortable using bleach, however, so the methods below recommend other safe ways to clean and disinfect children’s toys based on their materials and construction.

Cleaning and Sanitizing Different Toy Types

Each type of toy requires a tailored cleaning approach to ensure optimal results. Before you begin, however, there are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s label if there is one.
  • Use white cloths and towels to avoid transferring dye onto toys.
  • Avoid hard scrubbing, twisting, and wringing toys which may lead to damage.

Plastic and bath toys

In the dishwasher: To wash plastic toys in the dishwasher, place large toys between the dishwasher tines and add smaller toys to a mesh bag so they stay put. Select the normal or sanitizing cycle with heated drying. Squeeze or shake out each toy to remove excess moisture as it comes out of the dishwasher then towel or air dry the exterior.

In the sink: Create a cleaning solution by combining warm water with a small amount of mild dish soap. Use a cloth or sponge dipped into the cleaning solution to wipe the toy exterior, scrubbing grimy spots with a soft toothbrush as needed. Rinse the toy under running water or use a damp cloth to remove the soap residue, then towel dry it.

Disinfecting: Once cleaned, you can disinfect plastic toys by spraying or wiping them with 3% hydrogen peroxide until they’re visibly wet. Let the peroxide stay wet on the surface for 10 minutes then rinse it away and towel or air dry the toy. This step is optional but can add an extra layer of protection against germs.

Fabric dolls and beanie toys

Spot clean fabric toys with a soft, white cloth dipped in warm, soapy water. Gently blot the soiled area without rubbing to avoid spreading the stain or damaging the fabric. Blot again with a clean, damp cloth to remove the soap residue and let the toy dry.

To clean the entire doll or beanie toy, fill a basin with warm water and mild detergent. Let it soak briefly, then gently rub soiled areas with a clean cloth. Avoid excessive scrubbing, wringing, or twisting to preserve the fabric and stuffing. Rinse the toy with clean water until no soap remains. Press gently to remove excess water, then use a thick towel to absorb surface moisture. Dry the toy on a towel or rack in a well-ventilated area, flipping it periodically for even drying.

Plush toys 

Follow the care label on your child’s plush toys for washing instructions. You can hand or machine wash sturdy plush toys which don’t have electronic parts or delicate embellishments. Always conduct a spot test for colorfastness first to prevent damage. (See also, How to Wash Stuffed Animals.)

Illustrated infographic explaining methods to clean kids' plush toys

Wooden toys

Cleaning: Use warm, soapy water and a soft cloth to wipe the toy, avoiding saturating it. Use a soft brush as needed to dislodge grime, but avoid harsh scrubbing. Rinse the toy with a clean, damp cloth to remove soap residue and immediately towel dry it, including the joints and crevices. Do not let wooden toys soak in water or remain wet for extended periods.

Disinfecting: You can use 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect wooden toys, but do not use higher concentrations. Be sure to spot test a small, hidden area to ensure the hydrogen peroxide does not lighten the color or damage the surface. Then spray or wipe the entire toy with peroxide until it is visibly damp but not soaking wet. Let this sit on the surface for 10 minutes to disinfect, then wipe off any excess with a clean, damp cloth. Towel dry the toy immediately.

Electronic toys 

Cleaning: Before cleaning, turn off or unplug electronic toys and remove batteries if present. Wipe the exterior using a warm, soapy rag, and gently clean crevices and around sticky buttons with a soft toothbrush. Use a clean, damp cloth to remove soap residue—avoid abrasive materials or harsh cleaners.

Disinfecting: After cleaning, wipe the surface with a disinfectant wipe or cloth dampened with 3% hydrogen peroxide. Let the solution sit for 10 minutes then wipe it away with a clean, damp cloth and allow the toy to air-dry.

For battery compartments: Clean battery contacts and visible corrosion with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Let it dry before inserting new batteries.

Outdoor toy maintenance

Although sunlight helps keep germs on outdoor toys under control, it’s still important to clean them occasionally, especially if your child has been ill or multiple children use the toy.

  1. Remove loose dirt, leaves and debris with a cloth or brush.
  2. Use a cleaning solution of warm water with a small amount of mild dish soap. Dip a sponge or cloth into the solution and scrub the toys to thoroughly remove grime.
  3. Rinse the toys with clean water to remove soap residue. You can use a hose or a clean, damp cloth for this.
  4. To disinfect outdoor toys, get them visibly wet with a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of cool water, or with 3% hydrogen peroxide, and allow them to remain saturated for 10 minutes. Rinse the toys again with a hose or clean, damp cloth.
  5. Air dry outdoor toys in a sunny, well-ventilated area.

Get Your Kids Involved in Toy Cleaning

Getting children involved in cleaning their toys can be a fun and educational experience. When they’re involved, they’re also less likely to complain about going without their toys while they dry. Of course, it’s important to provide adult supervision even when kids are cleaning toys themselves. Here are three suggestions to make the process engaging:

  • Turn it into a game: Kids love to play cleaning games, so consider setting a challenge or timer to see how quickly they can wash and dry their toys. You can also create rewards like stickers or small treats for sticking with the task.
  • Play pretend: Encourage kids to play pretend “toy spa” or “toy wash” (like a car wash), giving their toys a pampering trip or good wash.
  • Make it social: Have friends bring their toys over for a shared day of toy cleaning. Set up a toy washing station outside in a kid-sized sink or basin, provide mild soap, a hose, and a stack of cloths and towels, and let the kids have fun.

With the right methods and a little time, you can prevent the spread of germs without worrying about damage from cleaning your kids’ toys.

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