Assorted toys on a wood floor

Cleaning Kids Toys: Steps I Wish I Had Known

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Does your child or grandchild have a favorite toy they just can’t stand being without? If they’re like mine were, that beloved toy is covered in grime, snot, and who knows what else. When it’s time to clean it, you definitely don’t want to take a chance of ruining it. Been there. Done that.

See, I once waited until my son fell asleep to clean his favorite toy truck. Then I used the wrong product and ruined it. It’s been almost 20 years, and he still brings it up. So, to spare you that grief, let me explain what I’ve learned about how to clean toys without ruining them.

Toy Cleaning Schedule

  • Baby Toys: Given their frequent mouth contact and floor adventures, clean and sanitize these daily or every other day.
  • Plush Toys: Wash the ones cuddled at night every week or two and the rest monthly.
  • Bath Toys: Rinse after each use and give them a thorough clean weekly to prevent mold.
  • Outdoor Toys: Clean weekly, or more if they’re visibly dirty.
  • During Illness: Increase cleaning to daily to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Shared Toys on Play Dates: Disinfect before and after group play.

Disinfecting Toys without Bleach

While a bleach solution (4 teaspoons per quart of water) is recommended by the CDC, there are gentler ways to disinfect toys without bleach.

Pro Tip

Cleaning and disinfection are two separate steps. For disinfectants to work properly, you must first remove soils and grime.

  • Hydrogen peroxide: Spray or wipe them with enough 3% hydrogen peroxide to keep them wet for 10 minutes, the time required for disinfection. Rinse or wipe away the solution.
  • Vinegar and water: Spray or soak the toy with equal parts water and vinegar, letting it stay wet for 10-15 minutes. Rinse or wipe away the solution.

How to Clean Toys

If you don’t want to ruin your child’s toy like I did with my son’s truck all those years ago, match the cleaning method to the toy material. But first, here are some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s label if there is one.
  • Use white cloths to avoid transferring dye onto toys.
  • Be gentle to avoid damage.

Plastic and bath toys

  1. Washing: In the dishwasher, use the top rack and secure small toys in a mesh bag. Use the normal cycle but skip the heat for drying. In the sink, mix warm water with mild dish soap. Use a cloth or sponge for cleaning, and a soft toothbrush for tough spots.
  2. Drying: Post-wash, shake out excess water and dry with a towel or air dry.
  3. Disinfecting: Spray or wipe with 3% hydrogen peroxide, let it sit for 10 minutes, then rinse and dry.

Fabric dolls and beanie toys

  1. Spot Cleaning: Use a soft, white cloth with warm, soapy water. Blot gently, then use a clean damp cloth to remove soap residue.
  2. Full Cleaning: Soak in warm water with mild detergent, gently rub soiled areas, rinse thoroughly, and press out water without wringing.
  3. Drying: Press gently between layers of a clean towel to blot excess moisture. Then lay the toy on a towel in a well-ventilated area. Flip it over every few hours so it dries evenly.

Plush toys

Always conduct a spot test to make sure the toy won’t fade. Then follow the care label if there is one. Otherwise, machine wash on a gentle cycle in warm water using mild detergent, or hand wash in warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly. After washing, carefully press out excess water then tumble dry low or air dry, flipping it every few hours for even drying.

Wooden toys

  1. Cleaning: Wipe with warm, soapy water, using a soft brush on grime. Rinse with a clean, damp cloth.
  2. Drying: Towel dry immediately, focusing on joints and crevices.
  3. Disinfecting: Once dry, apply 3% hydrogen peroxide with a cloth, let sit for 10 minutes, then wipe and dry.
  4. Maintenance: Occasionally rub in food-grade mineral oil to protect the wood.

Electronic toys

  1. Cleaning: Turn off and remove batteries. Wipe with a slightly damp, soapy cloth. Use a toothbrush for crevices.
  2. Drying: Wipe with a dry cloth, ensuring no moisture remains.
  3. Disinfecting: Use a disinfectant wipe or a cloth damp with hydrogen peroxide, avoiding battery compartments and electronic interfaces.

Outdoor toy maintenance

  1. Cleaning: Brush off loose dirt, then wash with a sponge and soapy water.
  2. Rinsing: Use clean water or a hose.
  3. Disinfecting: Use the bleach solution or hydrogen peroxide, let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse.
  4. Drying: Air dry in a sunny, well-ventilated area.

Get Your Kids Involved

Getting children involved in cleaning their toys can be a fun and educational experience. Set up a toy wash station for them and their friends then and make it a game. Having kids help clean their toys is a great way to teach responsibility and the importance of hygiene.

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