Toy Hygiene 101: Keeping Toys Clean, Safe, and Germ-Free

Girl playing with dolls in front of dollhouse

Let's talk about a topic that might not be the most glamorous but is absolutely crucial: cleaning toys. We all know that kids are magnets for messes and germs, and their beloved toys are no exception. But fear not! We're diving into the world of toy hygiene and sharing some practical tips to keep those toys clean and safe!

Why is Toy Hygiene Important?

Imagine your child's favorite stuffed animal becoming a cozy home for dust mites or their cherished building blocks harboring their next virus. Beyond the "ick" factor, maintaining toy hygiene helps keep our kids healthy. We all know that our sweet babies put toys in their mouths and that our older kids constantly touch their noses and faces after handling toys. So making proper cleaning a critical defense against potential infections and illnesses.

What Are the Risks of Dirty Toys?

Dirty toys can be a breeding ground for all sorts of unwelcome guests. Dust, allergens, bacteria, and even mold can accumulate on toys that aren't cleaned regularly. These culprits can lead to allergies, respiratory issues, skin irritations, and even more severe infections in some cases. By prioritizing toy hygiene, you're safeguarding your child's well-being.

How Often Should You Clean Your Toys?

Okay, so not that we’ve maybe freaked you out just a tad with all the germ talk, it’s time for some good news: toys don’t need to be constantly sanitized to be safe. As Dr. Wills-Karp, professor of Environmental Health and Engineering, says, “sanitizing every surface in your home to an extreme is probably not a good thing” as it can interfere with immune system development. So, you can ignore the tips to bleach your kids’ toys every other day (whew!) But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need some attention!

Different toys will have different cleaning needs, depending on how often they’re played with, how your child plays with them, and the type of toy.

  • Bath toys should be cleaned at least once a week to avoid mold. (And it’s best to avoid bath toys with holes altogether as the inside always becomes a harbor for mold.)
  • Indoor toys that are played with daily might need to be cleaned every two to four weeks, or more often as you notice visible dirt or other residue. Toys that only get played with a few times per month can probably go several months between cleanings.
  • Stuffed animals should usually be cleaned as needed, aka when you start to notice some dirt and or not-so-fresh smells. However, stuffies that your child sleeps with or plays with constantly might need some special attention; they should typically be washed once every week or two, about as often as you’d wash their sheets.
  • Outdoor toys may need to be cleaned once a week, depending on how they are stored.

Of course, if a toy is visibly dirty, if your child has put it in their mouth, or if your child has been sick, go ahead and clean it.

How to Clean Indoor Toys

Always start by checking the manufacturer's cleaning recommendations, as some toys might have specific instructions. But in general, these cleaning guidelines work for most toys:

How to Clean Indoor Toys

Many simple, solid plastic toys, such as dollhouse or play kitchen accessories, are top-rack dishwasher safe. This is one of the easiest methods, so it’s our go-to whenever possible. Of course, if the toy has batteries or if water could get trapped inside of it, the dishwasher is a no-go. In this case, it’s best to wipe it down with a child-safe disinfecting wipe or a solution of water and gentle soap. Let air dry, and it’s good to go!

How to clean plush toys

Many stuffed animals are machine washable – just be sure to double-check the manufacturer’s tag. From there, you can wrap it up in a knotted pillow case or mesh laundry bag to protect it. Wash on a gentle cycle in cool water, and then toss it in the dryer on low. Make sure it gets completely dry to avoid mildewy smells! If it isn’t machine washable, you can vacuum it to remove dust buildup and spot clean with a damp rag and gentle soap as needed.

How to clean wooden toys

Wooden toys like blocks and train sets are usually easy to clean as long as you keep one caveat in mind: don’t soak them! Soaking can cause the wood to absorb too much water, causing permanent warping. Instead, we recommend washing with a 1:4 solution of water and vinegar or castile soap. For more details, refer to our guide on How to Clean Wooden Toys.

How to Clean Large Outdoor Toys

Large outdoor toys, such as swings, slides, and playhouses, are more exposed to the elements, so dirt and grime do build up over time. And sandboxes are their own thing altogether! Here’s how to can keep them all clean and sanitary:

How to clean swing sets, playhouses, & climbers

Start by giving them a thorough rinse with a hose to remove loose dirt and debris. Then, do a quick scan for any areas that need extra attention (bird poop, anyone?). Use a mixture of water and dish soap to scrub the extra-grimy surfaces with a soft brush. Don't forget to pay attention to crevices where dirt might hide. Rinse well and allow the toys to dry in the sun.

How to clean a sandbox

Without proper care, sandboxes can be breeding grounds for some pretty icky microbes…but never fear. You can keep them safe and fun for your little ones with a little maintenance. First, be sure that your sandbox stays covered when not in use. Most importantly, this prevents stray cats and other wild animals from using it as a litter box (blech!). It also keeps the sand from getting soaked in the rain, creating an environment for bacterial and fungal growth.

Rake through the sand each week it gets used to find and remove any harmful substances like animal droppings. As long as your sandbox is being used regularly, it’s a good idea to sanitize your sand once or twice a month. After removing toys and other foreign objects, use a pump sprayer filled with distilled vinegar or a 1:1 solution of water and bleach to completely saturate the sand. You’ll want to rake and turn the sand 3-4 times to ensure that all of it gets saturated. Then, let air dry for one to two days, raking and turning a couple of times to ensure all the sand is completely dry. It is a bit work-intensive, but it’ll keep your little one safe and sound. Finally, it’s best to completely replace sand once every one to two years.

Storage and Organization

Once those toys are squeaky clean, you can help keep them that way with a good storage system! Storage solutions like bins, baskets, and shelves help keep toys organized and off the floor. Teach your little ones to clean up after playtime, putting toys back in their designated spots. Need a little more inspiration?

Finally, regularly go through toys to declutter, donating any that your child has outgrown and discarding any that are broken or beyond cleaning. By focusing on a manageable amount of high-quality toys, you’ll lessen your own cleaning load and help your child engage in meaningful play. Not sure what counts as a “high-quality” toy? Get some ideas with our selection of indoor and outdoor toys designed to encourage five essential types of play: imaginative, cognitive, social, creative, and active play!