How To Clean Your Kid's Toys, And Why You Really, Really Should

Natalie Stechyson

If you're a parent, chances are toys have taken over most of your house.

You probably had visions of a clean and contained play area, and maybe you even bought one of those organizational toy shelves (or constructed a DIY version at 11 p.m. on an "I refuse to live like this any longer" bender), but chances are that by about 7 a.m. your house looks like the aftermath of a hurricane blowing through a Toys "R" Us.

Well, it's not just your home that needs cleaning at the end of the day. Toys are hotbeds for germs that can cause colds and flus, according to WebMD, and everything from blocks to dolls are susceptible. Plush toys such as stuffed animals, board books, and plastic toys are particularly bad offenders, according to researchers with A Secure Life.

Researchers have found that influenza can thrive on plastic toys for up to 24 hours. And a recent study warned that bath toys are teeming with bacteria and mould.

So. That all seems pretty disgusting. But before you start making piles and lighting fires, we have some good news: cleaning your kid's toys and play areas is actually pretty straightforward.

We compiled some easy tips for you (and your sanity) below.

1. Wash stuffed animals in the washing machine

Your kid's precious loveys are basically manhandled all day and drooled on all night. So it's no surprise that plush toys were near the top of the list for the germiest kids items in a household in research from A Secure Life (only strollers and soothers topped them).

WebMD recommends you simply toss stuffed toys in the washing machine (and do it weekly during cold and flu season). You should always wash stuffed toys on gentle, inside a mesh laundry bag, and avoid a "hot" wash, which may dissolve the glue on any glued-on items (like eyes and noses), according to Mama's Laundry Talk. And hang them to dry.

But keep in mind that not all stuffed toys can go in the washing machine, including those with a music box and those with styrofoam balls inside. Don't worry, though, Mama's Laundry Talk has tips for hand-washing those toys, too.

2. Wash plastic toys with soap and water

"Plastic toys such as Legos can be washed with soap and water and board game surfaces can be wiped down with disinfecting wipes," Dr. Neil Schachter, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai in New York City, told WebMD.

Plastic toys can even be run through the dishwasher if they're made completely of plastic, according to Fisher-Price.

"Load toys in the silverware holder, a colander, or a lingerie bag to keep them from falling off the racks, use the gentlest cycle, and allow to air-dry."

3. Wash wood toys and board books with a 50/50 mix

Wipe, but don't dunk, wood toys with a cloth dipped in either a 50/50 mix of distilled white vinegar and water, or just mild soapy water, Fisher-Price says.

"Toys made from natural wood will warp and become rough if dunked in water," they explained.

Stand the books up and separate the pages while they air dry.

4. Wash bath toys outside of the bath

Sorry, but you can't assume that your kid's nightly bubble bath is keeping his or her bath toys squeaky clean. In fact, the opposite is true, as researchers recently found "slimy biofilms" of bacteria inside each bath toy they examined after they had been used in water.

According to Martha Stewart, "a monthly wash will help keep bacteria and mildew at bay." Stewart recommends adding 1/2 cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water, letting the toys soak for 10 minutes, giving them a scrub, squeezing and releasing the bath toys to suck the solution up inside them, squeezing it all back out, and letting them air dry.

5. Don't forget the play room (or bedroom) itself

OK, so now most of your kid's toys are clean, but the play room is probably still a germy mess. Don't forget: kids touch everything.

"Use disinfectant wipes to clean the walls, the handles of drawers, toy chests and cupboards, light switches, nightstands, clock radios, reading glasses, computer keyboards, and desk surfaces," Dr. Paul Horowitz, the medical director of Pediatric Clinics at Legacy Health System in Portland, Ore., told WebMD. "This will kill germs on contact."

Carpets can harbour a ton of germs, and Schachter told WebMD that children's rooms should instead make use of small area rugs that can be washed regularly. If you do have carpets, Better Homes and Gardens recommends vacuuming weekly.

6. Do it all on the reg

You'll want to clean your kid's toys and play areas fairly regularly, especially during cold and flu season, according to WebMD.

"Don't go crazy scrubbing your baby's toys and other play equipment too frequently, but be sure to give them a good once-over when you notice they're particularly gummed up with food or saliva," Fisher-Price explained.

Everyday toys, such as those you carry in a diaper bag or your kid's favourites, should be washed weekly, Fisher-Price noted. And of course, toys should be washed if your kid is recovering from an illness or after a play date.

The good news? When your kid is old enough, they can help with the cleaning! Better Homes and Gardens has some great tips to get kids involved with cleaning their own rooms.

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