Dr. Greene

How to Keep Toys Clean Without Using Toxic Chemicals

by Alan Greene, MS, FAAP

All parents know it’s a pain, but needs to be done. Your child’s toys get sticky and dusty and germy and they simply must be cleaned. But, what’s the best and safest method? How often should you do it? Here’s a quick guide.
First of all, it’s generally recommended that you clean your toddler's toys about once a month. But, if you’re pressed for time and your child has heaps of toys, focus on the ones that are played with most often. And, if your child is sick or has a runny nose, you may want to hide most of the toys away until he’s feeling better. It’ll save you time in the long run since you won’t need to totally disinfect everything he owns.
Here’s how to safely clean different types of toys:
Stuffed Toys and Other Textiles
  • Read the tag on stuffies and textiles to find out what cleaning methods the manufacturer recommends (or visit the manufacturer’s website).
  • If you can simply toss them in the washer, use the gentle cycle and protect stuffed animals by placing them in a pillowcase first. Use a non-toxic laundry detergent and dry using low heat. You can also leave the stuffy out in the sun to air dry - just make sure it’s not taking too long to dry since that could promote mold growth.
  • For surface cleaning, simply wipe with a damp wash cloth, air dry, and brush gently if needed. (Use a clean brush or one that’s not used on human hair, so you don’t transfer styling products to the toy.)
  • To deodorize, place the toy in a paper bag, sprinkle in baking soda, close the bag and shake until the toy is lightly covered. Let it sit for 30 minutes and gently brush off the baking soda.
  • To disinfect and kill dust mites, freeze for up to 48 hours.
Wooden Toys
  • Clean with a damp sponge and dry off immediately afterwards (too much moisture can damage wood).
  • For tougher grime, try using an alcohol soaked cotton ball and then wipe with a dry cloth.
  • If you are concerned about bacteria, spray with a 50/50 mixture of white distilled vinegar and water, wipe and dry.
  • Periodically rub unfinished wood with olive oil (once or twice a year) to keep the wood beautiful and help provide some protection.
Plastic Toys
  • Clean small toys (without batteries or electronics) using hot, soapy water.
  • Rinse off large toys outside using a bucket of hot, soapy water and a garden hose.
  • Use an old toothbrush to get dirt out of small cracks.
  • To disinfect, spray with a 50/50 mixture of white distilled vinegar and water, wipe and dry.
  • For toys with batteries or electronics, spray with white vinegar, wipe clean, and dry.
  • To speed up drying time (for toys that are prone to mold or mildew growth), use a hair dryer.
Remember, there’s no need to be obsessive about sterilizing your child’s toys, but a regular cleaning can do wonders for both extending the life of the toy and protecting your child’s health.

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Dr. Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing pediatrician, author, speaker, children’s health advocate, and father of four.

Dr. Levine

Dr. Alanna Levine is a New York based pediatrician and a mom of two children.