“How do I clean my kids’ toys?” might be one of the questions I’m asked most often. Time and again, my friends (who used to ask me if their butts looked good in their tightest clubbing outfit) are now asking me how to clean toys. Oh, friends, how the times have changed. Friends aside, a TON of community members are parents and ask me this very question. So, for all of you who will now be forever referring to this post, here’s how it is done safely, quickly and effectively. Remember that frequency is up to mom and dad. There are recommendations, however, some parents are less stringent than others. It is entirely your call, much like your parenting style.
How to Clean Plush Toys
Most plush toys come with a care label, and that should be reviewed to determine the appropriate cleaning procedure. Many will say to hand wash only, and that’s fine. However, if you are dead set on putting them in the wash, you certainly can. If it doesn’t need a wash but has just become dusty, you can quickly vacuum the fur of the toy. This is a great trick. You simply place old pantyhose over a vacuum brush attachment and vacuum the dust off the toy. If the toy does require a deeper clean there are a couple of snags you may hit along the way. Crinkle toys might not crinkle anymore, and faux fur or stuffed animal ‘hair’ may frizz up or mat never to be returned to normal.
What plush toys should not go in the washing machine?
You are welcome to risk whatever you wish, it’s the wrath of your child you need to consider. Heed these fair warnings and you should be OK. Do not machine wash if:
- The toy contains a music box
- The toy is old and/or fragile
- The toy has glued on items like sequins, ribbon etc. However, glued-on eyes can probably handle a wash
- The toy has delicate items on that can’t be removed (little outfits or accessories)
- The toy is stuffed with anything but polyester batting, like tiny foam balls or beans.
The Washing Machine
Keep in mind that a top-load washing machine, due to the agitator, may displace the batting of the animals. But with a high-efficiency washer, you’re in good shape. Regular detergent is fine, and I’d use something safe for baby i.e. dye and scent-free. Consider adding in a scoop of oxygen bleach powder to the wash if they are stained or smelly. Then, take an old pillowcase and throw the plush toys into the pillowcase. Close it up with a white pipe-cleaner, twist tie or piece of fine wire (or perhaps use a pillow cover with a zipper instead) and place in the wash. I’d recommend using a delicate or gentle wash cycle with cool or warm (not hot) water. If the water gets too hot, it can melt glued-on items (leading to a very sad child). When the wash cycle is done, pull out the toys and brush the fur with a fine-tooth comb to re-fluff it.
You have a couple of drying options too. You can place the pillowcase in the dryer on the fluff-cycle (never leave unattended) or, remove the stuffed animals and hang them to dry or dry them in the sun. Treat the toys like clothing and wash like colors together. You may want to consider washing them with towels instead of clothing just in case a toy’s colors run in the wash. Your plush toys should be in tip-top shape!
For toys that claim to be hand wash only or that fall under one of the 5 points mentioned above, simply hand wash with a mild detergent (try to use scent-free if you can). Do so by immersing a clean cloth in a mixture of dish soap and water or baby shampoo and water. Massage the mixture gently over the toy, working in a circular motion. Then, rinse the cloth well and begin to remove the soapy residue with the cloth. Let it air dry either by hanging up indoors or laying out in the sun.
How to Clean Plastic, Rubber or Silicone Toys Without Batteries
Softer plastic and rubber toys
You are best to wash them in the sink as opposed to a dishwasher since these materials are more susceptible to melting or deteriorating in hot water. To clean them, simply add a squirt of dish soap to a sink, bucket or basin and add in warm water. Then, clean the toy by wiping it with a soft cloth or an old toothbrush. Rinse well in cool water. Now, to disinfect the toys, spray the toys with a 50/50 mix of rubbing alcohol and water and let them stand for a minute. Rinse again and lay flat to dry. Clean and sanitized! I don’t believe in using chlorine bleach so this is a perfectly safe alternative. If you don’t care about the toys all that much, feel free to place them in a delicates bag, lay the bag on the top rack of the dishwasher and run through a water-only sanitizing cycle in your dishwasher (and don’t have dirty dishes in there either). It’s your call, but if the toys melt don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Hard plastic toys
Toys like rattles, Lego, Duplo, etc. can be thrown into a delicates bag and placed in the dishwasher as mentioned above.
These can go into the dishwasher (top rack, as above) or can be boiled in a pot for cleaning and sanitizing.
How to Clean Plastic, Rubber or Silicone Toys with Batteries
Whether it is battery-operated or plug-in, power toys simply cannot be immersed in water. Begin by removing the batteries and/or unplugging the toy. Then, dip a cloth in soapy water and wash the exterior of the toy. Be careful not to get any moisture near the battery box or wiring. As well, make sure that no moisture gets into the gaps between moving parts. To sanitize the toy, mix 50/50 rubbing alcohol and water in a bowl and saturate your cloth in the mixture and wring it out well. Wipe it over the ‘safe’ parts of the toy. Rubbing alcohol dries quickly, but if needed, you can wipe it off to remove the excess moisture.
How to Clean Dolls with Hair (Barbie, Ken, My Little Pony etc.)
I had multiple ‘hair toys’ when I was growing up. And to this day, I love my hair so perhaps I have my Barbies and Ponies to thank. However, I didn’t know these cleaning tips back then and they could have really helped.
For doll hair (aka thin plastic strands), here’s what you can do. Shampoo the doll’s hair using a couple of drops of dish soap or baby soap and massage into the hair, if the hair is woven into the scalp. However, if the hair is glued on, don’t bother, it will likely fall out. Then, rinse well with cool water and lay flat to dry, ideally comb to avoid tangling. If you notice the hair is seriously knotted or matted, soak the strands in a small bowl of conditioner and water overnight and then rinse out. Comb gently to remove the knots and lay flat to dry. This may sound silly, but never blow dry the hair.
You can clean these hard plastic bodies with a couple of easy tricks. To remove marks and stains, create a tiny amount of paste with oil and baking soda. With a cotton swab, apply to the stains in a circular motion, then rinse the area with a dampened cloth. Make sure you don’t remove any paint (facial features, nail polish) when doing this! For tougher stains, use a tad of nail polish remover on a cotton swab, then rinse the area well.
To disinfect these toys, create a 50/50 mix of rubbing alcohol and water in a clean spray bottle and simply mist the toy from head to toe. After a minute, wipe with a dry cloth and voila, clean and disinfected.
How to Clean Wood Toys
According to my research, wood has anti-bacterial properties. However, as a parent, I have trouble taking that at face value. So instead, soak a cloth in white vinegar and wipe the toys down occasionally. Vinegar will clean and acts as a mild disinfectant, so I consider this a great cleaning method for wooden toys. They don’t need to be cleaned very often, but if they do need a good cleanse, this is all you need to do. The vinegar smell will dissipate within minutes.
Why is Toy Cleaning Important?
There are tons of reasons, but for me, the biggest one would be to keep kids as healthy as possible. Kids are always getting sick and because they are always playing with toys (and each other), cleaning toys is crucial to keeping germs at bay, especially during the colder indoor months.
Some Quick Tips
- Clean fallen toys with a baby wipe if you are out and can’t properly clean the toy.
- For parents who want to be chemical-free, use a steam cleaner to steam clean toys, playpens, baby carriers and high chairs for easy and effective cleaning and sanitizing, wipe clean with a cloth.
- Clean baby and toddler toys once or twice weekly, since they often go in a child’s mouth and are potentially shared with other children. Children’s toys can be cleaned monthly and plush toys can be cleaned a couple times per year.