I was a cleaning expert long before I was a mother. For the 12 years I had spent in my expertise role before having my daughter, I would often field questions from concerned parents asking how they could clean their toys. I could easily provide answers to them, but it was only when I had my own child that I truly understood parents’ deep-rooted need to understand how to clean toys properly. Firstly, our kids become utterly attached to certain toys and second, E V E R Y T H I N G goes into their mouths. And what goes into their mouths eventually goes into mine. If she’s sick, so am I. While I don’t consider myself a germophobe and believe our bodies need exposure to all kinds of germs (er, Covid aside) to build and maintain an effective immune system, there are certainly lines I will draw. Many parents pass toys down between their own children or hand them off to friends or family with younger kids. My friends gave me several of their favorite toys they kept for me, and you better believe I cleaned them well. When maintained, they’ll last! I’m excited to be partnering with VTech and LeapFrog to share my best tips for how to keep toys clean and make playtime healthier for your family. We have plenty of these toys at home so I know the ins and outs of them intimately. Since there are so many categories of toys, I’m going to highlight a selection of these two brands’ toys and categorize them by their unique cleaning challenges.
A few quick tips right off the top:
1. Plush toys that do NOT have batteries or special appliques or fabrics can generally be machine washed (we place ours inside a delicates bag) and machine dried on the lowest possible setting. Check the care label or manufacturer’s website to be sure.
2. How often to clean something depends on how frequently the toy is used, how dingy it looks and if you’ve been in a situation where the toy requires immediate cleaning (e.g. the toy was just tossed around in the sand pit for an hour).
3. You want to go for scent-free, gentle solutions wherever possible.Vinegar and unscented dish soap or castille soap are great to use.
4. DIY solution recipe:for general toy cleaning, you can use a solution of 2 cups water to ½ tsp dish soap. Wiping a toy clean with vinegar can also work for everyday cleaning - the vinegar smell should dissipate within a few minutes.
5. For disinfecting, you can get a nontoxic toy cleaner of your choice or you can make a bleach solution (like what they do at daycare). Personally, I don’t use bleach at home but this is entirely up to you. The homemade bleach solution should never be mixed with other cleaners and the recipes: 10 ml (2 tsp) bleach per 1 liter(4 cups) of water as a disinfectant. The toy will require 2 minutes of exposure time, and can be rinsed or wiped clean after.
6. Keep toys out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources
7. Remove batteries from toys if they won’t be used for an extended period of time. It’s good practice to empty the batteries out before storing toys for the next child, or before cleaning.
8. Don’t expose battery-operated toys to moisture or liquid
9. Make sure plush toys are completely dry before use to avoid mold and mildew
Rattles and teethers Time does fly. Mine are long since packed up as my kid has her full set of chompers, but when this was all the rage in our house, I would remember thinking about how gross these are since all they do is collect drool and sticky stuff that attaches to drool. When our rattles and teethers looked, well, rattled, here’s how I’d clean them. Solid, no batteries If they were solid - as in no holes - and no batteries, I would place them on the top rack of a dishwasher inside a dishwasher accessory basket or a delicates bag, which is perfect for corralling small items. Run on a regular cycle with other dishes. Battery operated, or air holes Looking at a toy like the VTech Twist & Hug Koala Rattle, it has battery casing and an on/off switch that can easily have liquid seep in (avoid these areas when wiping). I would take a cloth dipped in white vinegar, wring it out well, and wipe the toy down. Vinegar is great for removing sticky build up and also as a general cleaner with the ability to kill some germs. If you feel you need to disinfect a toy like this, you can use the soap and water solution above to clean first, and follow up with the bleach solution or a nontoxic disinfectant. Personally, I like to follow disinfectants with a wipe of clean water and a clean cloth to rinse product off the surface. If any detailed cleaning needed to take place, for example there was a build up of dirt around the on/off switch, you can use a lightly moistened cotton swab to clean those grimy areas.
Battery operated toys with many buttons
My daughter began playing with the VTech Sort & Discover Activity Cube at daycare and soon after, she got one for her first birthday. It was a fast favourite and one that still gets trotted out when friends or little cousins visit. Another example of a toy like this would be the Touch & Swipe Baby Phone or the LeapFrog 100 Animals Book. This category of toy does need a little extra love, and I would chunk it in with sit-to-stand toys or battery operated learning tables in terms of cleaning methods, like the Explore and Write Activity Desk (which we got for Christmas last year) or the Magic Star Learning Table (we have one of its predecessors). If the toy comes with removable electronic components, then remove those first before cleaning. Otherwise, remove the batteries. I’d have a few cotton swabs ready (I really like the cosmetic one with pointed tips) or a cleaning toothbrush. Using a cloth dipped in cleaning solution (vinegar, soap and water combo, or a child-safe cleaner of your choice), begin wiping the components of the toy. Dip the toothbrush into your cleaning solution to get into tighter spots, ridges and corners of the toy so long as it doesn’t get into the battery casing or on/off switch. You can also use the pointed cotton swab for this. If you are satisfied with the results, allow to dry. If you want to take it a step further and disinfect, you can do so by applying the disinfectant and allowing it to sit wet on the toy for about 2 minutes (or whatever your product’s instructions state for dwell time), and then rinse clean with water and dry with a cloth. Once fully dry, replace the batteries. For toys with no batteries, clean the same way.
Battery operated plush toys
Now this category, this category pains me. These toys get drooled on, rolled on the floor, shared with friends, and yet, you can’t machine wash them! My daughter has several of these beloved talking and singing friends, including My Pal Violet. Other examples include the Snug-a-Bug Musical Critter and Lil’ Critters Roll & Discover Ball. Submerging these in water can damage small and large electrical components that can render these today useless, and placing them in the dryer can rattle them enough to loosen these parts. In short, hand wash with care.
For starters, vacuum these toys to remove dust and dirt by slipping a pantyhose over a vacuum attachment to remove as much dust as you can. Feel free to do this with a lint roller, too. Before washing by hand, remove all batteries and electrical components where possible. To wash by hand, use a quarter teaspoon of castille soap or delicates wash in 2 cups of water. Stir up and dip a clean cloth into the solution. You can also use a cleaning toothbrush to apply and agitate the solution where needed. Apply gently and work into the surface as needed. Keep any moisture away from electronic components while cleaning. Once this is done, you are going to ‘rinse wipe’ the toy where you have just applied soapy water, so grab a fresh cloth and clean water to do this, you want all suds gone and you want to be sparing with the water. When done, roll in a clean towel to blot up excess moisture and allow it to air dry. If the fur looks matted, fluff it up by blasting the toy with a hair dryer set to cool. Building blocks
I remember buying my friend’s son a box of these for his first birthday and she raved about how much he loved playing with them - he still does and he’s now 7. I picked up the same set of LeapBuilders Jumbo Blocks for my daughter just before she turned one and they are most often used to build Peppa Pig castles (🙄), especially now that she has the LeapBuilders Shapes & Music Castle, too. Cleaning these are the absolute easiest of the lot. In fact, any plastic toy with no electrical components or air holes can be cleaned this way. Place them into a delicates bag, toss on the top rack of the dishwasher the next time you run through a load, and...voila. That’s all. Done.
Keeping toys clean helps to keep our families healthy and also prolongs their useful life making them treasures to pass from child to child, and family to family. I hope you have found this guide helpful!
Written by: Melissa Maker, Cleaning Expert, author and host of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube.
Melissa Maker is an accidental cleaning expert - because she hates to clean! In 2006, she launched Clean My Space, a cleaning service in her hometown of Toronto, Canada, to help out people just like her. In 2011, she decided to create digital content to help drive bookings by launching the Clean My Space YouTube channel. Since then, the channel has amassed over 200 million video views and over 1.5 million subscribers along with a healthy Instagram following and busy website. She also founded a microfiber cleaning tools company in 2016, called Maker's Clean.
While Melissa has delivered her expert advice on cleaning products, tools, and DIY substitutes for over ten years, she wasn’t always a cleaning pro and understands that people are looking for practical, time-saving solutions to everyday problems.
She is also a foodie and mother of 2-year-old Riley.