Cleaning Children’s Toys
E. coli Spreads Quickly Throughout Childcare Center
A childcare center experienced a severe outbreak of E. coli that resulted in 11 of 45 children becoming extremely ill. A parent unknowingly sent an infected child to daycare where they spread the disease to several other children. By the time the sick child’s parents pulled them out of the daycare it was too late; the child had contaminated the entire center and 10 additional children became sick before they diagnosed the cause and the center shut down until it could be sterilized properly.
Kids and Their Toys
Proper sanitation is an important part of general health, and is absolutely critical in a childcare setting. Keeping a childcare center germ-free is a tough job, however, as children touch everything they can get their hands on and constantly put things they find in their mouth. Childcare providers are truly fighting an uphill battle when attempting to keep a center neat and sanitary.
Keeping toys clean is important as they are constantly in contact with both a child’s hands and a child’s mouth. Children quickly spread whatever germs they have to their toys, and since they often move from one toy to the next they can quickly facilitate the spread of harmful pathogens. Establishing, following, and enforcing a policy for the cleaning and sanitation of all toys within a childcare facility is a great way to keep children and employees as safe from germs as possible.
Cleaning and Sanitizing Toys
Before sanitizing a toy it is important to thoroughly clean the toy. Toys should be scrubbed and rinsed to remove any dirt or debris from the surface. This can be accomplished with warm water and mild detergent. By removing all debris from the surface of the toy the next step, sanitizing, will work more effectively and ensure the toy is actually sanitized.
Sanitizing Hard-Shelled Toys
After all the scrubbed and rinsed toys are dry, the next step is to disinfect them to remove harmful bacteria that may still reside on the surface. To accomplish this, the cleaned toys need to be submerged in an appropriate sanitizing solution. The best sanitizing agent for hard-shelled toys (i.e., plastic toys) is a mixture of water and bleach. The proper ratio of water-to-bleach for a safe sanitizing solution is 1.5 teaspoons of bleach to 1 gallon of water. A water/bleach solution is ideal because it is:
- Approved by state licensing/certification
- Readily available
- Easy to use
- Works quickly
- Becomes harmless quickly as it breaks down
Sanitizing Soft or Plush Toys
Cleaning hard-shelled toys is relatively easy. Sanitizing soft or plush toys, on the other hand, can prove to be more difficult. These toys are slightly more difficult to sanitize because the materials tend to absorb liquids. Since stuffed animal are made from a variety of different materials you may need to vary your cleaning methods from one toy to the next. Always read the manufacturer’s label before cleaning.
- Some plush toys will be washing machine safe. If this is the case, it is the best option to effectively clean them. Pre-treat any visible stains before placing the toys in the washing machine. Wash the toys with cold water on the gentlest cycle. Do NOT put the toys in the dryer as this can cause them to shrink, instead pat them dry with a towel and allow to air dry.
- Some toys are too delicate to be placed in the washer or are made of material not recommended for washing machines. The best way to clean these types of toys is to clean them with a dish soap/water solution. Gently rub the entire surface of the toy with a rag soaked in the solution. Next, gently rinse the solution off the toy with warm water and pat dry. Allow the toy to air dry completely.
Electronic toys are becoming more popular for children of all ages. It is just as important to keep these toys as clean as any other toy. The first step in properly cleaning these types of toys is to read the manufacturer’s recommendations and instructions. Once you have done that, follow these simple steps for cleaning all electronic children’s toys:
- Remove the toys batteries and set them in a safe location.
- Use a rag soaked with a dish soap/water mixture to wipe all the surfaces of the toy, but be careful to not leave too much excess water on the rag since water seeping into the toy can potentially damage it.
- Once the toy has been thoroughly wiped clean to remove any dirt or debris the next step is to disinfect the toy. To disinfect, spray a paper towel or cloth rag with an appropriate household disinfectant and wipe all the surfaces of the toy.
- After the toy is dry, re-wipe all the surfaces with a wet rag to remove any excess disinfectant that might remain on the toy’s surface.
A Few Notes on Bleach
Bleach, however, can be harmful if used incorrectly so it is important to use with caution. There should be a specified area in the center designed for the mixing of the water/bleach solution that is well ventilated and inaccessible to children. Make sure gloves and eye protection are provided for the individual who mixes the bleach solution. Avoid mixing bleach with any other chemicals or even mixing in containers that may have held other chemicals; bleach reacts violently with certain chemicals and can produce extremely hazardous gases.
Bleach, while effective and safe for cleaning toys when used properly, can be very dangerous by itself and needs to be stored safely. Bleach should be stored in a well-ventilated area as the fumes from bleach can be harmful. Bleach should also be stored out of direct sunlight since it can reduce the germ-killing abilities of the bleach. Make sure to keep all bleach labeled so it is not accidentally used or mixed. The area where the bleach is stored needs to be completely secured, and children should never have access to it. Keep all bleach handling Personal Protective Equipment stored near the bleach and mixing area. It is also a good practice to keep the bleach Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) in order to appropriately respond to any spills or accidental exposures.