How to clean bath toys safely and easily. 6 ways to clean bath toys inside and out, including hard to clean toys & cleaning without bleach.
I’m not afraid to admit that baby bath toys are the bane of my existence.
Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE seeing my daughter play with them in the tub. She’s at that “imagination” stage of development where she makes up little stories with the toys, tries to rescue them, and generally creates adorable scenarios with all the random loose pieces we toss into the water with her. It makes giving her a bath a lot of fun, and distracts her when it comes time to wash and rinse her hair.
But they’re also…gross.
By the time bath time is over, and we’ve gotten through the whole bath-book-bed routine, I’m tired. All I want to do is crash on the sofa with a glass of wine.
The idea of having to meticulously drain, squeeze the water out, and air dry dozens of bath toys and accessories (bath thermometer, spout guard, rinse cups, etc) AFTER tub time? Not super exciting, to put it mildly.
Why You Should Try to Prevent Moldy Bath Toys
While the post bath time cleaning routine isn’t my favorite, the thought of mold growth on my kid’s bath toys is even less appealing.
Yes, mold is ick.
But there’s also a fair amount of evidence it can be harmful to your family’s health. As we know from our research into VOCs, indoor air quality is tied to your family’s (and your children’s) health.
And mold in your home? Well, it’s bad news.
- Researchers have found a correlation between the prevalence of mold in a home and asthma in kids who live there.
- A study of newborn babies in Poland found that babies with prolonged exposes to visible mold in their home beginning shortly after birth had poorer cognitive function at the age of 6 than babies not exposed to mold.
- Scientists comparing the impact of mold exposure or dust mite exposure on infants’ wheezing found mold or water damage increased the risk of wheezing between 2 and 6 times more than dust mite exposure.
Suffice it to say, you want to keep your bathroom safe for your kids. Therefore, it’s worth your time to prevent mold in your home, try to keep bath toys mold free, and promptly clean it/remove it when you see it on your little one’s bath toys.
The only question is, how?
How to Clean Bath Toys Without Bleach
As surprising as it may be, there are tons of different ways to get your kids’ bath toys clean.
Yes, there’s the standard: with bleach, with vinegar, in the dishwasher.
But did you know you can also clean them with your laundry? Or with hydrogen peroxide? Or on your stove top?
Below, I’ve outlined the different methods I’ve tried to clean our collection, as well as some of the lesser known methods.
Generally speaking in our house, the dishwasher or washing machine is our go to maintenance option. We wash them weekly using natural dishwasher detergent /laundry detergent as a general preventative maintenance (we use Nellie’s dish detergent powder and laundry soda, respectively).
However, sometimes neither method cuts it, and they need something a bit stronger.
This is especially true with squeezey toys, anything with a hole in it, or for anything that’s particularly dirty.
Below, I cover the basics of how to thoroughly wash bath toys using different cleaning methods. Hopefully you find one that works for you!
Cleaning Bath Toys in Dishwasher
Using the dishwasher is a good weekly maintenance routine, but it’s not enough if you have a mold problem. That said, if you’re diligent about drying them out after every use to prevent mold and bacteria, then throwing them on the top rack once a week will help maintain them.
First of all, you need to double check they won’t melt. Hard toys, like rubber and some plastics, are generally safe. Soft ones, like a PVC bath book, should not be washed this way.
If they’re safe, throw them on the top rack. We prefer to use fragrance free detergent, so there’s no leftover smell (or taste, if your little one is in the “put everything in their mouth” stage). We’ve used and really like Nellie’s, Method Free and Clear, and Better Life Gel.
For things like stacking cups (which we use daily), they can go right on the rack.
For oddly sized or shaped toys, or those that are too small to sit on the rack without falling through, you can put them in a lingerie bag, and place that on the top rack.
Once the cycle is through, drain any excess water hiding in crevices and holes and lay them flat to dry. If it’s a sunny day, I’ll lay them out in the sun for some natural germ killing power!
Cleaning Bath Toys in the Washing Machine
You can also use the washing machine. As with the dishwasher method, this is a good weekly maintenance routine, but may not kill all the mold if you’re dealing with any that are particularly filthy.
Again you want to make use of a mesh lingerie bag. Put them into the mesh bag, and throw them into your washing machine along with some towels (the towels will dampen the sound).
Run on a cold, cool or warm cycle, using a free and clean detergent like Nellie’s Laundry Soda.
Be careful about using hot water. While you can use hot water, you have to be careful none will melt, so use your judgement. Again, rubber and hard plastics are a pretty safe bet.
You can also do a vinegar rinse at the end if you want some extra antibacterial power. Just add roughly 1/2 cup to the fabric softener compartment right before the final rinse cycle. Alternatively, let the entire cycle go without disturbing it, and then run a rinse cycle only.
Lay them somewhere flat to air dry completely, ideally out in the sun!
Cleaning Bath Toys with Vinegar
Vinegar offers a bit more cleaning power than a simple washing machine cycle can offer. In fact, you can get them fairly spotless with a vinegar solution soak and a bit of effort.
I like to do this between once a month to once every 6 weeks, and I do it before throwing them in the dishwasher or in with some towel laundry.
Basically it gives a bit more cleaning power with a bit of elbow grease, and helps to ensure each bath toy is well and truly free from bacteria, mildew and gross bits of mold.
Fill your kitchen sink or a large bucket with one gallon of hot or warm water (about 4 litres), and mix with roughly 1/2 cup of white vinegar.
Dump the toys in and soak them for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. If any are floating up to the top, use something on the surface of the water to try to weight them down and keep them inside the bucket, under the surface.
Using a sponge, cloth, scrub brush or old toothbrush, scrub any visible mold, mildew, soap scum or dirt away.
At this point, you can either rinse and dry them as is, or run them through the dishwasher or laundry machine and then dry them.
Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Clean Bath Toys
As with vinegar, this is a great non-toxic option that’s a bit stronger than the previous methods.
I like using hydrogen peroxide because it has anti-fungal and anti-mold properties like bleach. However, it doesn’t have the same safety concerns as bleach as it is non toxic.
When cleaning with hydrogen peroxide, you can either use undiluted hydrogen peroxide, or a 50/50 solution of peroxide and water.
Typically I fill a bucket or my kitchen sink with the solution, dump the toys in and let them soak for a bit. Then use a toothbrush or nylon scrub brush to get any visible gunk off.
Rinse well and let them air dry!
How to Get Bath Toys Clean by Boiling Them
If you’re concerned there’s hidden mold on your toys, boiling them in hot water is a good option. This works well for hard plastic toys that won’t melt, foam toys, and for toys with hidden nooks and crannies that are harder to see or reach.
Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil. Add in some toys (use tongs or something similar so they don’t splash you with boiling water on the way in), and let them boil for 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove, drain away excess water, and set them out somewhere to dry.
How to Clean Bath Toys with Bleach
If you’ve tried the other methods, but still have stubborn gunk on the toys, have particularly dirty bath toy, or are convinced the only way you’ll get them clean is by using bleach, this is the method for you!
For this, you again need a large bucket that will fit both your bleach solution and all the toys.
Mix up a solution that’s roughly 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water (~4 litres).
Dump all the toys you want to clean into the water / solution, and leave them at least 10 minutes. As they soak, make sure they stay under the surface of the water (inside the solution) by weighting them down a bit.
After soaking, remove the toys and discard the solution. Use a nylon scrub brush to clean off any additional spots of mold, and then rinse thoroughly.
Again, you want to let them air dry after this until they’re bone dry!
The downside of using bleach, of course, is safety.
Bleach and kids generally don’t mix, so you want to make sure the bleach solution is really and truly rinsed off the toys before handing the toys back to your kids. This is especially if your baby is in a mouthing stage.
For extra peace of mind you can run them through a washing machine or dishwasher at the end, or boil them.
Special Types of Toys
Lots of bath toys have holes in them, making them more difficult to clean. If you’re wondering how to clean bath toys inside, see some additional tips below.
How to Clean Squirty Bath Toys or Those with Holes
Wondering how do you keep bath squirters clean? Or toys with holes?
My best tip is to treat it like a pipette – submerge it in the cleaning solution, squeeze it until it soaks up water, and let it soak for however long I’ve recommended above based on the cleaning solution.
Once it’s done, make sure you go through multiple rounds of sucking up the solution and squirting it out, and then do it with clean water before leaving to dry.
How to Clean Foam Bath Toys
Gently scrub with soap and water, rinse and squeeze until all the soap is removed, squeeze out the water, and lay flat to air dry after each use.
Foam is also a good candidate for the boiling method.
FAQs and Tips
How Often Should You Clean Your Bath Toys
If you’re diligent about drying them out after each use, cleaning them once per week should be fine.
How Can You Prevent Mold Growth Going Forward?
Mold free is safest. So what’s the key to preventing it from growing? Keeping them dry between uses; storing them properly so they stay dry; and plugging holes before use (or buying ones without holes).
To dry them out, you can use a bottle drying rack (just balance them on top) or keep them on a towel somewhere with good airflow. Sunshine is a great disinfectant too, so drying them outside in a sunny is a good choice!
Once dry, you really want to keep them dry. If the tub is used by other family members for showers etc., this means storing them elsewhere, such as in a cupboard.
However, if the bathtub is only being used when your child is playing and splashing, one of those bath toy storage nets can work quite well.
Then you won’t have any hidden caves to deal with in the future.
Alternatively, you can plug the holes on new purchases with hot glue. I wouldn’t do this with older ones that have been in use for awhile, because you can’t be sure they’re totally dry and clean inside before plugging, which is a recipe for them to start growing something gross.
What if You Can’t Get Them Spotless?
If you have a toy that just won’t get clean, the safest option is to trash that toy.
Eventually, every toy hits its limit, and the best thing you can do for your children and their safety is recognize when that happens, and send it on its way.
What are your favorite ways to clean your tub toys? Any other ideas we’ve missed?
If you know another parent, grandparent or caregiver struggling to get their kids’ bathroom under control, please share this article with them!