Kids are the ultimate explorers. Everything is new and they're eager to learn. But their methods of investigation largely involve touching and tasting – everything. While germs are a year-round concern for parents, trying to avoid illness and infection is especially stressful during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults, babies can pick up viruses from infected toys and surfaces.
We know the novel coronavirus can live hours to days on a variety of surfaces. And the virus is spread easily through hand-to-face contact, specifically the eyes, nose, and mouth. While baby wipes might be an easy go-to, they aren't recommended for handwashing, per the CDC.
The best way to protect your little germ magnet – and the people around them – is to practice good hand hygiene[MO1] – sing the happy birthday song twice while you wash for at least 20 seconds – and take a sensible approach to cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces in your home.
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The difference between cleaning and disinfecting
Both methods are important and reduce the risk of infection. Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and other impurities using soap and water. Disinfecting kills germs using chemicals.
Sanitize frequently touched surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, toilets, and the floor (for those active crawlers and rollers!) with household cleaners and disinfectants known to kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a list of such products, many of which are safe to use at home (residential). All products on this list meet the EPA’s criteria for use against COVID-19, even those marked "No" under the Emerging Viral Pathogen Claim column.
Always read and follow the safety instructions on cleaner and disinfectant labels. Follow the safety instructions. And never mix chemicals. Doing so can be very dangerous to anyone nearby who might inhale them and will not offer more cleaning power.
Related reading: Cleaning products and other toxins to avoid when pregnant
How to wash different types of baby toys
Plastic, metal, and rubber toys
If a toy is dishwasher safe, save yourself some work and toss it in with the dishes. Use the top rack to avoid melting and mangling.
Use diluted bleach to disinfect washable, nonporous toys (made of material where stains can't sink into it). Wipe down excess grime and place the toys in a bucket with 1/3 cup bleach and a gallon of water for five minutes. Afterward, rinse the toys with water and let them fully dry before resuming play.
Remember baby's bath toys! Just because they sit in the tub doesn’t mean they are germ-free.
Board books and wooden blocks
These toys shouldn’t be submerged in liquid, but you can wipe them down with alcohol-based wipes or spray. Let the surfaces dry completely after wiping them down.
You can't really wash paper, but you can take measures to make sure your child's favorite coloring books, magazines, and paper books aren't harboring the virus. This is a good time to dispose of tattered items or used up books that are collecting dust – and germs.
If the item has a hard back, disinfect the surface, taking care not to get cleaner on the paper pages. Books or magazines you worry have been exposed – but prefer not to part with – can be quarantined for two weeks before use.
Related reading on COVID-19
Stuffed animals, comfort blankets, loveys, and cloth books often can be cleaned in the washing machine. Tie the items inside a pillowcase or lingerie bag to protect them.
Pro tip: Make sure these toys don’t have battery packs or other electronics inside or your child will be very sad when they no longer work.
Speaking of tech toys, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and disinfecting. If you don’t have the instructions and can't find them online, consider these general steps:
- Take out the batteries or unplug the toy.
- Wash the surface of the toy with alcohol-based wipes or spray. Be careful not to let any liquid seep into the electrical components.
- Rinse the surface of the toy with a damp cloth.
- Let the toy dry completely after wiping it down.
How often should you clean your child’s toys?
Favorite toys your child plays with daily should be cleaned once a week, unless the items get noticeably dirty more often. And of course, if an item is sneezed, coughed, or otherwise, um, excreted upon, disinfect it right away.
You also should thoroughly disinfect toys in the following situations:
- Your child or others around them have been sick.
- Food or an unknown substance is on the toy.
- The item is noticeably gummed up or dirty.
It might be tempting during the pandemic to hide some toys to reduce infection risks. But try to refrain from taking away too many or your child’s favorites. Along with providing stimulation, toys provide comfort. And we all need some of that right now.
Get updated information about the COVID-19 pandemic and UT Southwestern’s response. Learn more.