Should we worry about keeping toys for kids germ free?
We all love seeing the look of delight on our children’s faces when they are given the gift of a new toy, but toys for kids can pose a health risk. Aside from the obvious problems with bits that might come loose and cause choking problems, there is also the issue of cleanliness.
Kids toys can become really dirty, being dragged from pillar to post, through the mud, dragged along by the family’s well meaning dog and shared with playmates who are ill. All of these circumstances can lead to a whole host of germs and while we want our children to build up resistance to germs, how important is it to keep toys for kids germ free?
Do kids toys really harbor lots of germs?
It seems that kids toys can harbor more germs than we anticipated, at least that is what a 2013 study that investigated bacteria on kids toys has demonstrated.
Previous research had shown that some germs can’t live very long outside of the human body, but this 2013 study at the University of Buffalo has shown that they can live a lot longer than we first thought, in fact germs can live for months outside the body.
Essentially, they found that Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes can both live for weeks or months on the surface of toys, books and even baby cots. This means that germs can be far more easily transferred and for a much longer time than we expected.
This highlights the problem of how to keep our kids toys clean and germ free, so we can keep our kids healthy and safe. Even more frightening is that the researchers of this study actually tested toys and surfaces in a day care center and found that 4 out of 5 stuffed toys were positive for Streptococcus pneumoniae, even after they had been thoroughly cleaned.
How do we keep toys for kids germ free?
Whilst the presence of these bacteria are not in themselves the problem to healthy individuals, the young, elderly, immune deficient and already sick individuals are most at risk.
Many of us have been led to believe that we usually become ill when we breath in pathogens from infected individuals – when they cough or sneeze.
This study however, expels this myth by extrapolating that since these bacteria remain alive and active outside the body, if we touch any contaminated surfaces, there is the possibility that we are more likely to become infected ourselves.
Hand washing and cleaning surfaces with soap and water are both effective strategies to minimize the spread of germs, but what about kid’s toys?
Well, generally we have four different types of toys – plush, soft toys, hard plastic toys, wooden toys and electronic toys. Let’s take a look at the best ways to keep all of these kids toys germ free.
Keeping plush, soft toys clean and germ free
The best way to approach soft toys is to read the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions, which will tell you whether they are machine washable or not. If they are machine washable, then this is the best way to keep them clean and germ free.
Hopefully, you can put them on the hot cycle and then once washed, for 30 minutes in the dryer, as all of this heat will help to kill the germs.
Only leave the plush toys in the dryer for a short time and remove them before they are dry, as this will help them to keep their shape. If you can’t use really hot water or they will shrink in the dryer, then place them in the sun to dry, as this should help as well.
On the other hand, if the soft toys are not machine washable, but need to be hand washed then you can use the same solution you add to your washing machine to wash them in the sink.
Keeping hard, plastic toys for kids clean and germ free
Depending on the size of the plastic toys, you might be able to fit them into the dishwasher. Of course, giving them a clean in the sink with soap and water to remove any obvious dirt, grime or food is the first step, followed by a good clean in the dishwasher.
If the plastic toys are too big for the dishwasher, then you still need to clean them in the sink with soap and water, but you can follow this with a sanitizing solution.
Just mix a 1/4 cup of bleach in a gallon of water and then this diluted solution can be used to clean your kid’s hard plastic toys.
The bleach solution evaporates fairly quickly, so it doesn’t remain on the toys, however you can use your own sanitizing solution if you prefer.
Keeping wooden toys for kids clean and germ free
Wooden blocks and toys are slightly more difficult to keep clean and germ free than other materials, so let’s take a look at some solutions. One of the great things about toys made from natural wood is actually that they already have antibacterial properties, because we know that bacteria doesn’t often take hold in natural wood.
So does this make wooden toys for kids more hygienic and easier to keep clean? Well, research has shown that natural wood cutting boards in the kitchen are more hygienic than plastic cutting boards.
This is because the cuts we make in wooden cutting boards help the bacteria to sink into the timber, where they didn’t multiply and eventually died.
With plastic cutting boards however, bacteria becomes trapped in these knife cuts and grooves, becoming extremely difficult to remove, even in the dishwasher. The conclusion was that brand new plastic cutting boards with no knife cuts were more hygienic than wooden ones, but not when they have been used for a while and the integrity of the plastic surface was compromised.
Whilst wooden toys are not wooden cutting boards, it does tend to remove some of the concern that wooden toys might not be hygienic at all for our children. Having said all of this, both finished and unfinished wooden toys can be wiped clean every day with a damp cloth to keep them clean.
You can also rinse them in a mixture of water and vinegar or water and bleach (both in a 1:10 solution). One thing you shouldn’t do with wooden toys is to soak them for any length of time, because wood is porous and the toys will swell and go out of shape.
Don;t use furniture polish on any wooden kid’s toys and make sure that you air dry them in the sun if possible.
Keeping kids electronic toys clean and germ free
Electronic toys are becoming more and more popular today, so knowing how to keep them clean and germ free is something new we need to learn. The first step is to read the manufacturer’s instructions, so you don’t make any expensive mistakes.
Next, you can wipe over the electronic toys with a damp cloth to remove any obvious dirt, food or grime. Make sure that the cloth is just damp, as any moisture that enters the electronic parts can damage the toy.
Once you have wiped the toy over with a damp cloth you can go one step further and repeat the process with a sanitizing solution made from 1 tablespoon of bleach and 1 quart of water. You can use a cloth or a paper towel to do this and the chlorine in the bleach will evaporate very quickly from the timber.
Air dry and if you do this once a week, you should have clean and hopefully, germ free wooden toys all year round.