Safe and effective ways to clean toys

Children spend hours each day playing with (and sucking on) their toys! Keep your tots safe by using natural alternatives to harmful toxic cleaning agents that pose serious and potential long-term health risks.


Babies, with their developing lungs are more sensitive to their environment and we need to be mindful that manufacturers are not even required to list ingredients of household cleaners. The chemicals we use linger in the air we breathe which is why the EPA have measured indoor air quality to be 2-5 times worse than outdoor air. Furthermore, we absorb these chemicals through our skin or ingest them as dust or residue and when flushed down our drains, they cause significant harm to our environment. Chemicals such as formaldehydes, phthalates, dioxins and corrosive acids have been shown to cause cancer, asthma, disturb mood and behavior, disrupt hormones and prevent proper development of the reproductive and the immune system amongst other things. We don’t need to excessively clean or to disinfect everything but when maintaining your child’s space, be sure to opt for plant-based or tried and tested simple yet safe solutions.

The following are some suggestions for cleaning different types of toys:

Silicone or rubber toys, teethers and pacifiers

These toys tend to be used often and frequently and can generally be cleaned on a daily basis usually with just hot water and a mild soap like Better Life Unscented Dish Soap. (if silicone or rubber) or alternatively, can be sanitized with a solution of vinegar and water (in equal parts) in a spray bottle and wiped down. To boost the effectiveness of the vinegar solution, you may want to add a few drops of tea tree essential oil which is antimicrobial or presoak lemon rinds in a jar of vinegar for 2 days (up to 2 weeks) for added benefits. Grapefruit seed extract as a liquid can also be added in place of the other oils, is inexpensive, edible and is a very effective antimicrobial. Alternatively you can sanitize silicone by boiling in water for 5-10 mins or wash on the top shelf of your dishwasher (using a non-toxic detergent like that from Rockin Green Dishwasher Detergent).

While vinegar is a highly effective sanitizer that kills nearly all household germs, bacteria, mold, and mildew, it’s not registered with the EPA as a disinfectant. It won’t kill some harmful bacteria like staphococcal or some strains of salmonella for instance. Unlike bleach however, which releases harmful fumes in the air, is corrosive and poses serious health concerns for developing bodies and greatly impacts our environment when poured down the drain, vinegar is completely safe to use around children and pets and is biodegradable.

As vinegar is acidic you may feel the need with certain materials to follow up with a rinse.

Plush toys

Stuffed toys, cloth toys, play mats and their accessories require less frequent cleaning. When it comes time, follow the washing instructions of the tag and practice caution with more delicate fabrics and cloth toys with spot cleaning perhaps being a more preferable option. Otherwise, a gentle nontoxic laundry detergent like that from Rockin Green is good to use even with a hand wash. Dry thoroughly (most can be tumbled dry on low) to prevent mold from developing. For stained or soiled toys, sprinkle baking soda on the toy before adding to the wash and add vinegar to the rinse cycle.

For wool toys, as with other delicate fabric toys, spot cleaning with a mild wool soap and a damp cloth is preferable and let air dry. If heavily soiled, hand wash, reshape and allow to air dry.

If dust mites are a concern, place the toy in a zip lock bag in the freezer over night.

Wooden toys and teethers 

Gentle cleaning with a mild solution of soap and water or a vinegar solution and damp cloth will keep germs at bay. Harsh detergents will dry out wood and cause cracking, lightening of color and cause breakages.

If you prefer premixed cleaning solutions to vinegar, look for natural ingredients that safely disinfect such as hydrogen peroxide (concentrated form, not the 3% solution used for cuts and scrapes), citric acid, grapefruit seed extract or essential oils like tea tree, thyme or oregano oil.

By Ishbel Kolsch