The problem with bath toys generally isn’t on the outside. The plasticine feathers of a rubber ducky look clean because, by and large, they are (assuming no one has been peeing in the tub). But the inside is another matter. Squeeze bath toys don’t really dry out. They have no air circulation and, because they are opaque, light doesn’t really dry them out. That means the inside of a bath toy is damp and dark, ideal for growing mold. That light gray stain around the polar bear’s toes? Mold. That strange discoloration at the tip of the rubber ducky’s tail? Mold. And what’s worse, it won’t stay in there. Bath toys are not only cultivators of mold but conduits to the mouths of infants and toddlers.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Bath Time
Long story short, bath toys are a lot grosser than many people suspect. And they need to be cleaned. Lily Cameron isn’t afraid of gross. She’s the resident cleaning expert at London’s Fantastic Services, a professional cleaner of twelve years, and knows the pain of keeping bath toys clean.
“Taking care of the squeaky toys can be really tricky because of the small hole at the bottom and hard-to-reach surfaces inside,” Cameron commiserates. “Start with squeezing out all of the excess water inside. Then place the toys in a solution of three parts hot water and one part white vinegar — you can either use the bathroom sink or a large bowl. Let it soak for at least ten minutes, then rinse thoroughly with plain water and let it completely dry.”
There are some who advocate for using bleach, but Cameron isn’t one of them. “There is another approach with bleach and water,” she explains. “But I wouldn’t recommend it since bleach can be harmful to use.” Harsh cleaners in general aren’t a great mix for the baby’s bath. If parents can’t quite shake the willies of having black mold lurking in their bath toys, there are other options than throwing all of the toys on the grill and giving them a Viking funeral. That’s good news for families with kids who are reluctant to bathe, since bath toys may be the only way to bribe the kid back into the tub.
How to Keep Bath Toys Clean Without Bleach
- Squeeze out all the water out and replace it with a solution of three parts hot water to one part vinegar. Let that soak for 10 minutes and dry out before putting toys back in the tub.
- Never assume that because the outside of a toy is clean, the inside is as well. Mold has a tendency to collect inside toys.
Parents can either prevent water from getting into the toy in the first place, or modify the toy to make them easier to clean. Both are quick and easy to do.
To seal a new toy from getting water inside and growing mold, a drop of hot glue can plug the hole. This is a good option if the toy is particularly large, or has a lot of nooks and crannies in its design that makes it hard to clean. It doesn’t really affect the toy; it may be less squeezable, or no longer be able to squeak or squirt water, but that won’t really matter to kids. They don’t need any help splashing water out of the tub anyway. Even sealed toys should be cleaned occasionally, to make sure the outside doesn’t get moldy.
“Every few weeks, you can scrub the toys in hot water with an old toothbrush or a dish scrubber,” explains Cameron.
Another option is to drill the hole larger so that they’re easier to clean. A 3/16” or ¼” drill bit should work. That is wide enough to fit a pipe cleaner to scrub and a cotton swab or rolled-up piece of paper towel to dry. It has the added bonus of leaving the ability of the toy to squirt water unaffected, other than upping the volume of the stream. But the toys need to be maintained – if mold is allowed to grow inside because the toy isn’t cleaned, it’s likely parents will see chunks of mold floating in the bath water next time the toy is squeezed.
With the proper maintenance, there’s no reason for bath toys to be gross. That’s good news, because bath toys are awesome, and it’s hard to imagine bath time without them.