Babies put all sorts of stuff in their mouths. Sometimes it's house keys, other times it's cereal, and more often than not, it's some sort of toy. Known as mouthing, this is a vital way for little ones to explore the new world around them. In fact, before babies have full dexterity in their hands, mouthing is often how they become introduced to different shapes and textures.
Of course, as parents, we can't help but notice an alarming percentage of those same objects about to go into our child's mouth—be it a toy or dropped bottle—have literally just touched the floor. While a certain level of exposure to dirt is inevitable (and, some scientists believe, beneficial for the developing immune system), it's also critical to keep any pathogenic viruses under check.
With this in mind, here are the safest ways to clean your baby's bottles and toys:
First, wash your hands to avoid transmitting any germs in the cleaning process.
Next, fill a sink or basin with hot water and add enough natural dishwashing liquid to make a thick foam. Add the bottles, nipples, caps, rings, and any other accessories to the water. Fill the bottles up with soapy water and use a brush—we recommend the OXO "SteeL"—to scrub the insides until thoroughly clean. Use a designated, nylon-bristle nipple brush to wash the nipples. Allow to air dry (on a designated bottle drying rack) before using again.
If the bottles are made of glass (or a durable, dishwasher-safe plastic), then they can be run in the dishwasher instead. Use the basket inside the dishwasher to clip the nipples upright during the cycle. Make sure to run with hot water and a heated drying cycle.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises washing baby's bottles after every feeding, preferably immediately so as to prevent caked-on residue.
Double check the toy's label: If the manufacturer has deemed the product dishwasher safe, then it can likely be run in the top rack. For extra security, prevent toys from falling by placing them in the silverware basket or a colander.
However, some plastic does melt or warp when exposed to a dishwasher's typical combo of hot water and heated drying cycle. You can avoid baby's plastic toys from reaching this messy fate by sticking with a regular or gentle cleaning setting (not extra hot) and letting toys air dry, or washing them by hand.
To wash plastic toys by hand, you'll need gentle dishwashing liquid, a microfiber cloth, and hot water. In a large bowl, mix hot water and 10-15 drops of natural dish soap. Dip the microfiber cloth in this cleaning solution. Use the cloth to scrub the toys completely. Rinse each toy well with hot water, taking care to remove any soapy residue. Let the toys air dry, or dry with a clean towel or microfiber cloth.
Turns out, that yellow ducky may need a bath of its own. The rubbery material commonly used in bath toys is prone to mold buildup—not exactly the safest thing for baby to put in her mouth!
To combat mold (and other ick) buildup in bath toys, make weekly bath toy soaks part of your cleaning routine. Soak bath toys in a mixture of equal parts hot water and distilled white vinegar for at least an hour (up to overnight). Rinse with hot water. If there's any leftover vinegar residue, run toys through the dishwasher and let air dry before returning to the tub area. Weekly cleaning should prevent or zap future mold buildup.
Your little one insisting on taking her stuffed teddy bear everywhere is an adorable sight. Less adorable: all those germs that its fuzzy surfaces tend to harbor.
It's safest to check the label before washing the toy, but most stuffed animals can be popped right in the washing machine. Make sure to repair any tears or loose ends—you wouldn't want Mr. Teddy to lose an eye or an arm in the process! Pre-treat any tough stains with a natural stain remover before putting in the machine.
Just as you would for baby's clothes, run with a gentle laundry detergent. Running the machine on hot and then placing the toy in the dryer will eliminate any germs. You can also get rid of potential dust mites by sticking the toy in the freezer overnight.
If you have lots of little soft toys that need washing, gathering them up in a mesh bag (the same kind you'd use for undergarments) will prevent them from snagging.
Wood toys are wonderful ways to introduce baby to a natural element—and they're miraculously easy to clean. You should avoid soaking wood in water or putting it in the dishwasher, since it's such a porous material.
Instead, spot clean using a microfiber towel and a gentle cleanser. This can either be a 10:1 mixture of water to vinegar, a diluted combo of water and mild dish soap, or a family-friendly natural multi-purpose cleaner.
Allow wood toys to air dry after cleaning.
The frequency of wash will depend on the toy material. Plastic and wooden toys can go up to a month between washes.
Bath toys should be washed weekly, especially if they're susceptible to mold. Plush toys should be washed on an as-needed basis (e.g., after an accident like a spill, or a long trip on an airplane).
If your child or one of his play dates has a contagious cold, wash toys before returning them to the toy bin. And remember, the easiest way to prevent germs from spreading in the first place is to keep baby's hands clean—so make sure to wash them with a washcloth and gentle baby soap after eating, visiting the bathroom, or exposure to another child who's sick.
Little ones thrive when they're able to spend time learning about the shapes, sounds, and yes, taste, of their favorite toys. Keeping these objects clean on an as-needed basis will ensure plenty of happy, healthy days ahead.