For your sanity, it's best not to dwell too long on what's clinging to your child's toys after being shared, licked and dragged around. Cleaning in a disinfectant solution is the most effective way to kill these germs, so it's a routine every parent should master and practice often.
The Dirty on Disinfectant
Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting are not synonymous terms. Cleaning may refer to simply using a soap and water solution to remove surface dirt. Sanitizing solutions kill some germs, but using a disinfectant to clean an object will kill nearly all of the germs living there. Disinfecting is the most effective way to clean toys that have been used by many children, by sick children or by children who may not adequately clean their hands after using the bathroom.
Homemade and Commercial Disinfectant
You'll find commercial products labeled as sanitizers and disinfectants. If you opt to buy a disinfectant product, choose one that is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency – you'll find this information on the label. Follow package directions to use the product. You can also make your own solution with household bleach. Add 1 tablespoon of bleach to a bucket containing 4 cups of cool water, or make a bigger batch using 1/4 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Pour the disinfectant into a spray bottle.
How to Disinfect Toys
Only disinfect nonporous toys, such as hard plastic or wood. If toys are visibly dirty or grimy, wash them first with soap and water. Removing these substances allows the disinfectant to get to the surface of each toy. Lay toys out on a counter or on newspaper away from food, kids and pets. Spray all sides of each toy with disinfectant. Allow the toys to air dry – wiping off the disinfectant will diminish its effectiveness. Store the disinfectant and all cleaning products in a locked cabinet or shelf that is inaccessible to children. If you're using a bleach solution, make it fresh each time you clean toys.
When to Sanitize
Limit your child's exposure to cleaning products by only using the minimum product needed to get the job done. For instance, if you're cleaning toys handled only by your healthy child, sanitizing may be sufficient. In fact, this is the cleaning method recommended by the National Association for the Education of Young Children for toys that children have mouthed. Make your own sanitizer by mixing 1 tablespoon of bleach into 1 gallon of cool water. Follow the same cleaning routine used for disinfecting.