Newborn babies don't have strong immune systems yet, so it's best to pre-wash any toy they will be coming into contact with -- especially ones that come unpackaged and may have been sitting out for a period of time. Washing their small rattles, stroller toys, and small stuffed animals before use is only a small time commitment, and will give you peace of mind during the first days and weeks of your baby's life.
Cleaning and Sanitizing Basics
For maximum removal of potentially dangerous germs, you'll want to follow a basic two-step cleaning process, says Fisher Price Toys consultant Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, M.D., M.P.H. The first step is cleaning; scrub toys with warm water and soap, which will remove most germs. Don't worry about using anti-bacterial soap -- regular dish soap is fine. Next you'll want to apply a sanitizing solution, which kills most dangerous germs. An inexpensive, effective and safe solution can be made from diluting household liquid chlorine bleach. For a smaller batch, mix 1 tablespoon of bleach in 1 quart of water; for a larger amount, mix 1/4 cup of bleach in a gallon of water. Diluted bleach is safe for cleaning baby toys, since the chlorine evaporates within a few minutes.
Ways to Wash
Small plastic toys without batteries can be run through the dishwasher with dish detergent and hot water. This both cleans and sanitizes them, Gutierrez says. If you don't have a dishwasher at home, you can wash them by hand in the sink with a clean sponge using soap and warm water. After cleaning them, sanitize the toys by dipping them in the diluted bleach solution, and let them air-dry in the dish rack. Toys with batteries can be cleaned on the outside with soap and warm water, then wiped down with the bleach solution. Fabric toys can be cleaned in the washing machine with hot water and laundry soap, using a gentle, fragrance-free brand formulated for babies.
Frequency of Cleanings
After you initially wash them, you might be wondering how often you should clean your baby's toys thereafter. You don't need to become a cleaning maniac by any means, but it's good to clean baby toys at certain times, Gutierrez notes. Give them a cleaning when you notice they're soiled from milk or spit-up, when your baby is recovering from an illness like diarrhea or a cold, or after a play date when other babies may have been mouthing them. Or you can simply clean the toys at a set time, such as the end of every month.
While it's best to err on the side of caution when it comes to your newborn's health, try not to worry about germs too much -- or scrub her toys into an oblivion every chance you get. New research indicates that exposure to germs can be beneficial to babies. A Swedish study published in the Journal of Pediatrics followed 184 babies who used pacifiers. When their pacifiers fell on the ground, 65 babies had parents who would pick it up, suck off the dirt, and put it back in their mouths. The other 119 babies' parents washed the pacifiers off with water. The infants whose parents didn't wash off their pacifiers were less likely to develop asthma by 18 months, and eczema by 36 months. Researchers believe the microbes babies are exposed to through their parents' saliva helps to reduce their chances of having asthma and eczema, which are allergy-induced conditions.