When not cleaned properly, bath toys can be potentially harmful to kids. Here's how to keep bath time safe, plus mold-free bath toy picks that are less prone to breeding bacteria in the first place.

By Christin Perry
January 20, 2021
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An image of a little boy in a bath tub playing with bath toys.
Credit: Getty Images.

A 2018 study found that bath toys, no matter how much soap they splash in each night, are quite susceptible to "the proliferation of opportunistic pathogens and unwanted organisms." Yes, organisms. Indeed, the same research found that every bath toy studied tested positive for the presence of mold and other "biofilms", including (gag) fecal matter.

Just about any tub toy can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew simply due to the nature of its use. Think about it: the toy soaks in warm water for several minutes, each day or every other day. Then, it sits around in a warm, humid bathroom without being dried off (thanks to the diaperless toddler who promptly went running down the hall post-bath) and possibly even with standing water inside it. It's an invitation for a host of germs. So are they harmful?

"Most children's immune systems should be able to fight off the pathogens found in bath toys," says Jennifer Foersterling, M.D., a Washington University pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics. "However infants, children with compromised immune systems, or those allergic to mold may be more affected. Mold and bacteria could cause serious respiratory illnesses like asthma and lung infections in those vulnerable groups."

Luckily, there are two easy things you can do. First, you can level up your toy cleaning regimen. And secondly, you can say sayonara to some of the worst germy offenders (Looking at you, rubber duckie!) and replace them with bath toys that don't attract mold quite as easily. Here's how to tackle both.

How to Clean Bath Toys

Wash with Bleach. Using diluted bleach is a great place to start if you're wondering how to clean bath toys. "A 1:10 ratio is needed to fully disinfect," says Dr. Foersterling. If you're wondering how to clean bath toys inside, make sure to fill any places where water enters with the bleach solution. But remember to drain any waterlogged toys to avoid having your child ingest the bleach mixture at his next bath time. "I would recommend rinsing off the bleach after cleaning, then allowing the toy to dry fully," Dr. Foersterling says.

Wash with Vinegar. Not a fan of bleach? It's got its drawbacks: it's tough on your eyes and nose, it can diminish colors and patterns, and it's harmful if ingested. So if you're wondering how to clean bath toys with vinegar, it is possible, but Dr. Foersterling recommends using it at full strength: "Vinegar is not as effective as bleach and must be used full strength and allowed to soak for a longer period of time," she says.

Run through the dishwasher. If your day's about as jam-packed as it gets (trust us—we get it!) then you may be looking for a quicker, easier solution to this bath toy debacle. If that's the case, simply drop your little one's bath toys in the top rack of the dishwasher and run it on a hot cycle. Voila—clean toys! We recommend you check the manufacturer's recommendations before using this method, since there are some bath toys that aren't compatible with the dishwasher.

Boil in hot water. Another method for how to clean bath toys of mold is simply to boil them in a large pot of water. This works well for hard plastic toys as well as foam letters and numbers. Simply bring water to a boil, then add toys using a pair of kitchen tongs. Let the toys soak in the boiling water for a few minutes, then carefully remove and place on a towel to allow them to dry completely. This method is a good one to use if you're wondering how to clean bath toys inside.

Clean with disinfectant wipes. Many of the easy to clean bath toys on our list below can simply be wiped down with disinfectant wipes in order to prevent mold growth and keep them sparkling clean for your little one. As long as there aren't places where water can get inside, "wiping toys down after bath and allowing them to fully dry between baths should be good enough," says Dr. Foersterling.

10 Mold-Free Bath Toys to Buy

"If water can get inside, then mold can, too," explains Abe Navas, general manager of Emily's Maids, a house cleaning service in Dallas. "And it's often difficult to see and remove." Keeping that in mind, the best solution is to skip toys where water can get in but that you can't get into in order to clean. Here are a few of our favorites:

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