How to Clean and Sanitize All Toys in a House


Melissa asked: How do I clean ALL of our toys after we’ve had hand, foot and mouth disease with the kids? We had the icky Coxsackie virus come to our house! How do we clean ALL of the toys that have been played with?

Cleaning toys after exposure to a virus, illness, or contagious disease is more than an excellent idea, it’s a necessity. Still, the task can be an overwhelming one. This multi-step process involves several techniques for dealing with different types of materials, but by the time you finish you’ll have a house full of clean, germ-free toys!

You Will Need:

  • Hot water
  • Mild detergent
  • Scouring sponge
  • White vinegar
  • Clean spray bottle (2)
  • Paper towels
  • Clean, thick towels (for drying)
  • Washing machine
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dryer
  • Bleach

Steps to Clean the Toys:

  1. For plastic toys without batteries or electronics, fill a clean sink or bathtub with hot water. Add mild detergent and agitate the water to disperse the soap. Toss the toys in the water and allow them to soak in the hot water. After several minutes (but before the water begins to cool), use the scouring sponge to scrub the entire surface. Rinse with clean hot water (preferably running water) and lay on a towel to dry.
  2. For toys with battery compartments or electronics, fill a spray bottle with white vinegar. Spray all exterior surfaces with white vinegar, then wipe clean with paper towels. Lay out on clean towels to air dry.
  3. Toss washable toys in the washing machine. Run a cycle with hot water and your regular detergent. Plan to dry plush toys for at least two full cycles, as they can feel dry on the outside even when the inside is wet (a situation that is a breeding ground for germs). It’s a good idea to separate light and dark colored toys to avoid color bleed problems.
  4. Once hard-bodied toys have dried, mix ¼ cup bleach with 1 gallon of water. Stir to combine, then pour the diluted solution into the second spray bottle. Spray the exterior of toys with the bleach and allow to air dry. Bleach dissipates rapidly, so once toys dry, they are safe for children to have.
  5. Wipe down other surfaces, large toys, and board books with a paper towel dampened with white vinegar. Switch to clean paper towels frequently to avoid inadvertently spreading germs.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • After a contagious illness, it’s best to clean all toys in the house, whether they’ve been played with or not. Unless they were stored in sealed plastic bins, it’s best to assume that all toys have been exposed to circulating air in the home, even if little fingers haven’t touched them.
  • For additional disinfecting products, other than bleach, see our guide How to Clean Disinfect Laundry Without Bleach.


  1. Nettie says:

    If a child has hand, foot and mouth disease and they play with toys, how long after will the germs still be on the toy? Or do the germs die after a period?

  2. LG says:

    Thanks for this great information. It needs to be shared in preschools, day cares, homes, and play groups!

  3. Suzette says:

    What about books? How do you clean hard and paperback books. This hfm is no joke!

  4. Melanie says:

    Use the method for Dealing with Mold Growth in the article How to Clean and Sanitize Wet Books. Isopropyl is effective against most viruses.
    Source: – Dr. Frank Bures: Simple rubbing alcohol reason to be thankful
    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, 2008

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