One of the most important daily duties of any child care provider is ensuring that the center's play things are properly cleaned, sanitized and disinfected. Children are naturally very germy and when they get together do not often practice proper sanitization techniques like frequent hand washing, covering their mouth when they sneeze, or not placing toys in their mouths.
This can be difficult for young children because providers and parents are trying to reinforce the concept of sharing but the kids are not allowed to share things like cups, hair brushes, tooth brushes and should not be encouraged not to mouth the same toy. This is merely to promote healthy practices in the daycare and avoid passing as many germs and illnesses as possible.
There are different disinfecting techniques depending on the toy:
- Hard Plastic - these can be run through the dishwasher. If your dishwasher has a sanitize mode even better. Small toys can be placed in a small laundry bag if necessary.
- Large Surfaces, Soft Plastic - these toys can be wiped down with a bleach, water mixture. Add about a tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water. A spray bottle for this works great. When finished you can wipe the toys off again with plain water to eliminate traces of bleach. Clorox wipes can also be useful for a quick wipedown to sanitize hard surfaces.
- Stuffed Animals - if the cleaning instructions state the plush toys are machine washable and there are no electronic parts - put the toys through the washing machine. Try a delicate cycle and use heat to ensure the toys are properly disinfected. For larger plush toys or stuffed animals that are surface clean only, try putting them in an airtight bag to kill tiny parasites or throw them in a hot dryer.
- Wood - again you can use the bleach solution but the toys should be cautiously wiped down and not immersed in water. Take care to dry wooden toys right away to keep them from absorbing any excess moisture.
If using bleach worries you, you could also try using a similar vinegar and water solution instead.
For those running a family child care home, the Colorado Department of Humans Services - Division of Child Care states in its Rules Regulating Family Child Care Homes that:
"C. Cleaning Toys
1. Toys that are not mouthed or otherwise contaminated by body fluids shall be cleaned and sanitized at least once a week and whenever visibly soiled.
2. Toys that are placed in children's mouths or are otherwise contaminated by body fluids shall be cleaned and sanitized prior to use by another child."