How to Sanitize Stuffed Toys

Your child's favorite stuffed animal goes everywhere she goes -- which means it collects plenty of dust and germs on her daily adventures. Since a sick kiddo is the last thing you want, keeping your child’s stuffed pals clean and sanitized is essential. After dealing with diapers, spit-up and flying applesauce during your child's baby days, cleaning up stuffed animals should be a pretty stress-free prospect.

For Machine-Washable Toys

Ideally, you would wash your child’s stuffed animals in hot water every other week, says Dr. Myron Zitt, an allergist in New York City and past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Dry the toy in your dryer on high heat for at least 45 minutes to kill any lingering germs.

Bleach can affect the color of stuffed animals and is usually recommended only for hard, nonporous toys, not soft, absorbent ones, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. Hot water and heat drying should effectively eliminate any dust mites and germs on your child’s stuffed animal. If you do decide to use bleach, be sure to choose one with an EPA registration number on the label -- which lets you know that the product has been tested for possible risks -- and follow the label’s directions for diluting and using the bleach.

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For Toys That Can’t Go in the Washing Machine

Not all toys can go into the washing machine, so if your child's favorite stuffed animal has to be surface cleaned, use a mild detergent and warm water to thoroughly scrub the stuffed animal's exterior. Maneuver your washcloth into every nook and cranny, then clean the animal again with plain water to get rid of any lingering detergent residue, which can make the stuffed animal’s fur feel stiff or look clumpy. After you've cleaned them and let them dry in the sun, close stuffed animals in a plastic freezer bag and store them in the freezer for at least 72 hours to sanitize them, suggests the University of Florida Pediatric Pulmonary Division. Obviously, three days without a favorite stuffed animal can feel like a long time to your child, so have a coping plan in place -- maybe a substitute stuffed animal or a daily letter-writing session to the quarantined toy.

Keeping Them Clean

If your child sleeps with a stuffed animal, it can pick up dust mites and germs from his bed. To minimize allergens in the bedroom, "encase mattresses and pillows with dust-mite-proof covers," suggests Dr. Zitt. He adds that you may also want to switch out curtains -- which can collect dust and germs -- for washable blinds. Since stuffed animals collect dust and germs in their soft fur, consider storing them somewhere other than your child's bedroom to minimize the dust and germs in his sleeping environment.

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Other Tips

Don't use hand-sanitizer gel to clean stuffed toys -- it's designed for use on human skin and won't have the same effect on stuffed animals, according to the National Pesticide Information Center.

If your child has allergies or asthma, stuffed animals that can't go in the washing machine for regular cleaning may be a health risk. Check the care labels before you buy stuffed toys to assess how easy they are to clean. You could save yourself some hassle and tears down the road.

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