Six toy-cleaning tips
By Lisa Murphy
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There may be a few surprises lurking in your child's stuffed animal, bath toy or train set. Think dust mites and molds that can trigger allergies and asthma, and infectious germs that spread viral illnesses. "We know that the majority of cold viruses are transmitted on objects and hands, for instance," says Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York. "Your child can develop a rhinovirus within 12 to 24 hours of contact." Clearly, cleaning our kids' hands house and toys is good for their health. Here's how to do it right and help keep allergies, asthma, colds and flus at bay:
Choose toys carefully. Look for washable toys and throw out items that won't come clean, says Dr. Bassett, who is also vice-chairman of public education for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). Where possible, avoid porous, stuffed or otherwise difficult-to-scrub items.
Wash 'em regularly. You don't need to scrub toys weekly, as many daycares do, but perhaps once a month or at least when toys are visibly dirty. Throw toys into the top rack of a dishwasher or the washing machine, or hand wash them in dish soap and water. Not all toys indicate whether they're dishwasher safe, so use your judgment. If you're concerned that something might melt, wash it by hand.
Blast germs when required. Disinfect toys and other surfaces (say, toy boxes or crib rails) if you, your child or a visiting playmate has been ill. A bleach-water solution or non-aerosol disinfectant such as Lysol should do the trick, says Dr. Bassett. (Be sure to read ingredients and labels carefully.) Note that if your dishwasher or laundry machine uses 130-degree water, disinfectant is unnecessary.
Give stuffed toys the deep freeze. If your child has tested positive for dust-mite allergy, put their stuffed toys in a plastic covering and freeze them for three to five hours once a week. "This kills most living dust mites," says Dr. Bassett. These microscopic, spider-like mites are one of the most common allergy and asthma triggers. To find out if your child has a dust-mite allergy, ask your family doctor for a blood- or skin-prick allergy test.
Ditch bath toys with holes. Sure, you can and should squeeze water out of tub toys, hang them to dry in a netting bag and wash and disinfect them as above. But bath toys with holes can become a breeding ground for mold, so why not avoid them altogether?
Keep washing those hands. This is important especially after school or visits to the playground. A recent University of Arizona study found that children's playground equipment and daycare centers were the most frequently contaminated public places of over 1,000 surfaces tested. Washing hands before kids play with their home toys can keep them from spreading bacteria around. "The average child has up to six colds a year, but regular hand washing can cut that in half," says Dr. Bassett. The good news? "People are more aware of environment and disease," he says. "We're all doing a better job of fighting germs these days."