Children’s toys get grubby if they are used how they are supposed to be used – played with and loved. Which means that they will need to be cleaned periodically for health reasons. This is especially the case if a child has been ill and kept a favourite toy in bed with them during that illness. Soft toys can be real breeding grounds for germs. However, soft toys do not need to suffer the sad fate of the Velveteen Rabbit in the classic children’s story – a good disinfectant solution and a wash is enough to kill the germs.
Soft toys should never be dry-cleaned. The solvents used for dry-cleaning give off toxic fumes, and these are the last thing that you want a young child to breathe in as they play or cuddle a soft toy.
Admittedly, the washing machine with a good dollop of fabric softener works very well for getting soft toys clean, followed by another spin in the dryer, or even a spell in bright sunshine. For especially precious soft toys, they can even be hugged after a fast spin in the washing machine, although they will be slightly damp. However, the process of waiting for a “best friend” to come out from the process of washing and drying can seem like eternity to a small child.
What is much better is to wash soft toys by hand – children can join in this job, and they usually enjoy it. Use warm water the temperature of a comfortable bath and regular hand soap – this is much gentler on your skin, not to mention your child’s. This job is best done on a sunny day outdoors in a large bowl or basin, as water will spill and your child will get wet. Hand washing has another advantage: delicate bits and pieces won’t get damaged, as they may do in a machine. Fabric softener will also not be necessary.
First of all, dip the toy into the water. Then rub the soap all over it and scrub with your fingers and work up a good lather. The lather is what takes the dirt out and is also a lot of fun for small people. Make sure you work all over the toy. Any visible dirt should have particular attention paid to it. At the end of this process, the soft toy you are cleaning should be like Piglet in the Winnie-the-Pooh story – quite a different colour after having a bath.
Empty out the soapy water and replace with fresh water for rinsing. Dunk and squeeze the soft toy in this water until as much soap as possible has come out from the toy. The water should turn milky. If you need to disinfectant to kill germs, this is the stage that it should be added.
A third rinse is not strictly necessary, but it is a good idea. This will make sure that all the soap has come out. Use a second batch of fresh water. Some fragrant oil can be added to the final rinse – let the child choose the scent.
After handwashing, the soft toy will be completely saturated. Line drying takes a very long time, so it is best to get excess water out by putting it in the washing machine to finish off.
However, never wash plastic dolls (Barbie(TM) and the like) in this way. If their nylon hair gets wet, it will tangle hopelessly and permanently, and the owner of the aforementioned doll will not be able to brush her hair any more. If these fashion dolls get dirty on the plastic, just scrub the dirt off with dishwashing liquid and rinse off, just like a plate, but be very careful not to get the hair wet.