Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 3: Health Promotion and Protection

3.3 Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

3.3.0 Cleaning and Sanitizing Toys

Frequently Asked Questions/CFOC Clarifications


Date: 11/07/2012

Topic & Location:
Chapter 3
Health Promotion
Standard Cleaning and Sanitizing Toys

This standard states that plastic toys can be cleaned in a dishwasher but the Children's Environmental Health Network/Eco-Healthy Child Care generally discourages programs from exposing plastics to heat, including heated dishwashers, due to the potential risk of exposure to harmful chemicals in plastics, which could include toys that are frequently mouthed by children. What's your take on this issue considering that CFOC Standard Plastic Containers and Toys also includes a standard on plastics, which states, “Do not place plastics in the dishwasher”?


BPA, phthalates, and other additives may leach from a plastic toy while being exposed to the heat of a mechanical dishwasher. Hence, the reason standard states that following the guideline of not placing plastics in the dishwasher "may reduce exposure to phthalates and BPA."

However, there is no evidence available to either support or refute the use of a mechanical dishwasher to clean, rinse, and sanitize toys. To best limit exposure to toxins, caregivers/teachers should follow the cleaning instructions provided by the toy's manufacturer, while also following their local regulations.

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 3/20/2023.

Cleaning and sanitizing toys are important steps to reduce the risk of spreading infectious diseases in early care and education programs. Toys that cannot be cleaned and sanitized should not be used. Toys that children have placed in their mouths or that are contaminated by bodily fluids (secretion or excretion) should be set aside and not used until they are cleaned and sanitized. Collecting toys as they become dirty throughout the day and sorting them into separate containers (one for cloth toys and one for hard toys) can make it easier to clean and sanitize at the end of the day.

The following methods for cleaning and sanitizing toys should be used:

  • Washing toys by hand: Wash toys with fragrance-free soap or detergent and water, then rinse with water, sanitize, and air dry. It is important to clean toys before sanitizing them because the sanitizer works better on clean surfaces. It is important to follow the instructions for the sanitizer and allow the sanitizer to air dry for the recommended time. Wooden toys that cannot be submersed in water or put in a dishwasher should be cleaned with a soapy cloth, then rinsed with a damp cloth, and then sanitized by applying a solution. The wooden toys should then be wiped dry or allowed to air dry. Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning wooden toys.
  • Washing toys in a dishwasher: Some hard toys can be cleaned and sanitized in a dishwasher. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on the toy to make sure the toy is dishwasher safe. Use the correct amount of fragrance-free dishwashing detergent and run the complete wash cycle. Make sure the dishwasher has a “sanitizing cycle” or is set to heat dry. Use a dishwasher with a sanitizing cycle that is certified to meet the NSF/ANSI 184 standard. This standard helps confirm that a residential dishwasher can reduce bacteria by at least 99.999% when run on the sanitizing cycle.4 Do not wash toys with dirty dishes, utensils, etc. A small mesh laundry bag can be used to hold small toys.
  • Washing toys in a washing machine: A washing machine can clean many soft toys (e.g., stuffed animals, puppets, play clothing). Check the manufacturer’s instructions on the toy to confirm that it can go in a washing machine. Wash in the warmest temperature, and dry completely. Use a dryer on a high heat setting when possible. Rotating soft toys, puppets, and dramatic play clothing can help reduce the need to wash the material often.

Children playing with plastic or play foods, dishes, and utensils should be closely supervised to prevent shared mouthing of these toys. Only 1 child at a time should use machine-washable cloth toys. These toys should be laundered before another child uses them. Indoor toys should not be shared between groups of infants or toddlers unless the toys are washed and sanitized before being moved from one group to the other. For more information on toys such as play dough and other manipulative sensory items, see CFOC Standard

See the Comments section below for more resources on cleaning schedules, choosing the right cleaning product, important information about using bleach products, and safer choice products. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all products.


Infectious diseases spread easily in early care and education programs, since children, staff, and families are all in close contact. Surfaces and objects can carry germs and have spread diseases.1–3 Toys can spread disease when children put the toys in their mouths, touch the toys after putting their hands in their mouths during play or eating, or after toileting with inadequate hand hygiene. Using a dishwasher that has a “sanitizing cycle” or is set to heat dry is an acceptable way to save time and work when sanitizing plastic toys, as long as it’s not washing dishes and cutlery at the same time. Developing effective cleaning strategies and policies are important steps to reduce the risk of illness in early care and education programs.


Early care and education programs need to write up and follow a routine schedule of cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Refer to CFOC Appendix K: Routine Schedule for Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting.

For more information on choosing a cleaning, sanitizing, or disinfecting product, please refer to CFOC Appendix J: Selection and Use of a Cleaning, Sanitizing, or Disinfecting Product. Appendix J also has important information about the use of bleach products, how to prepare bleach solutions, and health and safety precautions. Never mix bleach with other household cleaners, especially those that have ammonia.

The use of products that have safer (less toxic) chemicals helps reduce health and environmental concerns. Manufacturers may claim that their products are “green,” “natural,” or “earth friendly,” but these claims are often misleading and might not be about a chemical’s safety. Organizations now certify and label products that meet certain health and environmental standards. These certifications can help you find less hazardous cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting products. CFOC Appendix J has more information on Third Party Certifications logos and these safer (less toxic) chemicals. Safer disinfectant options can be found at Using the least hazardous products available will help protect the health of children, and early care and education program staff and custodial personnel.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Situations that Require Hand Hygiene Handwashing Procedure Assisting Children with Hand Hygiene Training and Monitoring for Hand Hygiene Hand Sanitizers Routine Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting Cleaning and Sanitizing Objects Intended for the Mouth Cleaning Individual Bedding Cleaning Crib and Other Sleep Surfaces Dishwashing in Centers Dishwashing in Small and Large Family Child Care Homes Method for Washing Dishes by Hand Use of Play Dough and Other Manipulative Art or Sensory Materials
Appendix J: Selection and Use of a Cleaning, Sanitizing or Disinfecting Product
Appendix K: Routine Schedule for Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting
  1. Ibfelt T, Engelund EH, Permin A, Madsen JS, Schultz AC, Andersen LP. Presence of pathogenic bacteria and viruses in the daycare environment. J Environ Health. 2015 Oct;78(3):24-29. PMID: 26591334

  2. Gerba CP, Chaidez C. Detection of pathogenic micro-organisms on children’s hands and toys during play. J Appl Microbiol. 2014 Jun;116(6):1668-1675. doi: 10.1111/jam.12473. Epub 2014 Mar 20. PMID: 24524673

  3. Bright KR, Boone SA, Gerba CP. Occurrence of bacteria and viruses on elementary classroom surfaces and the potential role of classroom hygiene in the spread of infectious diseases. J Sch Nurs. 2010 Feb;26(1):33-41. doi: 10.1177/1059840509354383. Epub 2009 Nov 10. PMID: 19903773

  4. Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. Green cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting: A tooklit for early care and education, 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: University of California, San Francisco; 2021


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 3/20/2023.