You squeeze your child’s favorite rubber ducky, and it emits a glob of grayish gunk. You catch your baby chewing on a teething toy speckled with little green flecks. Oh, no … is that mold?
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It’s just a fact of life (and parenting): Baby toys end up getting wet, whether it’s a plastic bath-time buddy or a saliva-covered teething ring. And where there’s moisture, there’s probably always a possibility for mold. But does it pose a real health danger?
We asked pediatrician Kimberly Giuliano, MD, about the risks of mold on kids’ toys, along with what you can do about it and how you can prevent it.
Mold: A quick overview
Mold is a fungus that reproduces through mold spores, and it thrives in places that are damp, warm and humid — including, but certainly not limited to, kids’ toys.
“Trace levels of mold are all around our environment,” Dr. Giuliano says. “It doesn’t only come from toys like these.”
Mold also loves showers, basements, wet carpets…
How to tell if your baby’s toys are moldy
Sometimes, you can see the mold on the outside of a toy, either growing in a clump or in little dark spots — sort of like you’d see on food that’s gone bad.
But other times, mold is harder to spot, like when it’s inside a toy.
“Mold is likely to grow anywhere there is moisture and darkness,” Dr. Giuliano states. So, no matter how bright and colorful a toy is, anything with nooks, crannies and hollow centers is a potential hotbed for mold.
Bath toys and any other hollow toys are at particular risk here, as they often have small holes in the bottom that allow moisture in but don’t easily let it out. As mold starts to fester inside, you and your child are blissfully oblivious to the small ecosystem unfolding within.
How to clean moldy baby toys
So, you’ve spotted mold on your kiddo’s favorite teething ring. Now what?
If it’s just a small spot of mold, a simple wipe-down will do. “It’s best to wipe them with warm soapy water or a little bit of bleach,” Dr. Giuliano recommends.
But if you’re dealing with more than a little bit of mold, head for the trash can instead of trying to get the toy clean.
Look, we get it: No one wants to throw away a perfectly good toy if they can help it. And the internet is full of advice about cleaning moldy toys with vinegar and other concoctions. But for the sake of your child’s health, particularly moldy toys should be chucked instead of salvaged.
“If there are obvious signs of a problem, like if you can see it covered in mold or if a toy smells foul, it’s best to just throw it away,” Dr. Giuliano advises.
Old toys pose a risk, too, as they’ve had more time to accumulate mold — especially if they’re stored someplace damp, like in the basement or garage. If a toy has been put into storage for a while and is a couple of years old, it’s probably worth replacing before passing it down to younger siblings.
What if my baby has been exposed to mold?
Finding nasty-looking mold on your baby’s toy can be alarming, worrisome and, yes, super gross. But there’s good news: Dr. Giuliano says that for the most part, mold on toys appears only in small traces and doesn’t pose a major health risk to kids.
“In general, these types of mold aren’t concerning for a healthy child,” she continues. “A normal immune system is going to fight off this mold just fine.”
Plus, Dr. Giuliano warns, “If your child is at higher risk for infections, you’ll also need to be more vigilant.” Keep toys clean and keep a close eye out for the possibility of mold if your little one:
- Is undergoing chemotherapy.
- Has had an organ transplant.
- Has a weakened immune system or is taking a medication that weakens their immune system.
How to prevent toys from getting moldy
The drier a toy stays, the less likely it is to grow mold, so try to air out bath toys and saliva-covered teething toys — and clean them on a regular basis.
“Again, warm soapy water is best,” Dr. Giuliano says. “Just be sure to avoid the area around that hole where moisture can potentially get in and grow mold.”
Some types of toys require special care, so always follow the manufacturer’s advice for cleaning them. You can check a toy’s packaging for care instructions or, if you’ve already thrown away the packaging, check the manufacturer’s website for guidance.
Buying new toys? These tips can help you pick out the kinds that are least likely to accumulate mold:
- Solid toys: Mold often grows inside hollow toys, so pick out solid toys or toys that can be opened up to allow you to clean inside them.
- Hole-free toys: Some bath toys advertise being “fully sealed,” “hole-free” or “no holes,” meaning they don’t have a tiny hole in the bottom to let in water (which gives mold a chance to fester).
- Specifically modified toys: If you do buy a hollow toy with a tiny hole in the bottom, you can make some DIY changes to it before getting it wet. Plug the hole with a hot glue gun or drill it to become large enough to allow you to clean inside it after use.
And next time you drain the tub, give your child’s bath toys a little bit of extra attention before you put them away. Dr. Giuliano reiterates: “Whenever possible, try to dry out any toys that continually get wet.”