Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. Her flagship column, "Ask a Clean Person", debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we're launching a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings.
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Jolie, the Goddamned RUBBER DUCKIES. My daughter loves them, but I have ceased to put them in the tub with her because they fill with mould and then she puts her mouth on them, and then she's basically doing a beer-bong of mould water. Is there any solution to this other than depriving her of her bath toys?
Yup, yup, I have you covered! This is so common and it's incredibly frustrating that the people who make bath and teething toys don't take mould growth into account as part of the design process. I cannot tell you the number of expletive-filled emails and texts I received from my parent friends during the whole Sophie the Giraffe mould scandal. It was crazy-making for me and I wasn't even the one stuffing a child full of mould spores! I'm honestly still so mad at that giraffe, you guys.
As frustrating as it is that bath toys have this pretty major design flaw, the good news is that blasting away mould is a fairly simple and mostly hands-off endeavour. Today, we'll go over a few of the options you have for doing so.
First, though, let's talk about that word I used, "options", because it's an important part of how I approach this job. Ask a Clean Person has a clear POV; you can expect to get a lot of information on the products and techniques that can be used to address any given cleaning problem, but not many formal directives about which choice to make. That's because we're all adults with free will - and also because my primary education took place in Cambridge in the late '70s and early '80s and I can't really shake the whole Free To Be You And Me ethos of the time - and I'm not one to tell you that you must (must, must, must!), say, use bleach to kill mould, when white vinegar is also a great choice for performing that operation. You get to decide that for yourself based on the information I give you! A few other things you can expect from this column are kindness, humour, real talk and a lack of judgement. Life is too short for me to spend my time shaming strangers because they don't care if their pillows have never been washed. And also, I don't sleep on your pillows.
Destroying the Mould
OK! With that introduction out of the way, let's talk mould-blasting. The two approaches are to either give the toys a long soak in a mould-eradicating solution, or to boil 'em. If you go the boiling route, you can use plain water, or a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water. If you go the long soak route, dilute either ½-1 cup of white vinegar OR chlorine bleach in 4L of water, but not both, never both. In terms of how long to soak toys in either a vinegar or bleach solution, an hour up to overnight will do you right.
One thing to note, however, is that some toys, such as that monster Sophie (seriously, I'm so mad at what Sophie did to my parent friends), can't be cleaned using these methods because of the type of rubber she's made from, so it's always worth checking out manufacturer instructions. (Here are the directions for washing Sophie.) Fortunately, that's pretty easy to do these days thanks to Google.
Removing the Cleaning Product Residue
So now you have mould-free rubber duckies but maybe you're like, "The thing has bleach all over it, that seems … not right?" No problem: Put the duckies in the dishwasher, on the top rack, and wash them just like you wash your dishes. And actually, going forward, if you think of it, tossing 'em in the dishwasher on the regular - once a week or so will do it - will help to keep them clean of all sorts of nasty stuff that you maybe don't want in your kid's mouth and/or bathwater.
Preventing Bath Toy Mould in the First Place
At the risk of making your head explode by adding another task to your already ridiculously busy life, should you be so inclined, there's an easy thing you can do to prevent the mould from forming in the first place: Plug the holes up with glue using a hot glue gun. That way, water won't be able to get in the toys in the first place, and mould formation won't even be an issue you need to address. Two caveats here: 1) You'll want to check the glue from time to time to be sure it isn't coming loose. We don't need a glob of hardened glue lodging itself in a tiny windpipe! And 2) it's worth thinking about how you feel about introducing glue onto a toy that your most precious cargo will likely be gnawing on.
You can also go the other way, and cut a BIGGER hole in those bath toys. That will allow the water to drain out, and air to circulate, reducing the presence of the moisture that mould loves so much. It also allows you to get in there and clean the toys out using a cotton swab or rolled up paper towel.
So! Options exist here beyond depriving your kiddos of their bath toys, which I think we can agree is a grim fate that we're all happy can be avoided. Do you have other ways of handling bath toy mould issues? Tell us in the comments!