Thrifty Parenting: How To Clean Second-Hand Toys

09/02/2010 22:40 | Updated 22 May 2015

Perhaps you were given a whole bunch of hand-me-down toys from a relative.

Perhaps you buy toys second-hand because you don't have a lot of money right now.

Perhaps you buy second-hand because you have concerns about waste and consumption.

Perhaps, like me, you can't stand all the new-fangled electronic toys, so you want old-fashioned ones.

Whatever the reason you have second-hand toys, you will still want to make sure the toys are clean before giving them to your children.

Most toys can be cleaned with "natural" products already in your kitchen, namely vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice. It may take more than one go at cleaning, but the toys will end up spick and span without being covered in chemicals.To your child, of course, the toys will be brand new, so here's the lowdown on what to do:

Hard and soft plastic and wooden toys

Mix one part white vinegar with one part water and use that to wash any plastic or wooden toys. You can either put the solution on a clean cloth and wipe them down or, if you want, submerge them in the solution and let them soak for a bit.

Vinegar is an excellent sanitiser, killing a wide range of bacteria and mould. It's not quite as good with viruses though. You should just let the vinegar/water solution air dry rather than rinsing it off. Use a white distilled vinegar rather than a brown malt vinegar. Any vinegary smell will dissipate when it dries.

Stuffed or fabric toys

The first thing I do with a second-hand stuffed toy is seal it in a freezer bag and put it in the freezer for 2-3 days. This will kill any dust mites living inside.

Next, depending on what the toy is made of I will wash it either by hand or in the washing machine. Most toys can take machine washing just fine, especially if they are put into a pillowcase first. I've found, however, that if a toy is very grubby, a vigorous handwash does the trick.

If the toy is a bit smelly, try soaking it in a solution of four heaped tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda in one litre of water before washing it. If it's very smelly try soaking it in a vinegar/water solution before washing it.

Most fabric toys can be tumble dried on a low setting. If you are unsure, however, let them air dry.

Stains on white fabric toys

If you have a white stuffed toy that's stained, you may be very wary of using bleach on it. After washing it, try letting it dry outdoors in direct sunlight. For most light stains and for "yellowed" whites (including cloth nappies and clothes), this will be enough to bring them back to their former glory. If the stain is very stubborn, put a bit of lemon juice on it before letting it sit in the sun.

Cigarette smells

Perhaps you want to give your child one of your old toys which has been stored at your parents' house for years and granny or grandpa smokes like a chimney. Perhaps you got an amazing deal on a stuffed toy on eBay only to be knocked over by the smell of stale smoke when you opened the package. You CAN remove this smell in most cases, though sometimes it take more than one cleaning.

First, try soaking the toy for several hours in a vinegar/water or bicarbonate of soda and water solution, then hand wash it. Cigarette smoke leaves a sticky, greasy residue which embeds itself in the fibres. You will need to use hand washing detergent to grab hold of the grease and some vigorous agitation to remove it. Ideally, leave it outside to dry and air out for 2-3 days. Make sure it is protected from the rain.

Sometimes even after all of that, you will still detect a faint smell of smoke. If you really want to keep the toy, then go through the whole process again, letting the toy soak even longer before washing. If there is still a faint smoke smell – this may happen if there is any soft plastic on the toy – then after it has been air dried, put it in a bin liner with a cup of dry coffee grounds and seal the bag. Coffee grounds soak up smells like magic. Leave the toy in the bag with the coffee for a few days. You can also seal it in a bag with crumpled up newspaper or even charcoal – both are good at removing smells.

If after that, there is still a cigarette smell, you may have to concede defeat.

What other natural cleaning tips do you have? Do you have a great way of removing stains from unwashable toys? Have you found the perfect way of removing the smell of cigarettes?

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