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Bathtub Bacteria: Are Your Kids’ Toys Harboring Filth?

[deleted account] ( 19 moms have responded )

Doesn’t it seem like so much of modern parenting is simply a never-ending struggle to keep kids away from dirt and germs? Parents try so hard to prevent kids from touching restroom door handles, eating bugs, pawing through the mud, or being on the receiving end of an errant sneeze or cough that it’s easy to start viewing the entire world as one big incubator of filth. If there’s one thing bathtime is good for, it’s the opportunity to hose the kids down and get them clean and bacteria-free before bed.

Not so fast, though … the very bathtub that parents think is so safe and sanitary may harbor some of the most germ-filled objects in the house. That’s right—children’s bath toys aren’t just squeaky-clean fun.

A Sickening Stew
According to a recent Today show segment on hidden and surprising sources of dirt, tub toys can harbor bacteria and microbes that are potentially hazardous to children. Dr. Philip Tierno, a microbiologist from New York University who was interviewed on the show, said that the rubber duckies and other plastic trinkets children love to play with can accumulate bacteria at an alarming rate. “It’s filth,” he told Today. Since bathwater itself is full of the dissolved dirt, bacteria, and other microorganisms covering our bodies, that toxic cocktail can coat the toys, too, if they’re not cleaned regularly. “Bathwater becomes, literally, a bacterial soup,” Tierno said. “The toys are the depository of these organisms.”

During tests Dr. Tierno conducted, bath toys were discovered to harbor fecal contaminants, such as E. coli and streptococcus, as well as staph aureus and other germs and viruses. They thrive in the warm, moist atmosphere of the bathtub, and since most toys are left there even when bathtime’s done, they never get a chance to dry completely, thereby allowing bacteria to multiply unchecked. When kids play with the toys, putting them in or near their mouths and using them to squirt water onto each other, those bacteria can quickly spread.

All toys can harbor bacterial growth, but especially the ones with crevices or creases that are hard to clean. The worst by far, however, are rubber “squeaky” toys, or those with holes. Because the insides of these toys never dry fully, the bacteria that make their way inside form large colonies. Hollow tub toys were shown to have visible mold colonies and bacterial growth on the inside that was completely undetectable from the outside.

But dirty tub water isn’t the only thing that contaminates bath toys; they’re also susceptible to microorganisms from the toilet. In 1975, University of Arizona professor Charles Gerba published a scientific paper detailing the phenomenon of aerosolization; he found that whenever a toilet flushes, the force of the flush creates a vapor cloud of water and other toilet effluvia. His experiments showed that these vapor clouds, which can include fecal material, bacteria, and other harmful microbes, stayed in the air for up to twenty minutes before eventually landing on other bathroom surfaces, including sinks, toothbrushes, and tubs. Even though the amount of bacteria dispersed is still less, on average, than what’s living on your kitchen sponge, it’s still enough to give parents pause.

Cleaning Up the “Rubber Yuckies”
If the thought of your children bathing with little bacteria bombs makes your skin crawl, take comfort in the fact that keeping most toys squeaky-clean is simple. Today’s Dr. Tierno recommends making sure that bath toys be air-dried completely, away from any moisture source. Putting them into a cupboard may not be the best idea, however, since some cupboards under sinks can be even damper and warmer than the tub itself. Put the toys in a mesh bag and dry them in a separate room, or outside if it’s a nice day.

Take the time to clean toys occasionally with a mild bleach solution, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or a mixture of vinegar and water to kill any living organisms on the toys’ surfaces. Another easy tactic is to run them through the dishwasher a few times per month. If, despite your efforts, you notice black crud developing anywhere on or in the toy, just throw it away.

In the future, avoid buying squeezy toys with holes that can trap and harbor bacteria. Try to use bath toys without nooks, crannies, crevices, or holes for bacteria to hide in, and that are made from nonporous plastic that will hold up well during repeated cleanings. Keeping the tub itself clean can also help cut down on the number of bacteria that live in the bathroom. If you choose to use harsh or abrasive chemical cleansers, though, be sure to rinse the tub thoroughly before you draw a bath for your kids. Also, it’s not a foolproof method, but keeping the toilet seat cover down when you flush is one way to lessen the impact of the aerosolized toilet water.

The next time your kids take a bath, try not to think of the event as a stew in “bacterial soup.” By giving them clean, safe toys to splash around with, you’ll make the experience a little less stomach-churning and a lot more fun.


Yvonne - posted on 08/31/2010




Ladies, you need a copy of an amazing book by Shannon Lush and Jennifer Fleming. I have “Spotless 2” and in it is THE ANSWER to removing the mould from bath toys. This lady is on the radio every Thursday arvo here in Oz. She is amazing and has an answer for everything. Grew up with a chemistry background.
From her book….
Problem: “Mould on Bath Toys”
What to use: Oil of cloves, 9 litre bucket, warm water.

How to apply: Add 2 1/4 teaspoons of oil of cloves to a bucket of warm water. Place the toys inside, squeeze so the water gets inside and leave for 2 hours.
Remove, sqeeze out the water and set aside to dry.

Shannon says bleach does not kill the mould only fades it, that is takes the colour out so you don’t see it any more.

Oil of cloves is a mould killer and is in all her mould rid formulaes

Happy cleaning ladies. :)

[deleted account]

Lol...what next...children shouldn't have any toys at all because they may pick up bacteria from those...these scientists need to get a grip...and possibly experience having children first!

[deleted account]

List of great tub toys...we hall all of these and they work great and dont hold water for long periods of time

Quacky Cups:

Bath toy bag:

Rub a dub stickers for the tub:

Farm animal tub stickers:

foam Letters and numbers:

[deleted account]

Krista...once I was squirting my daughter with one of those toys and all this black film came out...later figured out it was the mold and mildew...I threw them all away...we only have the bathtub letters and numbers that stick to the wall...I wont buy anything that water can get into a just sit...and once a week I fill the bathtub to the fullest I can get it with hot water and pour about 4 cups of bleach into it and just let the toys soak and it keeps them clean and lets me keep my piece of mind lol.


View replies by

Collene - posted on 09/03/2010




I TOTALLY AGREE with Jennifer Morritt! Alot of People need to get a COMPLETE grip when it comes to kids and germs! Your all gonna end up with germaphobic children wrapping up your kids in cotton wool and bubble wrap. You end up with children that have low immunity systems, constantly getting sick because they're not allowed to play with there own toys or share toys with others. Yes! It is good to clean and keep things clean but when you go to the extent of STERILIZING your children's toys because they sneezed on a cold day is WAY OVER BOARD!

Ashley - posted on 09/02/2010




Well i know what im doing after work lol that is so disgusting i bleach and run through my dishwasher may have to do it more and the clove thing sounds great thanks.

Leah - posted on 08/24/2010




I am now adding bleaching bath toys to my weekly cleaning list!! Don't know why but never thought about it before now, just figured they got cleaned every time the kids took a bath. I keep them in a mess container that suction cups to the corner of the bath, hopefully that kept the bacteria slightly at bay :S but better safe than sorry. Thanks for posting this Megan! Very informative!

Charlene - posted on 08/24/2010




My daughter has soooo many toys in the tub.
I have some of them lined up on the lower shelf and the rest go in the boat she has that hangs on the faucet.
If I haven't put all of them in with her, she stands up, sweeps all of them off the shelf and sits back down.

After every bath, the toys get wiped down with a lysol wipe and then rinsed under hot water.
As for the tub, it gets a lysol wipe 2-3 times a day because my boyfriend gets really dirty from work and when he showers, the muddy water splatters every where. It gets a good scrub three to four times a week.

Krista - posted on 08/24/2010




Well, last night I threw out the squirty toys. The rubber duck stays, but as decoration only. And his water-pouring fish (i.e. what I use to rinse his hair) has gone through the dishwasher on "sanitize").

Tonight, I bleach the tub.

Meghan - posted on 08/23/2010




Would it be a bad mommy quote for me to say it builds the immune system?
I am half kidding...we rinse and bleach J's bath toys all the time. And he actually only has some mega blocks and a watering can in there anyway.

Sally - posted on 08/23/2010




My daughters tub is a stew alright. A toy stew. the kid has so many toys in thereshe can barely fit herself in. We rinse everything off after bath and about every 2 weeks the toys get a bleach bath.
She loves her tub toys.

Nikki - posted on 08/23/2010




I am paranoid about cleaning my daughter's bath toys, I wash them almost every bath, I find if they don't air dry completely they are all slimey, gross

April - posted on 08/23/2010




i actually dont have any toys for my son in the tub at all. i have always just thought that being in the tub was a time to just relax and not have to do anything!

Krista - posted on 08/23/2010




Gad, I never even thought about the insides of those toys. My kid has a couple of those little squirty fish, and he loves it when I squirt water on him...he actually tries to catch the stream of water in his mouth.

/makes note to biff those damn things in garbage right after work.

[deleted account]

Without reading the whole thing..(sorry). I don't let the kids have toys that have holes in them in the tub. Water gets in there & stays & mildews..Gross! Solid toys only. Although I don't actually wash them on a regular basis, maybe I should.

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