How to Clean Up Kids' Stuff: Kids Edition Part II

BY: Aimee Algas Alker |Jun 27, 2018


Kids are so messy, we've had to cover them in two separate "How to Clean" articles. Last time, we shared with you how to clean up messes unique to little ones; this time we're going to delve into how to clean up kids' stuff: toys, high chairs, car seats, and other items. At the bottom, we've added a list of cleaning products parents should keep close at hand to tackle almost any mess.

This is part of a series. We've already covered how to clean the kitchen, bathroom, and the rest of the home—and how to clean up kids' messes.



Why you should clean it: That backpack is your child's daily companion, carrying lunches and books and shoes and sweaty gym clothes. But how often do you even think about cleaning it? Before you get started, though, check the tags to find out how the manufacturer recommends washing it.

How to clean a backpack:

  1. Empty it completely

  2. Vacuum the interior to get rid of crumbs and other particles.

  3. Pretreat any stains; OxiClean is a good option, and so is a paste of vinegar and baking soda

  4. Check the tags: if it's machine washable, use the gentle cycle with cold water. Otherwise wash it by hand with cold water and dish soap or laundry detergent. A scrub brush or sponge should help getting rid of stains and embedded dirt.

  5. Hang to dry, preferably in the sun.

How often: Ideally, as often as needed. Realistically, once or twice a year.

Hot tip: Put the bag in a pillowcase (or turn it inside out) to prevent the straps from getting tangled in the washing machine.

Shop OxiClean


Bath Toys

While this was already covered in the bathroom edition of this series, we figure it bears repeating here.

Why you should clean them: One word: mold. Mold can build up inside and outside the toys, creating a toxic swill. But to clean bath toys can be difficult—but it's not as hard as it seems.

How to clean bath toys: First, as far as a cleaning solution goes, you have two options: Bleach is super-effective, but if not rinsed away thoroughly, harmful to little bodies; experts say white vinegar can be just as effective and much safer—at most, it will not taste great when squirted into little mouths. Either way, a solution of 1/2 to 1 cup of bleach or vinegar in a gallon of water should suffice.

  1. Squeeze any remaining water out of the toy and allow it to dry.

  2. Soak the toy in the solution for at least an hour; overnight is best. Be sure to squeeze the solution into the toy and swish it around to be sure it gets all over the inside.

  3. Scrub the outside of the toy with a toothbrush soaked in your solution

  4. Rinse the toy thoroughly (until you no longer smell bleach when you squeeze water out of it), and allow to dry completely, preferably in the sun.

How often: Once a week

Hot tip: To prevent the need to clean the inside again, when the toy is dry, seal the hole with a glue gun or super glue.

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Why you should clean it: The combination of soap residue and moisture is the perfect breeding ground for mold, mildew, and bacteria. While the tub should be rinsed and wiped down every time it's used (ideally with a microfiber cloth), it should also be deep cleaned regularly.

How to clean a baby bathtub:

  1. Rinse the tub

  2. Spray it with a mixture of water and vinegar or castile soap (which is mild enough to use for your hair, and multipurpose), and wipe with the microfiber cloth.

  3. Use an old toothbrush to scrub crevices or stubborn spots.

  4. For more scrubbing action, try a paste of baking soda and water.

  5. Rinse and dry thoroughly.

How often: Once a week

Hot tip: The best time to clean the tub is right after a bath; the worst time is just before a bath. Rinse and wipe down the tub after every bath.

Shop castile soap


Car Seat

Why you should clean it: Maybe your kid got car sick, maybe your kid had a blowout, or maybe it's been months since you've dared take a peek beneath that seat. Whatever it is, that car seat needs cleaning.

How to clean a child's car seat: While the manufacturer's manual should have tips for cleaning your particular car seat, we've got general guidelines for you.

  1. Use a baby wipe to remove any surface dirt or other . . . gross stuff.

  2. Vacuum all crevices and cracks.

  3. Remove the car seat cover if possible, and hand wash it in cold water with a gentle soap.

  4. Wipe down the harness with soft cloth dipped in water mixed with a gentle soap cleanser, such as baby wash or Dawn dish soap. The key word here is "gentle"—harsher cleaners can affect the integrity of the harness.

  5. Swish the buckle around in a cup of water to dislodge any debris trapped in it

  6. Allow the seat and the cover to air dry

How often: Every six months

Hot tip: Dry the seat in the sun, if possible; it's a natural deodorizer.

Shop baby wipes


Crib/Toddler Mattress

Why you should clean it: Most mattresses for the crib or toddler bed have a vinyl water-resistant surface, making for easy cleaning. Still, you'll likely have to clean some kind of mess from it.

How to clean a crib mattress:

  1. Wipe off any excess fluids with a cloth of sponge.

  2. Once dry, vacuum the mattress with the brush attachment or directly with a handheld vacuum

  3. Wet a sponge with soapy water and use it to wipe down the rest of the stain.

  4. Dry it with a microfiber cloth

  5. If you're dealing with urine or poop, try spraying it liberally with an enzyme cleaner used for pet messes. Flip the mattress over and allow it to air dry

  6. Sprinkle some baking soda on it, let it sit for a couple of hours, then vacuum it up to deodorize

How often: Every month

Hot tip: If you have a wet/dry vacuum, use it to suck the liquid from the mattress; however, keep in mind that you'll then have to clean the vacuum, depending on what the liquid is.

Shop handheld vacuums


High Chair

Why you should clean it: Do we really need to discuss how mucked up a child's high chair can get? Parents get the most stumped by how to clean high chair straps; we're going to cover that and then some.

How to clean a high chair:

The best place to de-gunk it is outside, if it's nice out. If not, lay out something underneath, like a splayed open garbage bag (slit the sides with scissors) or a tarp, to save you the task of cleaning the floor when you're done.

  1. Remove the tray and straps (if removable), and soak both in hot soapy water.

  2. Turn the chair upside down and shake it to get rid of any loose food chunks.

  3. Vacuum all crevices.

  4. Spray it down with cleaner: water and vinegar, a mild all-surface cleaner (or castile soap), or dish soap and water.

  5. Scrub the tray and straps and let dry, in the sun if possible.

  6. Go back to the chair and use a scrub brush, sponge, or old toothbrush to get at any crusties.

  7. Wipe it down with a wet cloth and dry thoroughly.

How often: Monthly

Hot tip: Rinse it in the shower, especially if you have a handheld shower head, or hose it down outside.

Shop surface cleaners



Why you should clean it: Because it holds food inside, a kid's lunchbox is prone to growing mold and at the very least nasty odors.

How to clean a lunchbox:

  1. Shake out any crumbs.

  2. Make a paste with baking soda and water, and let that sit on any stains in the plastic lining.

  3. Wipe down the interior with hot soapy water or a water-vinegar solution

  4. Rinse and air dry

How often: Monthly

Hot tip: Before you perform the above steps, check the tag; some can be machine-washed on the gentle cycle.


Play Yard (Pack N Play)

Why you should clean it: Babies spend a lot of time in them, and they collect dirt dirt pretty quickly.

How to clean a pack n play:

  1. Put the folded up play yard, including the mattress, in your bathtub.

  2. Fill the bathtub with very hot water.

  3. Add 1/2 each of vinegar, baking soda, and laundry detergent

  4. Let it soak for an hour, flipping the frame halfway through if it's not full submerged.

  5. Drain the bathtub.

  6. Rinse all parts thoroughly, either with a handheld shower head (if you have one) or outside with the hose.

  7. Let air dry completely, preferably in the sun.

How often: Every six months, or whenever it seems like it needs it.


Sippy Cups

Why you should clean it: Mold and mildew can build up in all of the crevices in the lid—especially in the ones that are "no-drip"—making it tough to keep a sippy cup clean, even if you wash the cup after every use.

How to clean sippy cups:

  1. Take apart and remove everything you can, including straw attachments, any valves, and other interior components, such as the leak-preventing rubber rings around the edges of openings.

  2. Scrub inside and out with a bottle brush—if yours has an attached nipple brush, use that to get into the smaller crevices

  3. Fill a bowl with hot water, plus some white vinegar and dish soap

  4. Soak all parts of the cup in this solution for at least 30 minutes

  5. Rinse and allow to dry completely before you reassemble it

How often: If you take the cup apart and wash the parts regularly, being sure to allow it to dry completely before you put it back together, you should only have to do the hot water soak every couple of weeks.

Hot tip: Dental brushes like these ($20.99 for 50) are a great tool to get into the tightest spots.

Shop bottle brushes



Why you should clean it: Strollers endure the weather and countless different meals on the go; ours collected all kids of gunk, from fallen leaves, to beach sand, to I don't even know what from that trip to the zoo.

How to clean a stroller:

  1. Vacuum the seat and basket and any other crevices

  2. Remove all possible parts—the tray and any other plastic accessories, sun shade, straps—and soak in sink with hot soapy water for at least 15 minutes, then rinse

  3. Hand or machine wash fabric parts if removable

  4. On the main stroller frame, use a toothbrush and toothpick to scrub away embedded dirt.

  5. If you have a garden hose, scrub the stroller with soapy water and a brush, and hose it down to rinse. Alternately, you could do this in the bathtub and allow the shower to rinse away the soap.

  6. Air dry all parts thoroughly, preferably in the sun

How often: Once a year

Hot tip: WD-40 will help silence squeaky wheels or brakes.

Shop WD-40



Why you should clean them: Babies put them in their mouths, then on the floor, then back in their mouths. Even the least-loved toys need some TLC to remove dirt, dust, and smears of chocolate.

How to clean baby toys—and other toys:

  1. Most plush toys can be machine-washed in cold water on the gentle cycle; add some baking soda and vinegar if toys are extra dirty. Put them in a pillowcase for protection before running them through the dryer.

  2. Most non-electronic plastic toys can be run through the dishwasher, which will also disinfect them. Alternately, wipe down toys with a solution of soapy water, vinegar, and baking soda, then rinse well.

  3. For electronic toys and board books, wipe their surfaces with a cloth, preferably microfiber, dampened with water or a vinegar-water solution.

How often: It depends on how much they're played with, but they should be cleaned at least once a month.


Need a cleaning arsenal?

Here's where you can find some of the items listed in this story, all of which parents should keep on hand to help tackle just about any mess kids (or grownups) might make:


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