How to Wash Dog Toys Safely

Author: Dr. Beth Turner

Published: April 15, 2022

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border collie with a rubber toy in his mouth

Why You Should Disinfect Dog Toys

Most dogs have a favorite toy that goes everywhere with them. That special toy gets toted throughout the house, to the yard, on walks, and to the dog park.

It gets covered in slobber, dirt, and anything else that is lingering on the ground.

This means that dog toys can be harboring anything from fungus to mold to mildew to staph bacteria. There is the risk that they can be contaminated with Parvovirus or Distemper when they are taken on walks or to the dog park. Besides all that, there is the risk of fecal contamination, which can contain E.coli or Giardia, which also puts you at risk since it can be transmitted to humans.

How Often You Should Clean Your Dog's Toys

Since dog toys are among the top 10 germiest items in the home per an NSF International (National Sanitation Foundation) study, it is a good idea to give them a good cleaning AT LEAST once a month. But in an ideal world, weekly cleaning is better.

For those toys that suffer through hard play and are covered in slobber, dirt, and who knows what else, cleaning daily is a good idea. This is especially true for those toys that have been in places other than your home and backyard.

For toys that are well-loved by dogs who eat raw food diets, daily disinfection is important. Studies indicate that these diets can contain Salmonella and Listeria, which are harmful to people. If your dog loves to play with their toys right after a meal, they can be contaminated with these bacteria. If you handle these toys and touch your mouth, you are at risk of accidental ingestion. Use caution by always washing these toys immediately after your dog has eaten and then played with them.

How to clean your dog’s toys is dependent on the type of toy it is. Always look on the packaging to see if the manufacturer has given any ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s’ when it comes to cleaning the toy.

How to Clean Stuffed or Rope Dog Toys

dog watching stuffed toys washing in the machine

In addition to all the other gross stuff that can get on the surface of toys, stuffed toys can harbor dust mites. Getting rid of them is important because, just like us, dogs can be allergic to them.

Rope toys can be cleaned similarly to stuffed toys (details below). Typically, since they don’t have plastic pieces or glue, they can be washed in warm or hot water. There is a quick sanitization method that can be used if they aren’t dirty and there are no plastic or metal parts. Soak them for about 5 minutes in water. Wring out any excess water. Then microwave them for about a minute. Let air-dry.

Stuffed toys can often be washed in a washing machine. Choose a cycle that you think is best for those particular toys. Typically, the Delicate, Hand Wash or Gentle cycle is the best option.

It is generally recommended to use a mesh laundry bag when washing stuffed animals. This helps protect them and keeps any pieces or parts that may have come off contained.

Hot water (at least 140 F) kills bacteria and viruses

Toys with glue, plastic pieces, crinkles, or squeakers should be washed in cool water so that the glue or other plastic parts don’t melt.

Always use the hottest water temperature possible (typically, the warm setting) that is safe for the toys. Hot water (at least 140 F) will kill bacteria and viruses. Additionally, hot water is needed to help kill dust mites.

Prior to washing, be sure to pre-treat any caked-on mud, dirt, or stains. Use a sponge or toothbrush and scrub the area using a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. There isn’t a specific proportion, but it should resemble toothpaste. Allow the area to soak after scrubbing for about 10 to 15 minutes, rinse and wash.

When washing stuffed toys, only use pet-safe detergents. You don't want ingredients like these in your detergent, as your dog will be putting these toys in their mouth:

  • Bleach
  • Chlorine
  • Sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES)
  • Phthalates
  • Artificial Dyes

Here are some options for pet-safe laundry detergents:

  1. Common Good Pet-Safe Liquid Laundry Detergent
  2. Dropps Pods

Another option as a pet-safe laundry detergent for toys and dog beds is Unique's pet bed cleaner. It doubles as a spot cleaner as well. Made in the U.S.A., like the others above, it removes tough stains with its enzymatic formula. They make other great cleaning and odor removing products.

Natural Ways to Clean Dog Toys in the Washing Machine

natural soap nuts to clean dog toys

Soap Nuts

These little dried soap berries are fascinating and an ideal product to use for cleaning pet toys, towels, and beds.

Soap nuts are organic, eco-friendly, non-toxic, unscented, and chemical-free. They can even remove stains! Why is all this great? Because we don’t have to worry about our pets' sensitive skin or that they will ingest a toxin when they chew on a toy.

Besides making us feel better about using something safe and natural for our pets, we are helping the environment. These lovely little gems are reusable, fully bio-degradable, release NO CHEMICALS into the environment, and when they are used up for washing, you can compost them.

As with any cleaning agent (safe or not) or nut for that matter, store them away safely from pets. Ingestion could cause choking, gastrointestinal upset, and blockage.

 

 

Baking Soda & Vinegar

You can skip laundry detergent altogether and use a combination of baking soda and white vinegar.

Sprinkle the toys with baking soda prior to loading them into the washing machine and then add vinegar (a couple of capfuls). Then put the washing machine on the rinse cycle.

Alternatively, mix one part white vinegar, two parts warm water and a dash of lemon. Let the toys soak in the solution (about 15 to 30 minutes) and then wash in the washing machine. The mixture can be used as the detergent or use one of the other pet-friendly detergents recommended above.

dog playing with a stuffed seahorse toy-pexel

After Washing, It's Important to Completely Dry Stuffed Toys

After removing the stuffed toys from the washer, remove any excess water by gently wringing them out.

You can either air-dry them or place them in the dryer on air-dry or the lowest heat setting (do not use heat if they have any plastic).

DO NOT use scented dryer sheets. But ideally none at all. If your pet is anxiously waiting for their toys and you drop the sheet, they may decide it is a new toy. If they ingest it, it can cause a gastrointestinal blockage. Some dogs love stealing dryer sheets as much as socks!

Be sure the toys are completely dry before they are put back into your dog’s toy bin. This is important so that they do not get moldy.

Don’t forget, that toy stuffing can also be swallowed and cause intestinal blockages.

Therefore, always inspect these toys before and after washing, especially if you washed them in a washing machine. Sometimes after cleaning them in a washing machine, the stitching can become loosened.

How to Clean Rubber, Plastic & Nylon Dog Toys

Most toys made of plastic, rubber, and nylon can be cleaned in the dishwasher provided certain precautions are made.

Some toys cannot be placed in a dishwasher because the high heat can cause them to warp, crack, break, or harmful chemicals (Phthalates and BPA) can be released. Prior to putting any toy in a dishwasher, be sure to do the following:

  1. Check the product label or the manufacturer’s website to be sure that the toy is dishwasher safe.

  2. Check product labeling or the manufacturer’s website to be sure that the toys are free of any harmful or potentially deadly chemicals or materials. Ideally, for your dog's safety, you should avoid toys that are made with PVC, BPA, Phthalates, Lead, Cadmium, Chromium, Malamine, Arsenic, and Bromine.

  3. Use only pet-safe dishwasher detergent
    1. Dropps Dishwasher Pods
    2. Puracy Dishwasher Pods

Warning: While these pods are safe for pets when used in a dishwasher, do not allow pets to play with or consume them.

  1. Remove any excess dirt and debris before placing in the dishwasher. Ideally pre-scrub/clean any openings or holes with a toothbrush or bottle brush.

  2. You can tape over any holes or openings in order to prevent any detergents from getting inside or residue from being left behind.

  3. Thoroughly rinse with water after washing to remove any soap residue, and dry completely.


Don't Have or Want to Use a Dishwasher?

If you don’t have a dishwasher or you are concerned it will harm your pet’s toys, fear not because you have other options. Always remove excess dirt and debris prior to cleaning and disinfecting.

  1. Use pet-safe antibacterial dish soap, hot water, and a scrub brush to clean your pet’s toys in the sink. Unscented Dawn® soap is fine to use, as well as, pure castile soap.

  2. Then, soak toys for 30 minutes in a solution of 5% vinegar to 95% warm water. Following the soak, scrub, rinse well, and air dry. Use a toothbrush to scrub areas where dirt and debris can linger.

Note: A stronger vinegar and water solution can be used (50/50).

Cleaning Dog Toys That Came Into Contact With Parvovirus

When there is concern that a dog toy may have been in contact with Parvovirus, cleaning the toy with a bleach solution is necessary. Per the ASPCA, cleaning toys with properly diluted bleach solutions and rinsing well is safe.

Download and print ASPCA's helpful bleach dilution poster and hang it over your washing machine. Until you get a chance to download it, you can do the following using 5.25% bleach (this percent will be on the product label) and water.

For general disinfection of bacteria and viruses (such as Parvovirus) for toys, you will make a 1:32 dilution:

  • Find a container that tightly closes and will not break down from the bleach (i.e., an empty bleach bottle).
  • Pour a ½ cup of 5.25% bleach into your container.
  • Fill the container with water till you have made a full gallon. Be sure to store the solution in a safe place away from children, pets, and light.

NOTE: Toys that have been exposed to Parvovirus should be soaked for at least 10 to 15 minutes prior to rinsing and drying.

A 1:10 dilution will work for inactivating ringworm:

  • Find a container that tightly closes and will not break down from the bleach (i.e., an empty bleach bottle).
  • Pour 1½ cups of 5.25% bleach into your container.
  • Fill the container with water till you have made a full gallon.

The Bonus of Cleaning Dog Toys Regularly

Besides getting rid of all the ‘yucky’ stuff, cleaning also helps your toys last longer.

Regularly cleaning dog toys allows you to fully inspect them for any wear and tear. Toys that are damaged in any way can be a potential choke hazard or result in an intestinal blockage if your dog swallows a big piece or several small pieces.

 

About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Beth Turner

Dr. Beth Turner

Beth Turner is a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience. She graduated from North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine and following graduation, she began her career as an associate veterinarian and worked closely with the local shelter.

In 2007 she accomplished her dream of practice ownership, designing and building her own clinic. Another meaningful role, while running her clinic, was serving as her county's shelter veterinarian. This gave her the opportunity to help improve the lives of many animals in her community as well as work with the rescue she loved. She sold her practice in 2019 to move across the country.

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