10 Ways to Clean Mold in Bath Toys

David J. Allen

I spent the better part of 2 ½ years learning about mold and indoor air quality because my child's life depended on it. Now I help others avoid ever having to experience the same thing. The mold industry suffers from conflicting opinions and I do my best to distill loads of data into something practical and useful. I love hearing from and helping readers. • "A house desecrated by mildew, mold, or fungus would be a defiled place to live in, so drastic measures had to be taken." — Leviticus 14:45

Bath toys are prone to mold growth, especially if they have a hole that lets water in.

Squirt toys are made with these holes, so are a poor choice for children—and for parents who don’t want to deal with mold.

Too many parents have seen it first hand.

Actually, one of the more recent studies, from 2018, says science on it was sparse, but that parents had shared their many personal experiences with moldy bath toys on “numerous” blogs and forums.

Photos show anywhere from a small amount of mild discoloration, to a thick and gory cake of mold that lines the entire inner walls of these toys.

Yikes and yuck!

Here are 10 ways to prevent that.

“…Bath toys, best known for so-called ‘rubber ducks’, present an interesting junction between potentially vulnerable end-users [children] and several determining factors for such [fungi] growth…”

Study in NPJ, Biofilms and Microbiomes: “Ugly ducklings—the dark side of plastic materials in contact with potable water,” 27 March 2018

To Clean or Replace?

You can safely clean even the worst mold from most baby bath squirt toys.

The question is whether you want to.

If you can see mold without even cutting one of the toys open, why not spend $9.99 and replace them all?

Most of these 10 ways to kill mold and clean baby bath toys are best used to prevent mold.

But they’re also effective at cleaning even the grossest mold in bath toys.

“Fungi were identified in 58% of all real bath toys and in all dirty water control toys.” 

Study in NPJ, Biofilms and Microbiomes: “Ugly ducklings—the dark side of plastic materials in contact with potable water,” 27 March 2018

Bath Toy Cleaning Basics

Below are 10 ways to clean baby bath toys.

All of them are effective. Pick whichever is most convenient for you. (What do you already have on hand?)

No matter what chemical, solution, or formula you use to clean your baby’s bath toys, the sequence for each is basically the same.

In summary, you clean a moldy bath toy by preparing a cleaning solution in a glass or ceramic bowl, then using the bath toy to suck up and squirt out that cleaning solution, before letting the toy fully dry. In some cases, you’ll also leave the toy to soak in the cleaning solution, giving it time to kill the mold.

Steps to Clean a Moldy Bath Toy

  1. Prepare the cleaning solution you’ll be using; see a list of choices below.
  2. Fill a glass or ceramic bowl with water and the chemical you’ll be using. (Parents: See note on “chemicals” and “chemical-free” below.)
  3. Dip the bath toy into the formula you just made.
  4. Squirt the submerged toy to get some of the solution inside of it.
  5. Shake it vigorously, and squeeze all parts of the toy. Squeeze the sides of the toy together on the inside, and use them to scrub each other.
  6.  Squeeze the dirty water out into the sink, not into your bowl of clean mold-killer.
  7. Repeat that again if you’d like to: Submerge, squeeze, shake, squeeze out into sink.
  8. Leave the toy to soak in the mold-killing solution for the amount of time listed below.
  9. Once done soaking, rinse the toy with clean water.
  10. Let toys dry fully on a washcloth or paper towel, the dish rack, or out in the sun.

How Often Do You Clean Bath Toys to Prevent Mold?

Mold can grow in bath toys in as little as 24-48 hours, but it’s up to you often how you want to clean them. To prevent mold growth in bath toys, consider laying them out to dry fully after each use, and cleaning them with distilled white vinegar, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, or baking soda every 2-4 weeks.

(Obsessing over the dangers of mold isn’t fun or healthy, so you’ll want to find a balance that works for you. Mold growth in toys is also very rare but is worth keeping in the back of your mind.)

Top 10 Ways to Kill and Clean Mold in Bath Toys:

1. Use Distilled White Vinegar to kill bath toy mold naturally

Distilled white vinegar is a perfectly natural way to clean moldy bath toys. Because it is already watered down when you buy it, there’s no need to mix it with more water. Use distilled white vinegar straight from the bottle, which is typically diluted with water to 5% acidity, but is also available in 6, 10, 20, and 30% strengths. A 5% vinegar solution is 95% water, and that will do just fine for moldy bath toys.

Recipe and instructions:

  • Fill glass bowl with distilled white vinegar. Do not dilute with water.
  • Squeeze toy once under the surface, allowing it to suck up the vinegar.
  • Let the toy soak in distilled white vinegar for 1 hour.
  • Remove the toy and rinse it off/out with water.
  • If you dislike the lingering vinegar smell, give the toy a quick hand wash with dish soap.
  • Allow the toy to dry.

2. Use Lemon Juice for a powerful, aromatic mold killer

Pure lemon juice—as opposed to lemon juice concentrate mixed with way too much sugar—is a naturally and great smelling way to kill mold.

Recipe and instructions:

  • Fill a glass or ceramic bowl with half lemon juice and half water (50/50).
  • Submerge the toy and squeeze, allowing it to suck up the lemon/water mix.
  • Let the toy soak for 1 hour.
  • Remove toy and rinse off with water.
  • Allow toy to dry.

3. Use Hydrogen Peroxide as a fast, natural bath toy mold killer

Hydrogen peroxide is a great and very inexpensive natural way to kill mold. To clean your baby bath toys with it, do the following.

Recipe and instructions:

  • Buy 3% hydrogen peroxide. (Most store brands are 3% already.)
  • Pour hydrogen peroxide into a glass or ceramic bowl.
  • Submerge baby bath toys.
  • Squeeze toys to allow hydrogen peroxide to fill it.
  • Let sit for 10 mins.
  • Remove toys and rinse in clean water.
  • Allow toys to dry.

4. Use Baking Soda to naturally kill mold in baby bath toys

Baking soda is another great way to kill mold growth on or inside of baby bath toys.

Recipe and instructions:

  • Choose a glass or ceramic bowl big enough for soaking the toys.
  • For every 1 cup of water, add 1 tablespoon of baking soda.
  • Submerge toys into the solution.
  • Let soak for 10 mins.
  • Remove toys and rinse in clean water.
  • Allow toys to dry.

5. Use Tea Tree Oil for a potent, aromatic bath toy mold killer

Tea Tree is a natural essential oil and a strong antimicrobial. You can use it to clean dirty or moldy baby bath toys naturally. And it smells great.

Recipe and instructions:

  • Choose a glass or ceramic bowl big enough for soaking the toys.
  • Mix 2 teaspoons of Tea tree oil with 2 cups of water.
  • Submerge toys into the solution.
  • Let soak for 1 hour.
  • Remove toys and rinse in clean water.
  • Allow toys to dry.

6. Use Borax for mold-free baby bath toys

A solution of Borax is another way to clean the mold out of baby bath toys. It’s a bit stronger than baking soda, and a lot less toxic than bleach.

Recipe and instructions:

  • Choose a glass or ceramic bowl big enough for soaking the toys.
  • Mix 1 cup of Borax into 1 gallon of water.
  • Submerge toys into the Borax-water solution.
  • Let soak for 30-60 mins.
  • Remove toys and rinse in clean water.
  • Allow toys to dry.

7. Use Boiling Water for bath toys: An option with risks

You can use boiling water to clean bath toys that are prone to mold growth. If you do choose this method, be sure that no children are in the house, or that you use only the back burners of your stove. Many childhood burns happen because parents use the front burners to cook, and leave hot liquids unattended.

Recipe and instructions:

  • Fill a pot with water up to ¾ line.
  • Bring water to a boil on the backburner of your stove.
  • Safely place toys into the water.
  • Submerge toys with a pair of tongs.
  • Soak for 2-5 minutes.
  • Remove and let dry.

8. Use Hot Glue to plug a toy’s water hole and avoid mold

One option to avoid having to repeatedly clean out squeeze bath toys is to plug the small hole in the toy with hot glue. Of course, that defeats the purpose of buying a squeeze toy to begin with and not everybody has hot glue on hand. But it is an effective way to prevent mold growth on the inside of a squeeze toy.

9. Don’t Use a Dishwasher for cleaning moldy bath toys

Dishwashing is not recommended for cleaning moldy bath toys for many reasons. For squirt toys specifically, a dishwasher won’t effectively clean out the inside of the toy where the mold lives. There’s also a strong argument to be made against intentionally putting mold into your dishwasher.

10. Use Bleach as the worst way to clean moldy bath toys

Bleach is a harsh chemical which many people advise shouldn’t even be in the home of a young child.[1]

Since there are so many other healthier and more natural ways to clean baby toys without it, listed above, it’s best not to bleach baby toys.

The options above aren’t just more natural than bleach, they’re also better at killing mold than bleach is. 

But if you feel you must, here’s how to do it:

Recipe and instructions:

  • Mix 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. (1 oz bleach for every 10 oz of water.)
  • Squeeze the toy repeatedly beneath the surface of the mix, allowing it to suck up the solution.
  • Remove the toy and rise off with water.
  • Allow the toy to dry.

All-Natural, Chemical-Free, and Baby-Safe squirt toy cleaning

As a parent myself, I’ve listed out a number of ways to clean your baby’s toys in an “all-natural” and “chemical free” way.

But it’s also important to know that “chemical free” cleaning sounds great but isn’t really a thing.

If you can clean with light, heat, sound, or your thoughts and dreams, or gravity, that would be the only truly chemical-free option. I don’t know of any myself. Anything you can breath, see, or touch is made up of chemicals.

But I also understand the parental urge to be as natural and chemical free as possible.

That’s why I specifically do not recommend bleach (not just for cleaning baby toys, but for any use in the house).

And why I also give you a number of perfectly natural things that’ll prevent mold from growing in your baby’s squirt toys.

Why Does Mold Grow in Bath Toys?

Mold spores are microscopic and are a natural part of the planet.

They’re quite literally everywhere and avoiding or getting rid of them all is impossible in any home, office, or other building or vehicle.

Mold spores need only water and an organic surface to grow on, and a baby squirt toy provides both of those.

Though the toy itself is a plastic that mold can’t put roots into, mold can still grow easily on something like a thin film of soap, dirt, and dirty water.

Combine stagnant water with that thin film that builds up over time on our bathtubs or inside your baby’s squirt toy, and it’s only a matter of time before mold grows. This can happen in as little as 24 to 48 hours.

The ventilation in most bathrooms is also often poor, leading to mold being able to grow more easily there than in other areas of the house.

A lack of sunshine in most bathrooms also contributes to mold growth, as does a lack of windows.

Can Mold in Bath Toys Make You Sick?

There are two schools of thought on whether mold can make you very sick, particularly in small quantities.

The safer option is to assume that mold can make you or a family member sick, and to assume that the person most likely to be affected by mold is your infant or child.

“Populations at particular risk include: infants and children, elderly persons, immune compromised patients and people with existing respiratory conditions, such as allergies and asthma.”

Department of Health, State of Rhode Island, “Mold Health Risks,” accessed November 17, 2022

Some people have been through so much mold-induced illness in their lives that they take great care and caution to live only in certain parts of the country, and in only certain types of house.

Your best bet is to assume that mold can make you or your child ill, and that there is no way to tell in advance who will be affected by mold or how bad.

Exposure to some molds can cause coughing, headaches, wheezing and other respiratory problems.

In terms of moldy bath toys, there’s only been one widely-publicized case of illness from it, but plenty of cases of young children being affected by a moldy home.

But just because your child’s bath toys grow mold quickly does not necessarily mean your home has a larger mold problem.

It may, but moldy bath toys aren’t usually the best clue of a larger problem.

“Mold can cause many health effects. For some people, mold can cause a stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing or wheezing, burning eyes, or skin rash. People with asthma or who are allergic to mold may have severe reactions.”

U.S. Centers for Disease Control, “Mold,” Last Reviewed: October 12, 2022

P.S. What are Squirt Toys?

Squirt toys are specially made toys for infants to play in the bathtub with. They’re designed with a small hole that sucks in water when squeezed, and then squirts it out when squeezed again.

Squirt toys come in all shapes and sizes and are usually designed to look like safari animals.

This design trend or style also gives them numerous curves and crevices inside, such as where the arms and legs of the animal connect to its main body.

And that’s why they mold so often.