Bath toys – how to clean out the black mould

You know when you squirt bath toys after a while, black bits come out in the water. We investigate with experts if this mould is safe and how to keep bath toys clean

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If you cut open an old bath toy, you’re likely to find some rancid water with black things floating around. Most of us don’t cut toys open, but we do often see the black bits floating in the bath when the toys are squirted. 

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So when a recent story in The Sun reported on a study carried out by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, suggesting that 80% of our kids’ bath toys are full of ‘disease-causing’ bacteria, including E coli and Legionella, and other fungi, we thought it was important to investigate. 

While this may sound a bit scary, we’ve had a very similar story come up before, about teething toys such as Sophie the Giraffe – and we know that there are things you can do to get rid of the nasties.

Plus, the newspapers are good at highlighting the really scary bits (like E.coli and Legionella) when the fact is toys like this are probably also full of much less harmful bacteria and pretty harmless fungi, too.

While the study’s leader, Lisa Neu, has said that “squeezing water with chunks of biofilm may result in eye, ear, wound or even gastro-intestinal infections”, she’s also confirmed that:

  • simply washing them correctly can help
  • that being exposed to certain germs in bath toys could actually assist in boosting a child’s immune system.

All that said, we get that most parents would probably rather get rid of the yucky-looking mouldy stuff. Just to be on the safe side.

So how safe is the black mould inside the toys?

The first thing to say is that the mould – or in fact fungi – is very common. “Any toy that gets wet is likely to have fungi growing both inside and on it,” explains Neil Gow, President of The Microbiology Society.

But Neil has a different view to the Swiss study. “Happily, these fungi are not normally going to cause any harm, unless someone is sensitised to them through an underlying health issue – perhaps if they’re asthmatic or immunocompromised.

“While it’s sensible to clean children’s toys from time to time, fungi shouldn’t be an issue of concern for the majority of people.”

How to clean your child’s bath toys

We know that lots of bath toys – even the ones that aren’t meant to be ‘squirters’ – have a little hole in them which is where water gets in and ‘hidden mould’ builds up, as the video still above shows.

Some good ways to clean bath toys clean include:

  • popping them in the dishwasher
  • putting them in a bleach bath overnight (about 3 quarters of a cup of bleach with a gallon of water)
  • using sterilising tablets
  • using white vinegar or apple cider vinegar (2 cups in around 5 litres of warm water): soak overnight then wash off with water.

Other suggestions from mums include replacing your toys with new ones regularly (though we get that this can be pricey and not particularly environmentally friendly).

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You could also close up the toy’s hole, or buy one-piece bath toys with no holes, like this rubber duck from Trouva (above).

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