With flu season in full swing, it’s important for us to know how to effectively clean surfaces and toys. A lot of providers and parents have questions about appropriate cleaning products. When should I use them, how often should I clean Johnny’s favorite teddy bear, etc.? Trying to keep children healthy and happy can be stressful! The information below will help you keep it all straight.

Why all the sanitizing and disinfecting?

Dirty hands, toys and other objects play a role in the transmission of diseases in child care settings. All toys can spread disease when children put them in their mouths, touch the toys after putting their hands in their mouths during play or eating, or after toileting with poor hand hygiene. Using a dishwasher is acceptable for sanitizing plastic toys as long as the dishwasher can wash and sanitize the surfaces. Do not wash dishes and silverware at the same time as the toys.

Have enough toys to rotate for your children. This is extremely important when trying to prevent the spread of germs and illness!

Definitions are Not Interchangeable

  • Cleaning physically removes all dirt and contamination from a surface. Clean first with detergent and water.
  • Sanitizing reduces but does not eliminate germs on inanimate surfaces. Sanitize all food contact surfaces. This includes food prep area, tables, eating surfaces, dishes and cutting boards. Also sanitize mouthed toys.
  • Disinfecting destroys or inactivates germs. Disinfect all changing tables, toilets, door handles, faucets, etc.

What to Look For in a Cleaning Product

There is an overwhelmingly high number of cleaning products to choose from. How do you decide what is best and most appropriate to use around children?

When selecting a product, decide whether it is bleach or an alternative. Makers of all products must be registered with the EPA. They must also describe the product as a sanitizer or disinfectant. Use all products according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  1. EPA Number (Environmental Protection Agency): The U.S. EPA recommends that you use only products that they register. Only a sanitizer or disinfectant with an EPA registration number on the label can claim to reduce or inactivate germs. Makers of many bleach and hydrogen peroxide products register their products with the EPA. If they have an EPA number, you can use them to sanitize or disinfect.
  2. Surface Dwell Time: Pay close attention to the label and the “manufacturer’s instructions”. Follow instructions precisely to effectively sanitize or disinfect. Dwell times are VERY important. Products with dwell times over 5 minutes are a poor choice in child care because you can’t wait this long for most surfaces to be unused.
  3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Is special clothing or equipment worn for protection against exposure. Examples of PPE are as follows: gloves, resuscitation shield and goggles. Do you have access to the equipment you need when using cleaning products every time you use them? For example, did you know that when diluting bleach, the instructions indicate you should wear gloves and eye protection?
  4. Hazards: Does the label list any health hazards for people, animals, pregnant women, etc.? Will using this product make certain chronic health conditions (like asthma) worse?

When to Sanitize vs. Disinfect

Sanitize all food prep areas before and after eating, all food contact surfaces, eating utensils, tables, highchairs, countertops, plastic mouthed toys and pacifiers. Sanitize handwashing sinks before meal time handwashing.

Disinfect all toilet and diaper changing areas such as changing tables and potty chairs after use. At the end of the day, disinfect all items such as handwashing sinks & faucets, countertops, toilets, diaper pails, drinking fountains, doors, cabinet handles and floors.

Routinely Clean Toys

According to Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards, you should not use toys that you cannot clean and sanitize. Set aside toys that children placed in their mouths or otherwise contaminated with body fluids. Clean the toys by hand with water and detergent, rinse, sanitize, and air-dry or clean in a dishwasher before allowing children to use them again. Closely supervise play with plastic or play foods and play dishes and utensils to prevent shared mouthing of these toys. We all know how much children love to share toys they have just slobbered all over!

Only one child at a time should use machine washable cloth toys. Launder these toys before another child uses them. Groups of infants or toddlers should not share indoor toys unless you wash and sanitize the toys before moving them from one group to the other.

Now that you know how to disinfect and sanitize efficiently, when do you actually do all this cleaning? Please see the Caring For Our Children chart online for suggestions on a daily, monthly and weekly cleaning schedule!

Need more answers? Contact your local Child Care Consultant or Child Care Nurse Consultant (CCNC) for more resources and guidance.


Tags: cleaning , disinfecting , sanitizing

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