The good news is that getting infected with the coronavirus solely by touching a toy is not very likely to happen. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has been following the infection chains since the outbreak of the pandemic in spring 2020 meticulously. The BfR stated in February 2021: "There is no robust evidence showing that people have gotten infected with the virus by having contact with a contaminated item or a contaminated surface." The experts are in agreement that it is especially by inhaling airborne droplets that one gets infected - for example from sneezing, coughing, talking, and singing.
However, the risk cannot be ruled out completely - especially where children from different households get together, for example in nurseries or day-care centres. Add to that the fact that especially shared toys can carry a lot of germs on their surface, which a research study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection in 2015 has shown. Regularly cleansing or disinfecting the tested toys did lead to a much lower number of germs, though.
Keeping an eye on hygiene
But this is not really news. Especially day-care centres have had their eyes on the topic of hygiene for many years, as the German Federal Ministry of Health, for example, emphasises: "Day-care centres have hygiene plans in order to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases in their facilities, such as the norovirus or measles, with various measures."
An important piece of advice from the Ministry in the current situation: Especially toys that are played with by multiple groups should be cleansed thoroughly before being used by each individual group. The German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) also advises to "clean more thoroughly than usual" in such cases.
The topic is relevant at home, as well. That is because toys fall under the group of high-touch surfaces in the household, according to the Canadian National Collaboration Centre for Environmental Health.
Focusing on material and occasion
Even so, you should go by your sound judgement when cleaning and, if necessary, disinfecting toys. That is important because every material reacts differently to certain cleaning agents. Apart from that, not every method is suitable for every hygienic problem. For example, plush toys are exposed to dust mites, which cause household dust allergies. Instead of using disinfectant, freezing the plush toys has proven to be effective: According to Wright State University in the USA, freezing the toys at -15 degrees Celsius for at least 24 hours can drastically reduce the number of mites and their eggs. Note from the researchers: it is best to wash the toys afterwards as well, which will help remove allergenic substances from fabrics.
The more sensitive the surface of a toy is, the more careful one has to be. One good principle is therefore to rather work with a moist cloth instead of a lot of liquid (be it water with cleaning agents or alcohol-based disinfectants), as neither products with electronic components nor naturalistic wooden toys like too much moisture.
For quite a while, there have also been toys that themselves boast with disinfecting properties. For example the antibacterial playing mat by Sunta, which has silver ions in its surface and the likewise antibacterial playing slime by Canal Toys.
However, antibacterial properties on toys are somewhat controversial. A word of warning from McGill University in Canada is that they may contribute to spreading multi-resistant germs.
It is not even all about being afraid of certain viruses or bacteria when it comes to cleaning toys. Cleansing is simply an example of reasonable precautions while playing with used toys.
The community of clamp-on building block model builders have quite a few tips, as well. The Steinchenwelt shop in Freising, Germany, for example, recommends putting plastic building blocks in the washing machine in a stable and protective laundry net for a short duration at 40 degrees Celsius. Caution! Never put loose building blocks in a washing machine – that can and will destroy it! At first glance, an amateur might think washing them in the dishwasher is better. However, the temperature can be regulated much more precisely in a washing machine.
Leading building block manufacturer Lego points out how important the right temperature really is: plastic building blocks should not be washed at a temperature higher than 40 degrees Celsius and should also not be dried with a hairdryer or in bright sunlight. However, the Danish company advises against using a washing machine. Their tip instead: manual labour with warm water, a mild cleaning agent and a soft cloth or sponge, so the building blocks really shine.