How to clean bath toys, your car seat, water bottles and other kids’ gear

Advice & Tips

The baby books don’t tell you how MESSY kids can be! If you’re dealing with stinky shoes and stuffies, stained strollers and mouldy lunch bags, here’s help.

One thing the baby books never tell you is just how much of a mess kids can make—and how baffled you’ll be about the best ways to clean it up! We assembled a panel of experts from across the country and convinced them to share their tricks for cleaning and disinfecting the hardest-to-clean kid’s messes—from poop blowouts and dried puke to sweat-stained baseball caps and germcoated stuffies.

Here we will cover gear and toys; stuffies, soft lunch bags, sippy cups, water bottles, high chairs, car seats, strollers, bath toys, stinky shoes, and sweat-stained baseball caps.

How to clean bath toys

Getting water out of bath squirters is a pain—and that’s why they get gross and smelly. To keep black, slimy mould at bay, try this method every once in a while: Fill the bathtub a quarter full and add 1 cup of disinfecting bleach and half a scoop of powdered Tide detergent. Then, toss your kid’s tub toys in for 10 minutes. Rinse, then air-dry.

Tip: Consider sealing holes in bath toys with a hot glue gun or drilling them larger for easier drainage.

How to clean stuffies

Whether it’s looking a little dirty or it’s covered in puke, your kid’s favourite stuffie will need a clean eventually. Here’s what to do. For a quick refresh; Instagram-famous Sarah McAllister of Calgary’s Go Clean Co. suggests putting stuffies in a tied garbage bag and inserting a vacuum nozzle in the top to suck out all the air and dust. Repeat a few times. For very dirty stuffies TikTok cleaning guru Danielle Tays of @momthatlovestoclean says most can be washed on a gentle cycle with a laundry sanitizer. For extra protection, toss them inside a tied pillowcase. Dry on regular heat for 10 to 15 minutes. You want them to be mostly dry, but leaving them in for a full cycle will compromise the stuffing. Use an old brush to smooth out any matted hair or fur while damp. Lay flat to finish drying. For very delicate stuffies, opt for hand washing. Add 1 cup of vinegar to a sink of warm water and a little bit of laundry soap, submerge the stuffie for a few minutes, then squeeze out excess liquid. Lay flat to dry.

Tip: Buy a backup of a beloved stuffie in case of loss, damage, or biohazards before it costs an arm and a leg to buy a replacement from eBay.

How to clean soft lunch bags

By the time you empty and wipe it, it’s crusty and repulsive. Solution? Unzip it fully and place it face down on the top rack of the dishwasher. It’ll be super clean but very wet when it comes out, so remove the excess water with a hand towel, then let it air-dry. No dishwasher? Toss it in the washing machine on gentle.

Tip: Lunch bags lined with a fresh paper towel or dish towel each morning won’t have to be cleaned as often.

How to clean sippy cups and water bottles

  1. Soak in hot, soapy water.
  2. Use a bristled straw cleaner to get all the nooks and crannies.
  3. Rinse and add to the top shelf of the dishwasher on the sanitize cycle.

How to clean high chairs

Tays recommends scrubbing crusty high chairs using a dish wand filled with a mix of Dawn Ultra (the blue stuff) and vinegar. If you’re left with any stains or stuck-on food, try cleaning with a solution made of a dissolved Cascade dishwasher tablet in hot water. Cleaning the harness incorrectly could compromise it, so check the manual beforehand. 

How to clean car seats

  1. Vacuum or brush off any crumbs.
  2. Use a soft cloth and a mix of mild dish soap and water to wipe down the hard plastic surfaces. A Q-tip can remove grime from any deep grooves and hard-to-wipe spots.
  3. If the cover is removable, check the instructions to see if it can be machine washed or if you’ll have to handwash it. Lay it in the sun to dry unless the manufacturer says machine drying is OK.

Note: Always check the seat manufacturer’s warnings before cleaning. For example, many car seat makers advise not to launder or even submerge their seats’ harness in water, as it can compromise its integrity. (In this case, you can wipe it with a damp cloth and mild soap, and a toothbrush can help here, too. Or the manufacturer may be able to send you a replacement harness.)

How to clean strollers

Give these dirt collectors a good cleaning every few months—especially if you store yours in the garage, where trapped dust, fumes and germ-carrying pests can create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, yeast and mould, right on your stroller. 

  1. Wipe off grime from the axles using a damp cloth, and cut out the tangled hair and debris with a seam ripper.
  2. Hand vacuum the seats and other fabric areas. Spot treat with a mix of ½ cup hydrogen peroxide, 1 cup water and a few drops of orange or lemon essential oil to disinfect. Let dry thoroughly.
  3. Use the same mixture to wipe down the plastic and metal parts.
  4. A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser can often remove scuffs from the frame.

How to clean stinky shoes

They’re so small and cute—why do they smell so bad? McAllister’s iconic formula for laundry stripping is super effective on shoes, but admittedly not exactly low-maintenance.

  1. Fill the bathtub with very hot water. As it’s filling, add in 2 cups of powdered Tide detergent, ¼ cup borax, ¼ cup washing soda (available on Amazon, but if you can’t find it, use baking soda) and ¼ cup water softener (optional).
  2. Add in your kids’ shoes and let soak for four hours (or more), stirring every hour.
  3. Drain and transfer into the washing machine for a gentle cycle (without detergent) to rinse.
  4. Dry the shoes on a heat register overnight.

No time to try laundry stripping? Go ahead and launder those stinky kicks! Vet the care instructions (no to leather, yes to most canvas), remove the insoles and place in a mesh laundry bag, filling the drum with extra towels. Wash with liquid detergent on a cold, slow or no-spin cycle.

Tip: If you know your kid has a propensity for smelly feet, get into the habit of sprinkling baking soda in their shoes as a deodorizer as soon as they start to give off a funk. A few drops of essential oil wouldn’t hurt either.

How to clean sweat-stained ball caps

Baseball caps get those white sweat marks on them, but tossing them in the washing machine could ruin their shape. Tays has the solution:

  1. Add ½ cup borax, ½ scoop powdered laundry soap and ½ cup washing soda to hot water.
  2. Let hats soak for three hours, stirring every 30 mins. 
  3. Rinse with water, pat dry with a towel, reshape best you can, then let air dry.

Meet the experts who shared their tips, tricks and hacks:

Sarah Mcallister—Calgary
With more than two million followers, McAllister’s company, Go Clean Co., is kind of a big deal on Instagram. Known for her undying love of powdered Tide detergent and for bringing the concept of laundry stripping to the mainstream, McAllister is a serial entrepreneur and mom of one.

Danielle Tays—Hampton, New Brunswick
Better known as @momthatlovestoclean on TikTok, this mother of one and stepmom of two soothed her COVID anxiety by sharing her knowledge and tips. Boasting more than 450,000 followers, she and her like-minded cleaning squad refer to themselves as the #mopsquad.

Jamie Moorhouse—Toronto
Along with partner Sean Campbell, Moorhouse started Condo Fresh Inc. in 2011 with a goal of providing professional cleaning and organizing with a natural spin. After encouragement from his customers, he recently launched his own line of natural cleaners, called Moorfreshouse Inc.

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