Closeup of Yorkshire terrier with its toy in washing machine in background

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Knowing how to clean dog toys can help keep your pooch and family safe from harmful contaminants and bacteria. Unfortunately, your dog's toys carry bacteria and germs that can enter their mouths and spread infection to other dogs and people. Knowing how to clean dog toys safely allows your pup to enjoy their favorite toys without compromising their health.

In this article, we'll discuss everything you need to know about how to clean dog toys — whether they're made from rubber, plastic, stuffing, or rope. Keep reading to learn how to clean your dog's toys to keep them happy and healthy.

Why You Should Clean Your Dog’s Toys

Pet toys are ranked as one of the germiest home items by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF).1 Your dog plays with toys primarily using their mouth, which carries bacteria. Many bacteria in your dog's mouth don't cause illnesses, but some can be dangerous and spread to humans and other pets via toys.2 Your dog's toys touch many different surfaces throughout the day, including the floor or ground outside, and are passed between pets and touched by humans. Bacteria or viruses can be transferred from any one of these locations onto your dog's toys.

A 2011 NSF germ study found that pet toys were a source of coliform bacteria.1 The study also found that pet toys were a source of yeast and mold in many homes.1

One-third of pet parents don’t realize pet toys collect dirt, bacteria, yeast, and mold

Unfortunately, many pet parents don't consider their dog's toys potential threats. According to a Petco study, nearly one-third of pet parents don't realize pet toys collect dirt, bacteria, yeast, and mold.4

You don't want mold, yeast, or bacteria in your home, and you especially don't want them going into your dog's mouth from their toys. Knowing how to clean your dog's toys is critical to removing potentially harmful bacteria and viruses, such as E. coli, parvovirus, kennel cough, and some parasites.5

Additionally, cleaning your dog's toys protects you and other humans who often play with their dogs using toys. For instance, when you play fetch, you come in direct contact with a ball covered in saliva, dirt, and potentially dangerous bacteria.

Cleaning your dog's toys may also help keep allergies at bay. Since your dog's favorite toys can collect dust and dust mites that cause environmental allergies, cleaning your dog's toys regularly can reduce the potential for an allergy flare-up. Of course, if your dog suffers from allergies, cleaning their toys may not be enough. Instead, consult your vet on the best allergy treatment to reduce uncomfortable side effects. Still, removing dust, dirt, and debris on the toys that come into direct contact with their nose and mouth can reduce some dogs' allergy symptoms.

Besides cleaning your dog's toys, you should disinfect them regularly. For instance, toys that come into contact with fecal matter should be disinfected to prevent sickness in people and pets. Additionally, if your pet has a contagious illness, disinfect their toys and prevent other dogs from playing with them.2

Pet toys are ranked as one of the germiest home items by the National Sanitation Foundation

How Often Should You Clean Dog Toys?

How often you should wash your dog's toys depends on several factors, such as how often they play with them, where they play with them, and how easy they are to clean. For instance, if your dog plays with one of their toys outside, it should be washed after each use to remove dirt, mud, and potential pests like fleas or ticks that may try to catch a ride on them.

Most experts suggest cleaning your dog's toys anywhere from once per week to once per month, but you can clean more often if needed, especially if the toy has an odor or you see dirt.2

How to Clean Plush Toys

Your dog has many different types of toys, all of which require various levels of care. Knowing how to clean plush toys versus plastic or rubber toys will ensure you keep them in pristine condition. Stuffed toys can be hand-washed or cleaned in the washing machine with a mesh laundry bag to protect them. Washing your dog's toys in hot water is usually best to kill bacteria and viruses with pet-safe laundry detergent.5

How to clean dog toys in the washing machine is similar to how you'd wash a child's toys or pillows. However, you should never wash rubber or plastic toys in hot water in the washing machine because they can melt. This can make it a little confusing when you have to clean a squeaky toy. How to clean dog toys with squeakers varies from toy to toy, with specific care instructions on the label. However, in most cases, you want to avoid water that's too hot and can melt the plastic squeaker components. Instead, you might consider hand-washing your dog's squeaky toy in the sink with pet-safe detergent in cold water.

How to clean dog toys (three ways)

How to Clean Rubber, Nylon & Plastic Toys

Knowing how to clean rubber dog toys can prevent them from deteriorating in the wash. Nylon, plastic, and rubber toys can melt at high temperatures, but you can still use a machine to clean and disinfect them. Instead of using a washing machine, though, you'll use your dishwasher. Of course, before you put your dog's toys through the wash, you should read the manufacturer's instructions to ensure they can be cleaned that way. Every toy is different, so you may have to hand-wash some plastic, nylon, and rubber toys.

One of the most popular dog toys is the Kong, a treat dispensing toy made from rubber. How to clean a Kong dog toy depends on the particular toy purchased from the brand. However, if you're purchasing the Classic rubber treat dispensing toy, you can use warm water and dish soap or the top rack of the dishwasher.

Even if your dog's rubber, nylon, and plastic toys are dishwasher safe, the manufacturer might provide other guidelines, such as using the top rack only or avoiding the drying cycle if it uses heat.

How to Clean Rope Toys

Rope toys are controversial because they're considered one of the most dangerous dog toys available. Heavy chewers may swallow broken-off fibers, which can cause digestive tract obstructions or choking. However, they're also one of the dirtiest dog toys you have in your home.

Rope toys have absorbent fibers intertwined, making them breeding grounds for bacteria growth because they get wet easily and are slow to dry. Luckily, learning how to clean dog rope toys is simple because you've already learned how to clean plush toys and stuffed animals.

Rope toys made only from rope can be cleaned like stuffed toys as long as they don't have additional plastic elements like handles or bones attached. You can also soak them in warm water with pet-safe detergent before rinsing them and hanging them to dry.

When possible, you can air dry them on a line outside in the sun to help dry them faster while disinfecting them. You can use this same drying method for your other dog's toys.

How Do You Sterilize Dog Toys?

Cleaning your dog's toys will remove dirt and grime using soap, but disinfecting and sterilizing them will remove viruses, bacteria, and germs.2 Most of your dog's toys can be washed or cleaned using the method described above, but you might prefer to sterilize some of their toys every once in a while, especially if you're worried about viruses. You should disinfect your dog's toys any time they might be contaminated.

The easiest way to sterilize dog toys is by washing them in hot water to kill bacteria and viruses. However, not all pet toys can be washed in hot water because they'll melt or deteriorate. Instead, you can clean them with a properly diluted bleach solution and rinse them thoroughly.6 The diluted household bleach solution should consist of 2 oz or ¼ cup bleach and a gallon of water.2 You can soak your dog's toy in bleach solution for up to ten minutes before thoroughly rinsing it and allowing it to dry completely before giving it back to your dog.

Of course, since using bleach on your dog's toys incorrectly can be dangerous for them, you can also determine when the right time is to replace your dog's toys. If you're worried about diseases or parasites, replacing them is much easier and safer than using a bleach solution.

FAQs

How often should you replace dog toys?

There are only two types of situations when you should replace your dog's toys: when they've become hazards or if they're contaminated by disease or parasites. Dog toys don't last forever, especially if you have a heavy chewer. If your dog's toys begin breaking down, it's time to replace them to prevent choking or obstructions.

Hard plastic toys are especially dangerous because they have sharp edges, while the squeaker in toys can be easily swallowed and cause choking or digestive obstructions that require surgery. Since no dog toy is indestructible, you should always monitor your pet while they play and remove broken toys as soon as possible.

You should also replace toys when they've become contaminated or infested. While washing and disinfecting your dog's toys can eliminate disease, viruses, and even pests like fleas, removing them from your household is always easier and protects your pet.

Can you put dog toys into the washing machine?

You can put some dog toys in the washing machine but not all of them. For example, plush toys, including those with squeakers, can be washed in the washing machine. However, you should be careful of high heat, which can melt plastic elements like squeakers. Additionally, rope toys can be washed in hot water in the washing machine.

You should always check the manufacturer's care instructions, located on the toy's tag or the manufacturer's website. Some toys can get destroyed in the washing machine, so hand washing might be the only way to clean them. Here are some tips for how to clean dog toys in the washing machine:

  • Use the gentle cycle: Plush dog toys are designed to be played with, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're safe in your washing machine on a regular cycle. Instead, use the gentle cycle to avoid destroying the toy and the stuffing inside.
  • Consider cold vs. hot water: Some toys, such as rope toys, can be washed in hot water, while others have plastic components like squeakers that can melt. If you're unsure how to wash your dog's toys in the washing machine, you can check the manufacturer's guidelines for more information.
  • Use pet-safe detergent: Most name-brand detergents are non-toxic and pet-safe, but you might consider looking for those free of dyes and fragrances that can trigger allergies.

How do you wash dog toys without ruining the squeaker?

Many plush toys have squeakers that can melt or get destroyed in washing machines using hot water. If it's not possible to remove the squeaker, you can hand wash your dog's squeaky toys using cold water or the delicate cycle on your machine.

Stuffed animal dog toy air drying on a hanger

Final Notes

Cleaning and disinfecting your dog's toys will protect them, your other pets, and your entire household from bacteria, viruses, and mold that can affect their health. Cleaning will also help them last longer by removing dirt, debris, mold, and saliva that can cause wear and tear. As a general rule of thumb, inspect your dog's toys every week to ensure they're still clean and in good condition before letting them play with them.

And remember, it's important to know when to replace your dog's toys. No toy lasts forever, but it's your responsibility to determine when to retire your dog's toy and replace it with something new. Try Dutch today to learn more about dog toys, including the best ones for your dog and how to use them to improve your dog's physical and mental wellness.

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References

  1. “Clean the Germiest Home Items.” NSFhttps://www.nsf.org/blog/consumer/clean-germiest-home-items.

  2. “Cleaning and Disinfecting Pet Supplies.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Oct. 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/keeping-pets-and-people-healthy/cleaning-and-disinfecting-pet-supplies.html

  3. “Coliform Bacteria.” Penn State Extensionhttps://extension.psu.edu/coliform-bacteria

  4. “Yuck! Nearly One-Third of Pet Parents Are Unaware Pet Toys Collect Dirt, Bacteria, Yeast and Mold.” https://corporate.petco.com/2017-03-15-Yuck-Nearly-One-Third-of-Pet-Parents-Are-Unaware-Pet-Toys-Collect-Dirt-Bacteria-Yeast-and-Mold

  5. Alysper Cormanes, DVM. “How to Wash Dog Toys: Ultimate Guide & Recommendations.” Veterinarians.org, 28 Feb. 2023, https://www.veterinarians.org/how-to-wash-dog-toys/.

  6. “Poisonous Household Products.” ASPCAhttps://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/poisonous-household-products

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Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

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