Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting in Child Care

Spray bottle with red handle

Keeping the child care environment clean is one of the best ways to help ensure that children stay healthy. Dirty toys, bedding, linens, eating utensils, and surfaces can carry and spread germs. Regular disinfecting should be a part of the routine in a child care setting.

Getting things clean and reducing the spread of germs requires two different steps:

  1. Washing the item, using soap and water. Be sure to rinse thoroughly.
  2. Disinfecting the item. Cleaning removes dirt but does not kill all germs. To be sure germs are gone, you must disinfect them as well. The most common ways of disinfecting are as follows:
  • You can disinfect with a bleach and water solution. A solution of regular household bleach and water is an inexpensive and easy way to disinfect surfaces and objects in child care programs. The amount of bleach and water to use depends on the concentration of the bleach you choose. See Disinfect Child Care Surfaces with a Bleach and Water Solution for specific instructions on using bleach and water to disinfect.
  • You can use your dishwasher. Durable plastic toys can be washed in the dishwasher. High water pressure and temperatures do a great job of removing germs.
  • You can use your washing machine. Wash cloth toys, linens, and bedding in the washing machine. Add one-half cup of chlorine bleach to the wash cycle when washing colorfast material; for non-colorfast material, add one-half cup of non-chlorinated bleach.

Remember that disinfecting is included in most states’ child care licensing regulations. Different states have different rules about disinfecting solutions, water temperatures, and the use of dishwashers. Check your state child care licensing regulations to learn more.

Be Cautious about Using Commercial Disinfectants

Not all cleaning chemicals are safe and appropriate for use in a group child care setting. Here are some cautions to be aware of:

  • Products that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for “hospital grade” germicides (solutions that kill germs) often are promoted for use in child care. But many of these products are dangerous and potentially even toxic to children. It is important to read product labels carefully.
  •  Do not use cleaning products that carry a DANGER or a CORROSIVE label warning in your child care program. Be cautious about commercial or industrial products that advertise themselves as “disinfectants,” having “germicidal action,” or being able to “kill germs.” Often these products carry a warning label on the front of the container because they are toxic.
  • Before using anything other than a bleach and water solution for disinfecting, check with your child care nurse consultant or licensing agency to make sure it’s acceptable for use in child care. If you do decide to use an EPA-approved industrial product as a sanitizer, carefully read the label and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly.

For More Information

To learn more about keeping the child care environment clean and safe, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

Photo by anneh632 / CC BY