Dog toys are great fun, but they do spend a lot of time on the ground and in a dog’s mouth. These areas are breeding grounds for dirt and bacteria, so it’s a good idea to give dog toys a really good clean for hygienic reasons.
The best way to clean a dog toy is to follow a 3-step system: 1. wash in hot, soapy water; 2. disinfect to kill germs and harmful micro-organisms; 3. dry the toy completely. It’s important to use non-toxic cleaning products that won’t poison your dog.
You may feel better scrubbing away at your dog’s toys, but cleaning toys the wrong way or with the wrong products could do more harm than good. Here are the recommended cleaning steps and info with everything you need to know before you start scrubbing…
How to clean your dog’s toys
The best way to clean dog toys is to follow this simple 3-step process:
Step 1: Wash toys in hot, soapy water
Dog toys get dirty over time – they get covered in doggy drool, mud, and whatever else might be lying around on the floor or lurking in your dog’s mouth.
The first step in cleaning any dog toy is to wash it with hot, soapy water, to remove as much dirt on the surface as possible. You can do this in a bucket, the kitchen sink, in the washing machine, or in the dishwasher if the toy can withstand the heat and movement of machines.
Use non-toxic soap or laundry detergent that’s pet friendly, so you don’t put any harsh chemicals on the toys and in your dog’s mouth. I’ve given a list of recommended cleaning products a little further down.
There are in-depth details later in this post on how to clean each type of dog toy, but the principle is pretty much the same: Soaking and scrubbing the toys with hot, soapy water should take off most of the greasy or sticky dirt on the toy. Now it’s time to kill the germs…
Step 2: Kill the germs that are left
After washing toys there will probably be some germs left standing. You can now choose to either disinfect or sterilize the toys to kill these micro-organisms.
There is a difference between disinfecting and sterilizing something:
– Disinfecting kills all or most harmful micro-organisms on the surface.
– Sterilizing kills ALL micro-organisms on the surface, including those that are not harmful.
Most or all harmful germs on dog toys can be killed by:
- Wiping the toys with a non-toxic disinfectant wipe or spray
- Running a clothes steamer over the toys
- Cooking the toys on high for a minute in the microwave
- Shining a UV light on the toys
- Or leaving the toys out in the sun
I’ll explain the best disinfecting method(s) for each type of toy as we work through them below.
It’s best to buy and use pet-friendly, non-toxic disinfectants to kill germs as most household cleaners contain chemicals that are poisonous to dogs.
There’s a homemade vinegar disinfectant spray below that you can use to clean and disinfect if needed or if you want to stop using all commercial cleaners, but many experts agree that vinegar is simply not as effective as commercial cleaners that are designed to clean and disinfect surfaces.
When using disinfectants to clean dog toys, even dog-friendly, non-toxic cleaners, take your dog out of the room and leave the windows open to keep fresh air flowing through the room.
Don’t ever mix cleaners and/or disinfectants as this may create poisonous gases that are dangerous for you, your family, and your pets.
I’ll go into more detail later about how to clean and disinfect each type of dog toy, but it’s still important to follow the directions on a product’s packaging whenever you use it.
Step 3: Dry the toys completely
The final step in the dog-toy cleaning process is drying the toys, where you can use heat to speed up the process and kill even more germs.
To dry wet dog toys, squeeze them or pat them dry with a clean towel, then put the toys out in the sun on a hot day.
You can dry dog toys with a hairdryer or put them in the dryer at a moderate temperature if they won’t melt or be destroyed. You can even lay wet toys in front of a heater or a fan to dry.
Make sure the toys are completely dry before packing them away, as bacteria love growing on moist surfaces.
Ingredients in cleaning products that are toxic to dogs
Most cleaning products on the market are full of chemicals and bleach, including products for washing laundry and dishes with.
Manufacturers put strong ingredients in cleaning products to make them better cleaners, but this can make these products toxic to animals too.
A lot of products that are marketed as ‘natural’ or ‘eco-friendly’ contain these ingredients too.
These chemicals are not safe for your pet to inhale, touch or consume. They can irritate a dog’s breathing passages, make dogs dizzy, cause them to vomit, and even damage the sensitive mucous membranes in the dog’s gums and inner cheeks.
Dog toys go straight into a dog’s mouth, where anything on these toys will come into contact with the dog’s sensitive membranes and may even mix with the dog’s saliva and be swallowed.
This is why it’s so important to use a non-toxic cleaner that is safe for dogs or rather not use any cleaning product to clean the toy at all.
A dog’s body is much better equipped to handle dirt, germs, and old slobber than nasty toxic chemicals.
Before using any cleaning product on dog toys, make sure the product does not contain any of the following ingredients that might not be dog-friendly:
- Chlorine / Bleach
- Alcohol / Isopropyl alcohol – can also be called IPA or isopropanol
- Glycol ethers
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Pthalates – can also be called ‘fragrance’
- Perchloroethylene – can also be called perc
- Phenol – look for any ingredients that start with ‘phenol’, which are popular in household disinfectants
Cleaning products that are safe for dogs
Here are the top-rated cleaning products that are considered safe to clean dog toys with:
STEP 1: Non-toxic soaps and detergents
Dr. Bronner’s – Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
This liquid soap is made from organic oils and is the best-selling soap in the natural market in the US.
Dr. Bronner’s can be used to wash any dog toy, just add warm water. The soap is also safe enough to wash your dog’s food bowls, water bowls, bedding, and for doggy baths.
Plus it’s non-GMO, vegan, and even the scented options are pet-friendly and non-toxic.
Here’s the link to get it on Amazon: Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap
Puracy All Purpose Cleaner
Puracy was created by doctors and is safe for pets. This plant-based non-toxic cleaner is made in the US.
Puracy can be sprayed on dog toys to clean them in step 1 – this product is a cleaner, not a disinfectant.
Use this spray on any dog toy, especially dog toys that can’t be put in soapy water.
Once you’ve sprayed down the toy, leave it to sit for a few minutes to work its magic – 10 minutes is a good amount of time. Then rinse or wipe down the toy with clean water and disinfect it.
This product can safely be used on any dog toy surface and is hypoallergenic, biodegradable, and certified cruelty free (never been tested on animals).
Here’s the link to get it on Amazon: Puracy All Purpose Cleaner
Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent
This powerful enzyme-based laundry detergent is bio based and hypoallergenic. There are no added fragrances, dyes, or brighteners.
There is an unscented option, which is better for dogs as it won’t change the smell of their toys to smell like something strange.
Use this laundry detergent to wash dog toys in the washing machine before disinfecting and drying them.
Here’s the link to get it on Amazon: Seventh Generation Liquid Laundry Detergent
STEP 2: Non-toxic disinfectants
Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes
Welcome to these botanical, non-toxic, multi-surface wipes.
Wash dog toys with soap first, then wipe them down with these disinfecting wipes to kill harmful bacteria still left on the toys.
Make sure the toys are visibly wet after wiping them with these wipes, and leave it on for at least 10 minutes to work. Natural products take longer to disinfect than you might be used to.
Then wipe or rinse the toys again to remove the disinfectant.
Here’s the link to get it on Amazon: Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes
This is a nursery and high chair cleaner – making it safe enough for babies and pets that are older than 1 month. This product kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses using hypochlorous, the body’s natural immune system germ killer.
Spray CleanSmart on dog toys after washing, to kill 99.9% of bacteria on the toys. Leave the product on the toys for up to 10 minutes to disinfect properly.
This product doesn’t leave harmful residue, so it’s safe to leave it on the dog toys. But I recommend wiping with a wet cloth before drying anyway.
Here’s the link to get it on Amazon: CleanSmart Nursery & High Chair Cleaner
EarthPush UV Light Sanitizer Wand
This UV light is effective in killing germs, mites, and bacteria. It works with UV light, which means you can sterilize dog toys without water or chemicals.
Of course, the sun’s rays also have UV in them and are powerful sanitizers. But if you can’t put the toys in the sun or you want to be sure the toys are sanitized, then this is a handy item to have around.
This UV light can be used on dog toys that can’t get wet or on dog toys that have been washed in soapy water and dried.
Just turn on the UV light and slowly ‘scan’ it over the dog toys to kill micro-organisms. It should take a few seconds.
Be sure never to look directly into the light and never point the light at anyone or any animal.
Here’s the link to get it on Amazon: EarthPush UV Light Sanitizer Wand
Homemade vinegar disinfectant for dog toys
Vinegar can be used to disinfect dog toys if you cannot use a commercial non-toxic cleaner. Vinegar can remove some build-up and kill some harmful germs, but it won’t kill all of them.
To use vinegar to clean dog toys, you can make a spray solution or a soaking solution.
To make a vinegar disinfectant spray solution:
- Fill a spray bottle halfway with white or apple cider vinegar.
- Fill the rest of the bottle with clean water.
- Shake well to mix the liquids.
Your disinfecting spray is ready to go.
To make a vinegar disinfectant soaking solution:
- Use a sink or bucket to hold your soaking solution.
- Fill it three-quarters of the way with clean water.
- Fill the remaining quarter with white or apple cider vinegar.
- Give the solution a stir to mix it.
Below you’ll find instructions on how to wash and disinfect every type of dog toy…
How to clean tennis balls for dogs
You can clean tennis balls in the washing machine or by hand.
The easiest way to clean tennis balls is in a washing machine. Use a non-toxic laundry detergent, such as this one from Amazon, and put the machine on a low to moderate heat wash cycle, so the rubber doesn’t get damaged.
Here’s how to clean tennis balls by hand:
Step 1: Fill a sink or bucket with warm water and add a non-toxic liquid soap or laundry detergent to the water. Follow the instructions on the soap’s packaging to work out how much to use.
Step 2: Let the tennis balls soak for a good 10 – 30 minutes.
Step 3: Give the tennis balls a scrub with a bristle brush, old toothbrush, or rag.
Step 4: Remove the tennis balls from the soapy water and rinse them well with clean water, until the water runs clear and is free from soap suds.
Step 5: Pat and squeeze the tennis balls dry with a clean towel.
Step 6: Spray the tennis balls or wipe them down with a non-toxic disinfectant. Leave the disinfectant on for a few minutes to work – 10 minutes should be enough.
Step 7: Rinse the tennis balls with clean water to remove the disinfectant.
Dry tennis balls by putting them in the sun, blowing them dry with a hairdryer, or putting them in the dryer on a low heat setting, so you don’t damage the rubber.
How to clean plastic dog toys
Before cleaning plastic dog toys, check to see if the manufacturer has printed any cleaning instructions on the toys.
If there are instructions, follow these. If there aren’t any instructions, you can decide if you want to clean the toys in the dishwasher or wash them by hand.
Don’t ever put rubber toys or toys with batteries/electronics into the dishwasher or in water, as water and heat may destroy these toys.
To clean plastic toys in the dishwasher, pack them on the top shelf. Place small toys in a mesh bag to stop them from being thrown around during the cleaning cycle.
Put the dishwasher on a medium heat cycle and don’t use any soaps or detergents. The sheer heat of the water will do a good job of cleaning and sanitizing the toys.
Do not put vinegar in your dishwasher – Experts recommend not using vinegar in the dishwasher as it may erode the rubber inside the dishwasher and damage your machine.
Here’s how to clean plastic dog toys by hand:
Step 1: Fill a sink or bucket with hot, not boiling, water and add a non-toxic liquid soap like this one from Amazon to the water.
Follow the instructions on the soap’s packaging to work out how much to use. Stir well.
Step 2: Let the plastic toys soak in the soapy water for 10 – 30 minutes.
Step 3: Give the toys a good rub with a cloth or rag. Use an old toothbrush to scrub off stubborn dirt or in cracks and crevices.
Step 4: Remove the toys from the soapy water and rinse them well with clean water, to remove all the soap.
Step 5: Pat the toys dry with a clean towel.
Step 6: Spray the toys or wipe them down with a pet-friendly, non-toxic disinfectant. Leave the disinfectant on for a few minutes to work – 10 minutes should be enough.
Step 7: Rinse the plastic toys with clean water to remove the disinfectant.
Dry plastic toys by putting them in the sun, blowing them dry with a hairdryer or fan, or putting them in the dryer on a low heat setting, so you don’t melt the plastic.
How to clean rope dog toys
You can clean your dog’s rope toys in the washing machine or the dishwasher if the toys are made only of rope, and there’s no plastic or other material as part of the toys.
If there are other materials in the toy or you don’t have access to a washing machine or dishwasher, you can clean rope toys by hand.
To machine wash rope toys, run them through a hot wash cycle with a non-toxic laundry detergent, such as this one from Amazon.
To clean rope toys in the dishwasher, pack them on the top shelf. Put the dishwasher on a hot cycle and don’t use any soaps or detergents. The heat of the water will clean and sanitize the ropes for you.
Here’s how to clean rope toys that are pure rope by hand:
Step 1: Start by sterilizing the ropes, which is an important step. Washing ropes in warm soapy water is not enough to clean and disinfect them properly. To sterilize rope toys, wet the ropes well with water and place them in the microwave. Cook the ropes on high for a minute, watching to make sure nothing happens while they’re in there.
You could also sterilize the ropes with a UV light or by placing them out in direct sunlight for a while.
Step 2: Fill a sink or bucket with hot water and add a non-toxic liquid detergent or soap to the water. Follow the instructions on the detergent’s packaging to work out how much to use.
Step 3: Give the ropes a good soak for 10 – 30 minutes, stirring the water every so often like a washing does when it spins.
Step 4: Scrub the ropes with a nail brush, toothbrush, or scrubbing brush.
Step 5: Remove the ropes from the soapy water and rinse them well with clean water, to remove all the soap.
Step 6: Squeeze the ropes dry inside a clean towel.
Here’s how to clean rope toys that have other materials in them:
Step 1: Fill a sink or bucket with hot water and add a non-toxic liquid detergent or soap to the water. Follow the instructions on the detergent’s packaging to work out how much to use.
Step 3: Let the ropes soak for a while, at least 10 – 30 minutes, stirring the water every so often with a long spoon or stick.
Step 4: Scrub the ropes with a nail brush, toothbrush, or scrubbing brush.
Step 5: Remove the ropes from the soapy water and rinse them very well with clean water.
Step 6: Squeeze the ropes between a clean towel to remove most of the moisture.
Step 7: Sanitize the rope toys by placing them out in direct sunlight, running a garment steamer over them, or running a UV light over them.
Dry all rope toys by hanging them on the line or laying them out in the sun until they are completely dry. If there’s no sun out, blow the ropes dry with a hairdryer or put them in front of a fan.
How to clean plush or stuffed dog toys
Before cleaning your dog’s soft toys, fix any tears or rips in the toys. Don’t ever wash toys with batteries, metal, or other electronic devices inside.
Always follow the instructions given to clean plush toys, which are usually printed on a tag sewn on to the toy.
If there are no instructions or the instructions have faded, then you can probably clean your dog’s plush or stuffed toys in the washing machine or by hand. You can probably even wash plush toys with soft, plastic squeakers in them as long as you don’t make the water too hot.
To check if the toy can withstand a machine wash and keep its colors, put a few drops of hot water on a seam and squeeze a tissue on the wet part of the toy. If some color comes off on to the tissue, the toy’s dye is not colorfast and the toy needs to be washed carefully by hand or spot cleaned – see the next section for instructions on how to do this.
Before cleaning stuffed plush toys, put them in a plastic bag and freeze them overnight. This will kill any mites living in the material.
To machine wash stuffed dog toys, put the toys in a mesh bag or pillowcase and tie the top of the pillowcase. This will help to protect the toys.
Run the toys in the pillowcase through a gentle, warm wash cycle with non-toxic laundry detergent, such as this one from Amazon. Squeeze water out of the pillowcase and toys by hand, to remove excess water before drying them.
Here’s how to clean stuffed toys by hand:
Step 1: Put the plush toys in a plastic bag and freeze them overnight to kill mites.
Step 2: When you’re ready to wash them, fill a sink or bucket with hot water and add a non-toxic liquid detergent to the water. Follow the instructions on the detergent’s packaging to work out how much to use. Give the soap and water a good stir with a long spoon or utensil.
Step 3: Let the plush toys soak in the soap water for at least 10 – 30 minutes, stirring the water every so often for a deeper clean.
Step 4: Manually rub and squeeze each toy with your hands to give it a good deep clean with the soapy water.
Step 5: Remove the toys from the soapy water and rinse them with clean water. Be sure to squeeze and rub them as you rinse them, to remove all the soap in the material and stuffing.
Step 6: Squeeze the toys by hand to remove as much moisture as possible, especially if there are squeakers in them.
To dry plush dog toys, squeeze out any extra water by hand.
You can hang them on the line or lay them in the sun to dry – the sun is a wonderful natural disinfectant!
If you washed the toys in the machine, keep the toys tied up in the pillowcase and dry them in the dryer on low heat. Toys with squeakers are better off dried in the sun as the dryer may get too hot for the plastic squeaker.
To blow dry plush dog toys, dry the toys with the blow dry set to a low heat until they are almost dry, then use the medium heat setting to finish off the drying process and rub them with your fingers to make them fluffy.
If you want to disinfect the toys once they’re dry, the safest and easiest way to do this is by running a UV light or garment steamer over them.
How to clean plush toys that are not colorfast
Plush dog toys that aren’t colorfast cannot go into the washing machine or hot water.
To test if a toy is colorfast, put a few drops of hot water on a color section of the material. Squeeze this section with a paper towel. If color comes off the material and on to the paper towel, the toy is not colorfast and you can use the following steps to clean it.
Here’s how to clean stuffed toys that aren’t colorfast by hand:
Step 1: Put the toys in a plastic bag and freeze them overnight to kill mites.
Step 2: Dampen a cloth with warm, not hot, soapy water and wipe down the toys with the wet cloth.
Step 3: Wipe down the toys with a clean cloth that has only water on it, no soap.
Step 4: Run a garment steamer over the toys to disinfect them (or run a UV light over them once they’re dry).
Dry the plush toys by hanging them on the line, laying them out in the sun, or using a blow dryer.
If you use a blow dryer, set it to a low heat until the toys are almost dry, then use the medium heat setting to finish off the drying process and make the toys fluffy.
How to clean treats and chew toys
Chew toys and treats are things like raw hide, cow hooves, and pigs’ ears that dogs love to chew on.
Some of these chew toys and treats last a long time – long enough to collect dirt and bacteria as they lie around.
If the toys are still okay to keep but need a bit of a clean, then here’s how to clean them:
Step 1: Give the treats a quick rinse under warm running water, to remove visible sand and dirt on them.
Step 2: Wash the treats quickly in warm, soapy water, such as this plant-based non-toxic dish liquid from Amazon. Use a toothbrush to scrub the treats well, but don’t let them soak in the water or they’ll get soft and might absorb the soapy water.
Step 3: Rinse the treats well in clean water, until all the soap has been removed.
Step 4: To disinfect the treats, dry them outside in direct sunlight, run a UV light or garment steamer over them, or spray them with a vinegar solution (50% vinegar, 50% water) or this non-toxic disinfectant before rinsing with clean water again.