How to Care for Wooden, Felt and Silk Toys
We sing the praises of wood, felt and silk toys because they are natural materials and make beautiful heirloom toys that can be used across the generations. We don't always know how to best care for them though as we grew up in a world of plastic fantastic and toys seen as highly disposable. When they break, replace them. But we are all shifting towards the toys of past generations and embracing wood, felt and silk once again.
Why is it important to clean toys?
You would have to have been living under a rock for the past three years to not know why we need to clean toys. Coronavirus, influenza A, gastroenteritis, RSV etc. Infants and toddlers mouth their toys because that’s how they learn through their senses. During their first year of life, children explore the world around them through their senses: sight, touch, sound, smell and of course taste. The more children explore, the more they learn.
Children are far more likely than adults to catch influenza or the common cold. Any parent or early childhood educator know all too well that early learning services are certainly a fabulous place to exchange infections, regardless of whether they are bacterial or viral.
There has been a shift from One question on the minds of parents and educators is how to clean wooden and fabric toys. Wooden, handmade toys require a gentle touch when it comes to cleaning! The toys in Teia Education’s collection have been carefully curated to be natural and non-toxic, using only natural finishes and safe, water-based paints. This means that harsh chemicals, detergents, hot water or submerging in water would all damage them and should be avoided.
How to Clean General Toys
According to Staying Healthy in Child Care 5th Edition, washing toys is critical to stop the spread of disease and keep children healthy. Toys need to be washed regularly. The recommendation is to wash toys in an early childhood setting daily, but that is not always a practical option when you consider a full classroom such as a preschool. In a nursery setting however it is critical as children mouth the toys far more often. In a preschool and toddler setting, children can wash their hands when they arrive at the service, when they transition indoors from outdoor play, when they move between spaces, and before and after they eat.
How do we clean toys?
Generally speaking we clean toys with warm soapy water, rinse them well, and then let their air dry preferably in the sun. Some toys can even be cleaned in a dishwasher. Many moons ago in my child care centre, we’d pop toys like duplo into laundry bags and wash them that way. It kept all the loose parts together and they were easy to then transfer to towels or even stretcher beds in the sun.
In an early childhood setting or possibly in your home you can start a ‘Toys to Wash’ box and place toys in it during the day if you see a child sneeze on a toy or put a toy in their mouth, or if the toy has been used by a child who is unwell.
In some settings it may be a great option to have two sets of daily and popular toys. One set can be in play while the other set is washed and dried. Then all you need to do is rotate them daily. Toys can also be split into two lots and rotated between washing one day and in use the next.
The OG toys were wooden and handmade. We played with sticks and stones and other natural fibers. Woven balls, corn husk dolls, carved wooden animals and figurines. The good news is that wood has natural anti-bacterial properties, so those nasty germs won’t remain viable for very long as they would on plastic or rubber toys.
The most recent trends in truly beautiful toys are largely wooden and made from natural materials such as felt and cotton. We sell Papoose Toys because of their beautiful wood and felt trees, playmats, toadstools and more. Bauspiel are stunning to look at and feel. Other popular wooden toys include Grimms, Ocamora, and Grapat just to name a few.
Wooden toys are an investment and they need to be cared for. They can last between multiple generations and passed down from parent to child to grandchild when cared for.
How to Clean Wooden Toys
- Fill a bowl of warm water. Add a small amount simple dish soap.
- Using a cloth that you’ve wrung out, dab the cloth on the wooden toy.
- Place toy outside in a safe place and allow to dry (Avoid direct sunlight)
- NEVER fully immerse a wooden toy in water as this will cause damage to any dye, colouring, painting. It will also raise the grain of the wood, cause swelling and potentially cracking and other damage.
- If the stain is quite severe you can make a solution using vinegar and warm water. Mix 1 part vinegar to 10 parts warm water. Spray or dab the solution onto a cloth and use on the wooden toy. Then, if all fails, you can use some smooth sandpaper to remove any unwanted marks, but make sure you do a little test patch in an area that not’s visible to make sure the toy isn’t damaged.
What Do the Popular Wooden Toy Makers Say?
Grimm’s recommend that you use a damp cloth to wipe any dirt from their wooden toys, and to use a little soapy water if the dirt is a bit stubborn. They emphasize the importance of drying and recommend drying at room temperature. They also go on to say that their wooden toys should never be cleaned in hot water or with disinfectant. Nor should they be dried near a heater or radiator as this may cause the wood to crack.
Grapat, another famous brand say much the same as Grimms in regards to cleaning their toys. They suggest a damp cloth and immediate drying. They also say to never submerge their say that their handmade wooden toys should be kept in a dry place and in terms of cleaning, the toys can be wiped with a damp cloth and should be dried immediately. They also state that their wooden toys should never be submerged in water nor should disinfectant be used. Sounding very familiar by now? Do Not Submerge Wooden Toys!
Caring for Your Wooden Toys
Wood is an organic material that was once a living tree, and trees have water in their trunks and branches. When we cut trees, they no longer absorb water through their root systems and their parts dry out over time. Every few months, wooden toys should really be moisturized to maintain their integrity. I personally use and love Gilly'sl Food Safe Wax which can be bought at Bunnings, so its super handy. It smells and feels divine and it’s safe for young children as its food safe.
Ideally, this should be done after the toys have been cleaned and dried. Make sure the toy has dried before you apply oils or wax.
Use a cloth with a beeswax polish or even olive oil and gently rub the oil with the grain of the wooden toy. Make sure you allow time for the oil to be absorbed before you place the toys into storage or back on the shelf. Toys can be buffed afterwards with a dry cloth.
How to Clean Felt Toys
Felt toys are made from natural fibers such as sheep’s wool. They are either needle felted or wet felted, depending on the type of product and where it was made.
Wipe the surface gently with a wet cloth. This will clean away any remaining debris from the felt item. When wiping make sure you’re gentle and avoid any strong or aggressive scrubbing. Rough actions can damage the surface of the felt toy.
For more stubborn stains or animal hair, you can use the sticky side of packing or masking tape. Roll some tape around your fingers, sticky side out, and then pat the sticky side of masking tape over the surface of the felt and then quickly pulling it away. This will remove any solid items left on the surface of the felt.
For more stubborn stains use a warm water and soap solution, dabbing a tiny amount of very gentle soap and dap directly on the stain. Be sure you dab the soap solution on, do not rub the surface. Spot cleaning small and relatively minor stains this way is preferable to immersing your felt item in water, since the dyed colour in felt can run easily.
How do you store and protect your felt products?
We need to make sure that we check our felt products and keep them safe when we are storing them, or displaying them for play. Some things that we need to consider are moisture, pests and fading from direct sunlight.
Protect Your Felt Toys from Moisture:
When felt is dry, it is very durable and survive children’s enthusiastic and attentive play. Wet felt however is a whole different cup of tea. The felt fibres can become fragile and delicate. It is best to avoid storing felt products on low shelves of on the ground, in bathrooms, in garage or basements or in any humid areas in your home or learning space. Keep felt products as dry as possible.
Protect Your Felt Toys from Pests:
Now pests can do some serious damage to your gorgeous felt products. Moths, silverfish and carpet beetles love wool. It is always best to avoid these little critters and use prevention methods rather than having to deal with any damage or an infestation. Some easy preventions could be using lavender scents or storing your felt products in airtight and secure containers.
You can keep them in cotton bags or pillow cases that will allow them to breathe and then store them inside an airtight tub or container. You can add in some dried lavender or cedar balls or other pets control options such as store-bought pest repellent products.You’ll need to make sure that you read the instructions prior to use. And you may want to air the wool items out before you use them again.
Protect Your Felt Toys from Direct SunLight:
It’s important to make sure that you protect your felt from diirect exposure to sunlight. The sun’s rays can result in a deterioration of the dyes and reduce their vibrance.
How to Clean Play Silkies
- Fill a sink, basin or clean bucket with lukewarm water and add in 1 teaspoon or 5 ml of a mild detergent, soap or Castille soap to the water. Lukewarm water should be the warmest water your silk comes into contact with. NEVER use hot water on silk as it is a delicate natural material.
- Mix the detergent into the water.
- If you have hard water, mix a teaspoon of borax with the washing water.
- Gently swirl the play silks in the water. This can actually be done as a play activity with children. They love watching silk move in water and it can be quite mesmerising.
- When finished, gently squeeze the water from the play silk. You can dry flat on towels so the play silk maintains its shape and structural integrity.
References + Further Reading:
- How to Clean Silk: 10 Steps (with Pictures) - wikiHow
- Wool Felt 101: How To Clean And Maintain Your Wool Felt Products - Felt and Yarn
- Staying healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services | NHMRC