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Dog Pros: How to Wash Dog Toys — And Which Ones *Never* To Toss In The Washer

An easy guide to washing squeaky toys, plush toys, rope toys and more

In between training, walks, and all the snuggles, figuring out how to wash dog toys (and then actually washing them) is probably low on your puppy priority list — but, simply put, dogs’ mouths are gross. So are the floors, outdoors and everywhere else pets and their playthings end up. So you may want to add getting the toys cleaned to that list. The big question? How to wash dog toys if they’re plush, plastic or rope and what cleansers are safe to use to ensure Fido stays healthy. We asked pet pros to weigh in.

Why it’s important to wash dog toys

From yeast to mold to bacteria, there’s a lot of stuff on their toys that you’d be horrified to know is going into your pup’s mouth. Similar to the difference between slippers and sneakers, the grossness depends greatly on where you’re taking the toys. “Toys that you take to public places or go with your dog to a boarding facility can transfer communicable illnesses from other dogs to yours and even yourself,” explains Cathy Brooks, ABPSA, APDT, founder and canine counselor at The Hydrant Club. The ones that just stay at home and are only for your dog don’t require nearly enough vigilance.

Erin Askeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, animal health and behavior expert at Camp Bow Wow, advises that you wash dog toys once a month regardless. “Washing your toys in two groups can be a helpful rotation and keep toys interesting for your pups,” she adds. Favorite ones used daily, however, might need to be washed weekly.

Before you start to wash your dog toys, it’s worth questioning whether or not it’s time to toss some of them first — instead of becoming choking hazards. According to Kari Rohl Steiner, veterinarian at VCA North Country Animal Hospital, some of the most obvious signs include: split or broken rubber or nylon, small pieces of anything, holes or ripped seams, exposed squeakers or stuffing, rough and pointy edges and fraying. 

Related: Veterinarian Reveals the Popular Toys and Treats You Should Never Give Your Dog

Then, breaking them down between types of toys helps inform how they should be washed

How to wash fabric dog toys

Cute dog with a toy in his mouth for how to wash dog toys

Askeland says that plush toys are easy to throw in the washing machine with the rest of your laundry using a pet-safe detergent such as Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent (Buy from Amazon, $14.24) which contains no dyes or synthetic fragrances and uses a combination of plant-based cleansers and enzymes that are tough on stains but gentle on your pets, their toys and your clothes. Don’t want Rover chewing on even pet-safe detergent remnants? Simply add a ¼ cup of white vinegar into your washer in place of detergent and run a on a gentle cycle. “You can also wash them in the sink or tub with a mild soap and water combo or pet-safe cleaner,” adds Askeland. If a toy has a combination of materials, both hard and soft, it’s best to hand wash it,” Askeland explains. The same recommendation applies here: use a mild soap or pet-safe cleaner.

Here, some of her best practices:

  • Laundry bags (typically used for delicates) are great for corralling soft toys and preventing damage, says Askeland.
  • Whether you use a dryer or air dry, Askeland emphasizes that it’s important to “make sure they’re 100% dry before storing them or giving them back to your pup.” And when drying avoid using dryer sheets. Cationic detergents, which can be found in fabric softeners and dryer sheets, can cause a variety of health issues for animals ranging from irritation to pulmonary edema.
  • Always read the labels, though chances are you’ll be told to use hot water and pet-safe detergent.

How to wash dog toys with squeakers

Unless your dog toys with squeakers are plush, putting them in the washing machine might render them un-squeakable, and therefore should be hand washed instead. If they are plush, however, they should be fine as long as you keep in mind these tips:

  • Again, always read the labels. There’s always exceptions to the rules.
  • Askeland recommends washing with cold water to prevent the plastic from distorting, while Rohl Steiner takes this one step further: “You may want to also dry on low, or hang to dry.”

How to wash hard dog toys

How to wash dog toys: Girl and dog playing in the bedroom

According to Askeland, hard toys like rubber kongs can be washed in the sink or tub with mild soap or pet-safe cleanser — or even the dishwasher if they’re able to stand up to heat, there aren’t any electronic elements, and you use pet-safe detergent.

How to wash dog rope toys

Some, like Rohl Steiner, insist that “rope toys shouldn’t go in the wash because they’re more likely to hold onto the moisture and mold.” Instead, you can just brush out the debris and spot clean. Askeland, on the other hand, recommends washing rope in the sink or tub with (you guessed it) a mild soap or pet-safe cleaner, making sure that “they’re fully soaked and then wrung out well before being laid out to dry.” Often, the rope toys are too heavy for a washing machine and also risk being tangled in it.

Don’t forget to also follow these general guidelines from Askeland:

  • Avoid harsh chemicals like bleach (they’re dangerous to ingest) or acidic solutions like vinegar (they can break down certain rubbers and plastics).
  • Use a bristle brush to scrub off any dirt or debris prior to washing.
  • Ensure toys are rinsed fully before squeezing out and drying.
  • Ensure toys are completely dry before storing or giving back to your dog.

Is Dawn dish soap safe for dogs?

The go-to for all kinds of cleaning projects, including hard and rope dog toys, Dawn dish soap is safe for dogs (as is any other mild soap). One warning from Brooks: “If the material is porous, you’ll want to then soak it in hot water to make sure you remove all the soap.” If you find anything stronger is necessary, just throw the toy out. “Remember, this is something that goes into your puppy’s mouth,” she continues.

Related: Is Turkey Safe For Dogs? Vets Weigh In On What Feast Foods Are Okay To Share

How to rid a dog toy of that rubber smell

First, consider this rule from Brooks: “If I’m repelled by the smell of a toy and I don’t want it in the house, I don’t buy it. If a toy has a really chemical type of stink, I’d worry less about removing the smell than I would about my dog having it in its mouth.”

That said, if your pooch has already come down with a case of puppy love, there are ways to minimize the rubber smell that originates from their production in the factory:

  • Patience:  “Rubber has a smell that will lessen over time, though it won’t completely dissipate,” Rohl Steiner explains. (Fresh air can speed the process along.)
  • Soap and water: Hot, soapy water can always help remove the smell.
  • Dishwashing: For effort that takes a little more time but even less effort, just pop the toy in the dishwasher with the rest of your dirty dishes.

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