The germs crawl in, the germs crawl out...
February 11, 2009 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Kid's due this spring, and we've amassed huge piles of used baby gear. What are some safe disinfecting procedures that will reliably rid all this stuff of any lurking mold, bacteria AND viruses?

I'm not a germophobe or anything, and I understand and believe the hygiene hypothesis-- but with all the stuff in the news recently about what happens When Microbes Attack (black mold! obesity viruses!), I'd at least like the kiddie to start out with a blank slate, flora-wise, instead of Freecycle's Best premium microorganism assortment. Criteria for disinfection procedures: must be
  • ultimately baby-safe (so, not necessarily completely natural or nontoxic, but should be rinsable or removable to leave a safe end product)
  • as un-damaging as possible to the stuff itself (won't be easy with fabric cushioning/other mixed-material stuff, I know), and unlikely to break down plastics to yield toxic byproducts
  • effective against molds, bacteria, viruses, and (ideally) bacterial spores.
My current idea is to start by dousing everything with a mild bleach solution to clear the field, then follow up with Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree Soap and lots of baking in the sun to remove residual chlorine. I was also considering just using lots and lots of 95% ethanol, but wasn't sure whether it'd do much against viruses and molds. Would love to hear critiques and/or better suggestions for how to accomplish this!
posted by Bardolph to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Try vinegar, "White distilled vinegar is a popular household cleanser, effective for killing most mold, bacteria, and germs, due to its level of acidity. Cleaning with white distilled vinegar is a smart way to avoid using harsh chemicals. You’ll also be glad to know that it is environmentally friendly and very economical. "
posted by Sassyfras at 9:50 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hot water cycles in the dishwasher and washing machine could probably help a lot. Baking soda is an antibacterial nontoxic cleaning agent, would probably be just fine on the plastics.
posted by lizbunny at 9:57 AM on February 11, 2009

95% ethanol will kill pretty much anything it touches; lots of labs use 70% ethanol for cleaning and disinfecting. 5% bleach is pretty standard too. The only things likely to survive such treatment would be mold or bacteria that it doesn't reach due to encrusted dirt, etc., which should be pretty obvious and easy to remove.
posted by pombe at 10:18 AM on February 11, 2009

Bleach will deteriorate most plastics and rubbers. Go the alcohol route.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:33 AM on February 11, 2009

Hydrogen peroxide is perfect for anything that might be damaged by high temperatures or porous enough it can't be rinsed well. It also works as a bleach. After all, it breaks down to hydrogen and oxygen.
posted by variella at 10:35 AM on February 11, 2009

Alcohol is the best option.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:40 AM on February 11, 2009

Your plan sounds good, but I would switch the order of the soap and bleach (or whatever disinfective agent you choose to use; bleach is routinely used in medical settings on plastic, vinyl, fabric, etc. without deterioration).

I'm taking a course on tuberculosis at the moment, and we had a guest lecturer who investigates chains of infection recently. She went over a case where TB was transferred through a bronchoscope that had been thoroughly disinfected, but not washed. Take home: disinfectants are designed to be used on things that have already been washed, as the washing breaks down the protective proteins that surround the icky stuff.

Definitely follow up with lots of sun; it will kill things, and also take away the chemical smell.

If you have older plastic stuff, I would also take a look to see whether it might contain BPA and so on. Hitting it that hard with the chemical / UV onslaught would be bad.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:49 AM on February 11, 2009

At the risk of injecting a dose of reality...

1. Clothes and bedding can go through a normal wash - maybe a 60C/140F wash to get things really clean in the first instance.
2. Dishwasher-safe stuff - just wash it with your normal dishwasher load. A dishwasher will wipe out most bacteria and mold.
3. Avoid used mattresses and pillows as they probably contain dust mites and whatnot.
4. Most other stuff - wash in hot soapy water.
5. Sterilise bottles and food containers of course, using a steriliser or microwave.

Don't bother with alcohol and bleach (unless things are really stained). Exposure to the environment is going to put all those bacteria and spores back within days. We live in an environment teeming with invisible life. Most of it is completely harmless. Exposure to the rest is just part of developing natural immunity.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 10:58 AM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

I work in a viral molecular genetics & microbial biotechnology lab. For anything that cannot be sterilized, we just use Lysol.
posted by halogen at 12:32 PM on February 11, 2009

. clothing and anything that can go in the washer: just wash it, it'll be fine. use hot water if it makes you feel better.
. plastic toys and stuff: dishwasher or wash, rinse in mild bleach solution, dry thoroughly.
. equipment, i.e., stroller, high chair: scrub down with soap & water, be fussy about crevices, then wipe with mild bleach solution, dry thoroughly, leave in sunshine & fresh air for a couple of days.
. Crib mattresses are usually plastic covered, and unlikely to be germy. If it smells okay, just wipe with mild bleach solution, dry thoroughly, leave in sunshine & fresh air for a couple of days.

Dishwashing powder has a lot of bleach, so the dishwasher is pretty useful.
Any plastic close to deteriorating due to mild bleach solution is not baby-safe.
Babies don't need as much stuff as manufacturers would have you believe.
Most homes don't have mold problems, and most mold & mildew is quite obvious.
New plastic stuff outgasses a lot, so gently used stuff that's clean is probably pretty darn healthy.
Worry about used cribs meeting safety guidelines, loose threads that can wrap around a finger (or neck), recalls on products, more than germs on baby gear.
Germs need food. Germs don't survive on dry surfaces. Fresh air & sunshine kill germs. If you remove anything that can feed germs, i.e., food, spitup, milk, etc., and clean and dry things, you and your baby will be fine.

Mazel tov.
posted by theora55 at 3:33 PM on February 11, 2009

Piggybacking on what halogen said, viruses aren't really alive and thus can't be "killed."
posted by squorch at 9:05 PM on February 11, 2009

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