Investigation: What's growing inside your child's bath toys?

These harmless-looking rubber duckies could be harboring a disgusting secret. They could be growing dangerous bacteria and other pathogens.

(KUTV) — The yellow rubber ducky is a childhood staple.

Those squeezy toys are often a little ones best friend while in the bath tub; they can also be a parents nightmare because of the bacteria that grows inside.

At Mindy Lind's house, bath time is chaotic. While in the tub, the rubber ducky and toys like it, make bath time lots of fun for her children.

"They especially love these squeezy ones because they love to you know, squirt each other in the face and play games like that," said Mindy.

When bath time is over, Mindy sets those toys aside until next time, like many other parents do. But what happens, and more specifically what grows, in between bath times is what health officials say you should be aware of.

We took a trip to Richards Industrial Microbiology in Pleasant Grove, Utah, to find out. Dr. Sheril Burton, a microbiologist, agreed to test our bath toys for us.

Here's what we tested for:

  • E. Coli, specifically the variety caused by fecal contamination that can cause severe illness in children.
  • Staphylococci Aureus , a bacteria common on your skin and can cause infection if the skin is broken.
  • Pseudymonas Aeruginosa , a common bacteria in water and soil and can cause skin irritation.
  • Fungi, specifically mold and yeast, which can irritate the lungs, eyes, nose, and skin.
  • Coliform, which doesn't cause illness, but is an indicator that a pathogenic bacteria is present.

Here's what we tested:

  • We tested two rubber ducks, a block, a starfish and a truck, from four different homes. The ducks, block and starfish we cut open. The truck, we didn't cut open, but we did test the water inside. The ducks and block were wet, the starfish dry.

We took samples from each toy and put it on plates with certain mediums designed to find specific bacteria. We let the plates incubate and then came back in a couple of days to look at the results.

Here's what we found:

  • Duck 3 and the Truck tested positive for E. coli.
  • Duck 2 and Duck 3 tested positive for Staph.
  • Duck 2, the Block, and the Truck tested positive for Pseudomonas.
  • All the toys tested positive for Fungi.
  • All the toys also tested positive for Coliform, except for the Starfish, which was dry.

"What's happening in the toy is from the soap and washing from your body and everything, your body fluids, you enhancing the growth of the bacteria," said Dr. Burton.

What is the likelihood your child could get sick from their own bath toy?

We asked Ilene Risk an Epidemiologist with the Salt Lake County Health Department that question.

"I felt like the likelihood was almost zero from getting sick, with the exception of E.coli, that was a concern," said Risk

Risk says "any" level of E. coli is concerning, especially if it's ingested.

"While it can be common in the intestine, it's something that you shouldn't be drinking. It's definitely considered a public health hazard" added Risk.

Risk also said that,

"If a child had a compromised immune system several of the things that were identified could potentially be problematic, but most of the time if someone is healthy it is not a concern,"

Risk says the Salt Lake County Health Department has never had a confirmed case of a bath toy causing an illness, but also says it would be hard to pinpoint. Some of the bacteria we tested for isn't tracked by the health department.

The takeaway from our experiment and what we found:

  • Don't be alarmed, don't panic, but be aware that bacteria is inside your children's bath toys. There are things you can do, like properly cleaning your toys and drying them out, to keep your kids healthy and happy, not just in the bath, but all year round.
  • Cleaning tips from the health department:
  • Clean after every single use
  • Don't share toys between children
  • If toy is dishwasher safe, put it in the dishwasher
  • If not dishwasher safe, use a good detergent or soap with warm water, scrub the toy and wash the germs down the drain
  • Make sure the toy is completely dry inside
  • To clean the inside of a toy, use the right bleach to water ratio, suck up water, let it stay inside for 30 minutes, squeeze it out and make sure toy dries completely

EPA “Green Cleaning” guide about safer cleaning chemicals and practices for anything in a child’s environment.

When to throw the toy away:

  • If mold is growing inside
  • If the toy is in any kind of disrepair
  • Storage and other helpful tips:
  • Store in an area where the toy can dry completely, don't let it remain in water
  • Before they get in the tub and before they touch a toy make sure kids hands are clean
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