Let’s face it: Kids are experts at spreading germs to others, transforming childcare environments into breeding grounds for contagious illnesses like the common cold, influenza, hand, foot, and mouth disease, slapped cheek syndrome, and now, the potential of coronavirus (COVID-19)…

While we can teach our children to wash their hands, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or their elbow, and avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth – unfortunately, these important hygiene habits can’t be passed along to babies, wobblers, and young toddlers.

That’s why it’s so important that childcare professionals remain vigilant in appropriately cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, especially when the risk of infection is higher than usual (cough … cough … coronavirus).

To Clean, Sanitize, or Disinfect … That is the Question

To effectively reduce the spread of germs in childcare environments, it’s important to understand that cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are different tasks with different goals.

CLEANING physically removes dirt and grime from surfaces or objects. To clean surfaces, combine soap (or detergent) and warm water to physically remove dirt and grime from surfaces. Cleaning may also remove some germs or simply spread them around. (It takes a sanitizer or disinfectant to kill germs.)

SANITIZING lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a predetermined, required level.  That level is set by public health standards or requirements. 

DISINFECTING kills a high percentage of the germs on surfaces or objects.

Which Items and Surfaces Should be Sanitized or Disinfected?

Keep in mind that not all items and surfaces in childcare environments need to be sanitized or disinfected. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting Frequency Table

Item/Surface Method Directions Frequency
Machine washable cloth toys and dress-up clothes Cleaned (Laundered) Scrub with soap or detergent and water, then rinse with clear water Weekly
Tables and highchair trays Cleaned and then Sanitized  Clean then apply solution of 1 tablespoon regular chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water Before and after each use
Changing tables Cleaned and then Disinfected Clean then apply solution of 2 ½  tablespoons regular chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water After each use
Diaper pails Cleaned and then Disinfected Clean then apply solution of 2 ½  tablespoons regular chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water Daily, at the end of the day

Dr. Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, a professor and children’s health expert at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, also recommends cleaning baby toys regularly. Even spot cleaning can help combat unwanted cooties.

How to Sanitize and Disinfect Surfaces in Childcare Environments

The Water Quality & Health Council recently developed the following pictogram posters with several expert partners, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and others. The posters offer simple, easy-to-understand instructions on how to use chlorine bleach for sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces in childcare environments. We encourage you to share these posters with your child’s day care center or school to help keep germs at bay!

Childcare Posters