Day care centers are wonderful places for young children to play and learn. But without good hygiene practices and proper disinfection procedures, they can become breeding grounds for germs.

Here are some important tips for staying healthy in day care that parents and day care staff can keep in mind to prevent cooties from running rampant.

Day Care Inspection: A Checklist for Parents

Preventive action is key in controlling the spread of germs at day care. Allison Janse and Dr. Charles Gerba, authors of “The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu,” recommend looking for the following when selecting a day care center for your child:

  • Is there a hand-washing and toilet training policy? Do they teach hygiene habits on a daily basis?
  • How often are common areas and shared toys cleaned? (It should be daily.) How often are sleeping mats washed? (It should be at least weekly.)
  • Does the staff wear gloves or take preventive measures to reduce infection while changing diapers and wiping noses?
  • Does the bathroom have adequate soap and water? Are there paper towels within children’s reach?
  • Is the diaper changing area separate from the main area or food prep area?
  • Is the food prep area clean? How many staff members are in charge of food prep? (Fewer people = less chance of infection.)

The Importance of Hand-Washing

Hand-washing is a crucial step in preventing the spread of germs at day care. A study of 341 children’s day care centers found a strong association with higher frequency of respiratory illness where there was infrequent hand-washing after nose wiping or diaper changing and before meals or food preparation. Yikes!

When Should You Wash Your Hands?

  • After going to the bathroom
  • After changing diapers or cleaning bodily fluids
  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

Encouraging Kids to Wash Their Hands

We understand how convincing little ones to wash their hands can be tricky. One way to get kids excited about washing their hands is to use colored soaps that foam or have fun scents. To ensure that they wash their hands for the right amount of time – at least 20 seconds – have them hum or sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. When they’re done, make sure the children dry their hands thoroughly using a disposable paper towel, and dispose of the paper towel properly.

The Problem with Sharing

Teaching children the importance of sharing is great. Sharing germs? Not so much. When sick children cough or sneeze without covering their noses or mouths, they spread germs through the air. These germs can then be inhaled by a nearby child or staff member, causing the infection to spread. Teach children to cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the crook of their elbows.

Mucous droplets may also land on nearby surfaces, like toys, and then get picked up on hands and spread to the eyes, nose, or mouth. Ick!


If they’re not cleaned and disinfected, shared toys can speed up the spread of germs that often make children sick in a day care environment. And while it’s unreasonable to constantly disinfect toys, it’s a good practice to disinfect them regularly to prevent the spread of germs.

How to Disinfect Toys

  1. Clean non-absorbent toys with soapy water, then rinse with clear water
  2. Wipe dry with disposable paper towels
  3. Sanitize by applying a chlorine bleach solution of one tablespoon of bleach per one gallon of water
  4. Let air dry


The possibility of toothbrush cross-contamination in group settings like day care is very high, either when children play with them or toothbrushes are improperly stored. The CDC recommends that day care staff take the following measures to ensure hygienic tooth brushing:

  • Do not allow children to share or borrow toothbrushes. Ensure that each child has his or her own toothbrush, clearly marked with identification.
  • To prevent cross contamination, dispense a pea-sized amount of toothpaste onto a piece of wax paper before placing on each child’s toothbrush.
  • After the children finish brushing, make sure they rinse their toothbrushes thoroughly with tap water, allow them to air dry, and store them in an upright position.
  • Provide paper cups for children to use for rinsing after they finish brushing. Do not allow them to share cups, and ensure that they dispose of the cups properly after each use.

Practice Good Diaper Hygiene

This one sounds like a no-brainer, but proper handling of diapers is especially important in a day care setting. According to the CDC, there can be a trillion germs in one gram of poop… Yuck! To prevent the spread of germs, day care centers should have a sanitary procedure for diapering – and follow that procedure for every diaper change.

How to Disinfect the Diaper Changing Area

  1. Clean diaper changing area with soapy water, then rinse with clear water
  2. Wipe dry with disposable paper towels
  3. Sanitize by applying a chlorine bleach solution according to state or local health department directions, paying attention to different directions for concentrated (8.25%) versus regular strength (5.25%) bleach.
  4. Air dry

Is There a “Sick Child” Policy?

Does your child’s day care have a strict, but fair, sick policy in place? It’s important to understand and follow these guidelines to help prevent your child and others from getting sick. While it varies from center to center, most day care centers with a sick policy require a child to be symptom-free for 24 hours before he or she may return.

How sick is too sick for day care? Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your child is throwing up or has a persistent cough, diarrhea, fever, or obvious contagious condition like pink eye or head lice, keep the little one home. Notify your child’s day care if she is not feeling well, so staff members can take extra precautions to limit the spread of germs to other children.

Here’s to a happy and healthy day care experience!