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Heads up, mama: It might be time to toss the bath toys

Why one mom shared her now-viral story about bacteria in bath toys.

Heads up, mama: It might be time to toss the bath toys

What would bath time be without squeaky rubber duckies? A lot safer says one mama who recently went viral after sharing the story of how a tub toy—or rather the water trapped inside one—seriously injured her 2-year-old.

In her now-viral Instagram post mom Eden Strong explains how her toddler's eye became infected after he squirted himself in the face with the water inside a rubber ducky tub toy. Very quickly her son went from having an irritated eye to needing IV antibiotics and a CT scan to determine if his vision was damaged (thankfully he did not suffer long-term vision problems).

You may have seen the photos Strong posted to Facebook and Instagram, as other parents and major news outlets have been sharing them in an effort to educate parents about tub toys and how they can harbor potentially pathogenic bacteria...even when they look clean.

"I think what has shocked me the most is that my inbox is completely full of parents sharing similar stories and pictures of their children," Strong tells Motherly. She's now wondering why such toys are still being manufactured and marketed to parents when the stories of other parents and scientific research suggest we should toss the ducks.



What Strong learned though her son's experience was also noted in a study published in the journal Biofilms and Microbiomes back in 2018.

Researchers found "potentially pathogenic bacteria" in four out of five bath toys examined.

For the study, Swiss and American researchers looked at the biofilm communities inside 19 bath toys collected from random households as well as six toys used in controlled clean or dirty water conditions. They found that all of the examined bath toys “had dense and slimy biofilm" on their inner surfaces. What's more, 56% of the real-use toys and all of the dirty-water toys had fungi build up.

Although the researchers note exposure to bacteria and fungi may have some benefits, the strong existence of grime in bath toys is still concerning.

They note, “Squeezing water with chunks of biofilm into their faces (which is not unexpected behavior for these users) may result in eye, ear, wound or even gastro-intestinal tract infections."

So, pretty much what happened to Strong's son (even though she did regularly clean them, because they're impossible to clean).

Strong actually reached out to the lead author of the 2018 study, Swiss microbiologist Frederick Hammes.

In a piece for Yahoo!Life, Strong recalls Hammes explaining how "the design of the squeezable toys with a water hole means you always have a bit of water remaining in the toy, which gives enough humidity for bacteria, and certainly for fungi, to grow."

Like Strong, Hammes would like to see more regulations on the polymeric materials used for many bath toys, and/or a warning label to let parents to the design problem inherent in many bath toys.

For parents, however, there is one simple solution—it just comes at the cost of rubber duckie's squeak. “In fact, the easiest way to prevent children from being exposed to bath toy biofilms is to simply close the hole," the researchers noted in 2018.

Something like this water-tight duck is just as fun in the tub but minimizes the risk of infection.

[A version of this post originally appeared April 13, 2018. It has been updated.]

Check out some of the safe bath time additions on the Motherly Shop.

Puj rinse + play hangable kids cups 

Puj hangable kids cups

Chances are, even if you give your child the fanciest bath toys, they'll end up having the most fun with a simple cup as they watch water pour out of the cup in fascination. From pouring play to rinsing shampoo without tears, they're a bath time must-have.

$29

Pleni Naturals apple + broccoli hair and body wash 

Pleni Naturals apple + broccoli hair and body wash

Loaded with all natural ingredients like sweet orange essential oil, vanilla fruit extract and broccoli and olive oils, this delightfully sudsy but clean-rinsing hair and body wash is a bath time fave.

$17

Puj grippy bath treads

Puj grippy bath treads

These fun and stylish bath treads make bath time fun and safe for the entire family. Each tread is made from BPA/PVC free material and offers the perfect balance between giving enough traction to prevent slipping and still being soft and gentle on sensitive skin.Their low-profile and ultra-strong adhesive make them easy to keep squeaky clean with standard household cleaners.

$15

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

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Detective set

Plan Toys detective set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

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Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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