Cleaning Wooden Train Track?

Updated on November 15, 2009
M.D. asks from Wasilla, AK
12 answers

Any ideas on how to sanitize and clean a wooden train track? I've been watching my friend's boys and with the madness of germs I've been careful to wash hands frequently but the two year old likes to put pieces of the train set in his mouth! While my kids don't chew on the train they still are touching it with their hands. Anyway, I really want to sanitize but am not sure where to start or what to do. If I spray the pieces with Lysol is that good enough?

Thanks in advance for any help, I'm not what you would call "green" but I would like the cleaning method to be safe for kid's toys and hopefully not break the bank.

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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone for all your helpful advice... it sounds like the best rememdy is just to let the wood "rest" and that whatever germs are on them will die. I'm not an extremist either way, I just want to encourage healthy habits. Thanks Mamas for coming to the rescue...again!

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answers from Eugene on

Dear M.

Many things the FDA says are safe are not. Lysol is one of them. It is full of cancer causing agents and things that can make for a serious allergic reaction. All these chemical cleansers do not work better than vineagar and baking soda neither one of these is toxic.
Wash them with a clean cloth in warm water. We had tons of Brio trains and I seldom washed them. Brio is not advised for children under three years of age. Same for Thomas.

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answers from Seattle on

I have to agree with Peg on this one. If you feel compelled to clean them, washing them with a mild vinegar solution is probably best, but I think it's unnecessary.

If this child that you are watching is coming to your home, his germs are on more than just the train tracks and your children are sharing them anyways. The whole sanitizing mania is really bad for kid's immune systems, they are less immune to common bacteria AND kids in in very "clean" (as in sanitized) households are more likely to develop allergies.

Practice good, reasonable hygiene. Wipe down toys and surfaces with a rag and a mild soap (I use dish soap) add some vinegar if you feel the need. Unless your home is a doctor's office there is really no need for harsh chemicals or sanitizers.
Teach your children to wash their hands frequently and when they are sick, keep them separated or ask your friend to keep her children at home when they are sick - just like a regular daycare would.
Good luck.

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answers from Portland on

yes I had a friend one time that kept kids in her house. I helped her wash her wooden toys before. She filled up the sink with water and clorox and put them in there and brushed them off with a brush. She rinsed them really well and she said the key is to dry them over and over really really really well. She said that she read that in a magazine and it worked. She did that with the blocks and tracks and even wooden puzzles. It never damaged them that I saw... if it did it was over a period of yrs and yrs. By then they would out grow them anyway.
Good luck.



answers from Bellingham on

Wood holds onto bacteria much more than any other surface because it is so porous. This is why food service cannot use wooden spoons. I have also been a "greenie" for years, tho there are some things you cannot get around. At this time of year the idea to "sun bleach" is out due to lack of sun (this is where you put toys in direct sunlight for a couple of days) I would seriously get the smallest bottle of bleach and cut it - one or two caps full per gallon of water and dunk the tracks in it. (I know, some folks are gonna get mad at me for suggesting this) but with all the swine flu, etc. that is going around, it is better safe than sorry. Lay the tracks out on a towel and let them dry out naturally or put them on a pan in the oven on very low temp with the door cracked.

If you really want to be green about it, you can use tea tree oil (cheap at trader j's) or grape seed oil. Good luck and I wish your little ones health. You can also make every attempt to catch the one putting them in their mouth and tell them "not in the mouth" and pull it away from their mouth. You may have to say this about 1000 times, so be patient!

P.S. I guess shame on me for suggesting bleach - after reading the other responses...!



answers from Portland on

I would wipe them down with a warm, damp cloth with a touch of soap and then maybe spray with a natural disinfectant or something like Clorox Anywhere spray.




answers from Portland on

I practice alot of green methods of cleaning, but as a teacher I am a sanitizing fool:) I just took a blood born pathogens certification course and learned that a microscopic speck of blood can host viruses and germs outside of our bodies for up to two weeks!! I would just make a bucket or spray bottle of sanitizer spray, 1 teaspoon bleach to one gallon of warm water. you can dip, wipe or spray them and let air dry. The bleach solution will lose it's germ killing effectiveness after 24 hours. You can also do it without bleach, you can scrub each surface of each track with mild soap and warm water for 30 seconds and rinse and let air dry as well. Good luck!



answers from Seattle on

This is something of locking the barn after the horse has escaped but:

The single most effective antimicrobial agent is 10% bleach. (Not including impossible things to do like autoclaving, taking things into the vacuum of space, etc.) That means 1 cup of bleach to 9 cups of water. We use it in labs to clean all surfaces. ((Note: we don't have wood in the lab.))

The SECOND most effective antimicrobial agent? Soap and water. Plain old soap and water. (Now here's the tricky bit... soap is 100% natural ... it's just fat and ash, BUT most natural "soaps" don't actually have any soap in them!!! Aaaargh. Talk about annoying. I couldn't figure out why we kept having stomach problems one month, until I realized the yummy smelling natural "soap" I had bought didn't actually have any antimicrobial properties. So we essentially had multiple cases of mild food poisoning all month -salmonella, e.coli, whatever. Double grrrr. If you look closely they're called "cleansers" if they're following the letter of the law, but many just call whatever they happen to be selling soap.)

Anyhow, the reason I say it's rather like locking the barn after the horse has escaped, is that when you bring people into your home, your entire home has just become contaminated. Yes. It's still worth occasionally washing all the toys (mostly for the biological contaminants, skin/food/mucous/etc. that act as food for pathogenic -aka harmful to humans- microbes, as well as just the yucky but not pathogenic ones, most molds, etc.

Now, most microbes have a short lifespan without a host. Minutes to hours. Others, like TB can exist quite happily in microdroplets hanging in the air from an infected person who speaks, coughs, sings, etc...for days. In some cases for as long as 2 whole weeks.

When you have a person over, or go over to their house, they bring all of their germs with them, and you bring all of yours with you. The best way to pass along an infection? Breathing. The second way is to be touching each other (shaking hands, passing an object, etc.). Since you can't get the kids to stop breathing around each other, and sharing by definition involves touching the same objects... whatever one has, the other will catch.

It's just the nature of being alive. And why people with compromised immune systems avoid other people, like, well... the plague.

Most of us have healthy immune systems. So keep sanitary, but don't go off of the deep end. And don't forget, the more we let our kids play in the dirt/etc. the healthier/stronger their immune systems get. So don't let a toddler crawl around on a hospital floor, or public toilet... but don't try and make them live in a glass bubble either. Both extremes are unhealthy.



answers from Seattle on

I totally agree with Peg! In our house, we try to use as little "corporate" cleaning products as possible. I might suggest a little Murphy's Oil Soap, or any of the Dr. Bronners Liquid Castile soaps mixed with water, soak in a bucket overnight, give 'em a good scrub and let them dry out naturally. They're safe for wood, and easy to use. Murphy's is a vegetable based soap.

Here's a great link for some easy household cleaning tips:

It's amazing that we have gotten away from simple cleaning products as a society. Perhaps it's because large corporations can't make a bunch of money selling tried and true products and have to keep "creating" products full of chemicals to have something new and exciting. I'll stick to safe for my kids, and safe to pour down the drain!



answers from Portland on

There is a disinfectant called Anywhere Hard Surfaces by Clorox. It is safe for use with kids, pets, etc.



answers from Corvallis on

the H1N1 virus will not live on ANY surface for any more than 8 hours, so you could just put the train away for the day and it would be fine the next day. If you are worried about other things that may still be on it, I would just take a bleach rag and wipe them down. When I have friends over I usually keep a small bucket on the counter (it might hold a gallon total, so this is small) with a dish soap and bleach solution. like a teaspoon (if that) of bleach and a little of soap, just throw a few rags in there so they are ready, and when you see the toys go into the mouth, just pick it up as soon as they put it down go with the rag and wipe it down. If you are worried about the chemical, just let it dry on a towel next to your bucket, the chemicals will evaporate off mostly, the rest are too far into the wood to matter.
When I was babysitting I would watch the kids and see what toys went into the mouth and any of them that could be washed, I just put into the dishwasher at the end of the day and ran them through on a quick wash. when you see something go in the mouth just put it into the sink until you get a chance to wash it, or put it in the dishwasher. I used the dishwasher because the little girl that I babysat put EVERYTHING in her mouth. If she touched it, she put it in her mouth! I felt like it was "battle of the germs" LOL.



answers from Seattle on

Hi M.,

My little girls have wooden blocks, and when it is time to clean these, I use a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 10 parts water. I don't like the idea of my kids putting harsh chemicals in their mouths, but need to get the toys clean! Good luck!



answers from Portland on

I have always used a mixture of two parts white vinegar to one part liquid tide in very hot water. This solution has worked for me in lots of cleaning tasks. I would suggest a mixture of one teaspoon of liquid Tide mixed with two tsp of white vinegar,

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