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Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Here’s Why You Should Throw Out the Toys in Your Tub

Yellow rubber duck with bubbles on sitting on the rim of a roll top bath.
Floragraphyphotograhy/Getty Images


If your kids (or you, I don’t judge) bathe with bath toys in the tub, this just might gross you out.

A study led by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology revealed that bath toys are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungus.

It turns out that microbes like to form teeny communities inside bath toys and feast together on soap, human body fluids and the bacteria you’re in the bath to wash off in the first place.

We basically provide a tasty smorgasboard for the little buggers every time we take a tubby.

The study’s researchers say the extent of these microbe farms largely depends on what type of microorganisms are already present in your tap water, the kind of soap and shampoo you use and whether you pee in the tub. (Yes, I’m serious. Read it for yourself.)

Don’t think you’ll get off easy by washing your bath toys after each use. All the bath toys analyzed in this study had “dense and slimy biofilms” inside the toys themselves, where it’s impossible to thoroughly wash.

You know how most hollow bath toys have those little holes in the bottom? Apparently every time I suck up water through the hole and shoot it out into the air for giggles, I’m raining a germ shower onto my head. (What? Baths are fun for all ages.)

Evidently, scientists have known about the existence of grody bath toys for a while. Two previous studies also confirmed the presence of bath-toy biofilms.

Someone even wrote a book about it.

“Almost one decade ago, the potential chemical risks of bath toys were documented in the colorfully titled book ‘Slow Death by Rubber Duck,’” the study’s researchers note.

I guess Rubber Ducky isn’t the one after all.

All kidding aside, you might want to think twice about whether or not to keep bath toys in the tub.

The analysis revealed several of the toys harbored potentially unsafe microorganisms like listeria, E. coli and streptococcus.

Researchers acknowledge that whether exposure to the microbes found in bath toys is harmful enough to warrant worry is open to interpretation.

“Nevertheless, bath toys are typically used by children, who are potentially sensitive and vulnerable users. 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 gastrointestinal tract infections,” the study’s researchers say.

If the results of this study compel you to toss all your bath toys, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a lifetime of boring showers.

Make some homemade bathtub crayons and go wild drawing all over the walls at bath time.

If anyone asks, just say your kids did it.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She definitely does not have a collection of rubber ducks lined up on the edge of her bathtub, complete with names and everything. Nope.

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