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The Complete Guide to Daycare Cleaning [2024]

A clean childcare center is necessary to create a safe and healthy learning environment for children. Learn how to implement a daycare cleaning routine to protect your children and staff from germs. 

The Complete Guide to Daycare Cleaning [2024]

The Complete Guide to Daycare Cleaning

A successful early childhood education program does more than help children develop the knowledge and skills they need to learn and grow. It also provides them with a safe and clean environment in which to do so. When we consider maintaining safety and security, we often think of guarding against visible threats; however, your program is also responsible for protecting children from unseen dangers like viruses and bacteria.

Germs are everywhere, and young children, especially those in daycare, are more vulnerable to infections because they’re exposed to many germs in these types of settings. While it’s impossible to completely stop the spread of germs, you can do your part to protect your children with consistent and thorough daycare cleaning practices. 

In this article, we’ll share why it’s important to keep your daycare clean, the difference between cleaning methods, how to organize your cleaning routine, and what to consider if using a cleaning service.

Download our free cleaning guide here!

The importance of keeping your daycare clean

A clean daycare is essential to providing a healthy and safe environment for the people coming in and out of your childcare facility. This starts with the children in your care daily and extends to staff, families, and visitors.

During early childhood education and development, young children have yet to learn all the skills they need to exercise proper hygiene, such as covering their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze. Because their immune system is still developing, young children are more vulnerable to bacteria and germs from messes. Cleaning surfaces to eliminate germs can help protect the children in your program. While the entire daycare center must be kept clean, it’s necessary to focus extra efforts on shared areas and items. 

Children spend most of their time crawling or sitting on floors or playing at tables, so frequently cleaning common areas can help stop the spread of illnesses like COVID-19. Children also spread germs through shared toys. A child might put a toy in their mouth and pass it on to a friend who will do the same. Cleaning toys regularly and between uses reduces how often or how quickly children infect each other. 

While providing a healthy and safe environment for your children and staff is important, it is also imperative if you want to keep your daycare open and operating successfully. Each state has specific licensing laws and health regulations that apply to childcare facilities. These requirements include sanitation, building safety, and ongoing monitoring and inspections to ensure that daycare programs are compliant with state standards.

Manage your program efficiently and stay compliant with state regulations with a childcare management software like brightwheel. Utilize contactless check-in and custom health screening questions to keep everyone in your program safe and healthy.

Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting 

Children who attend daycare centers may be more likely to get sick than those who don’t because they have more exposure to other children who may be sick. While it is common for all children to get runny noses, colds, and ear infections, gastroenteritis (stomach bug), head lice, and influenza are particularly common among children attending daycare. While routine vaccines can help prevent serious illnesses, maintaining a clean facility will also help prevent infections and germs from spreading. 

“Cleaning” is a broad term that we use when we think about removing, reducing, or destroying germs. While cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting may sound similar in theory, they are very different. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) cleaning guidelines for early care and education settings:

  • Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It is done by scrubbing surfaces with soap and water.
  • Sanitizing reduces germs on surfaces by using weaker bleach solution or sanitizing sprays.
  • Disinfecting destroys remaining germs on surfaces after cleaning with stronger bleach solutions or other chemical products.

Cleaning is the first step before sanitizing or disinfecting surfaces because it can remove most types of harmful germs like viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. The CDC recommends sanitizing surfaces that come in contact with children’s mouths, for example, feeding items and toys. Take extra time to disinfect surfaces when someone is sick or has a higher risk of getting sick.

How to clean, sanitize, and disinfect

Because cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting have different purposes, their processes are also different. You can use the following steps to clean, sanitize, and disinfect your childcare center.


Clean visibly dirty surfaces daily after meals or activities.

  • For hard surfaces, clean them with soap or water.
  • For soft surfaces, such as clothing, cloth toys, and rugs, launder items according to the manufacturer’s instructions while using the warmest appropriate water setting and drying the items completely. Use vacuums for carpets and rugs, and safely dispose of the dirt.


Daily sanitizing may not be required if objects and surfaces are well-cleaned after each use. Sanitizing can be done by using a weakened bleach solution, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered sanitizing spray, or a dishwasher with a sanitizing cycle.

  • For cloth materials, such as bibs, placemats, and tablecloths, sanitize them by machine-washing and drying them after each use.
  • For plastic, metal, or wood objects, such as toys and bottles, sanitize them by boiling, steaming, or using a weakened bleach solution according to the manufacturer's recommended method. Use clean, unused dish towels or paper towels to allow them to dry and to avoid transferring germs.
  • For hard surfaces, such as highchair trays, plates, and food preparation areas, clean with hot, soapy water and wash, rinse, and sanitize food surfaces (trays and plates) before and after they’re used for eating.


Bathrooms and diaper-changing tables must be regularly disinfected in early childcare settings. Use gloves to avoid coming in contact with bodily fluids or blood. If surfaces or objects are visibly dirty, clean them immediately and disinfect the area.

  • For electronic items, such as phones and computers, use disinfecting wipes according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • For surfaces, first clean the area with soap and water. Then use an EPA-registered disinfectant product or a diluted bleach solution.

Be careful with commercial disinfectants 

Not all cleaning chemicals are safe for cleaning childcare facilities. Here are some tips to help you choose safe products:

  • Use “green products” that are safe in a childcare setting. These products typically have no phosphates, chlorine, or artificial fragrances or colors. 
  • Take time to read labels correctly. EPA-approved products might contain chemicals that are too harsh for some daycare surfaces.
  • Avoid products with warning labels of “danger” or “flammable.” Products labeled “caution” or “warning” are typically less harmful.
  • Purchase cleaning products with keywords such as “natural ingredients,” “non-toxic,” “biodegradable,” and “citrus-based.”
  • When possible, avoid products with statements such as, “Be sure the room is ventilated,” “Wear protective eyewear and/or gloves,” “Harmful if swallowed,” or “Irritant.”
  • Choose pump sprays over aerosols.
  • Choose products that are packaged to reduce spills, leaks, and child tampering.

Selecting the right products is essential, but it’s also important that you monitor your use and exposure to these products. When using disinfectants, remember to:

  • Store products in a locked cabinet, in their original containers, in a well-ventilated area, and out of reach of children.
  • Use products according to the manufacturer's directions and for their intended purpose.
  • Never mix products unless directed on the label to do so.
  • Wear recommended protective equipment (e.g., gloves or goggles) to protect your skin and eyes.
  • Pre-clean the surface with soap and water if the directions mention pre-cleaning or if the surface is visibly dirty.
  • Leave the disinfectant on the surface long enough to kill the germs.
  • Provide plenty of fresh air and ventilation when using products indoors. Use a fan or open doors and windows.
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds immediately after using disinfectants.
  • Use safe alternatives (ingredients such as baking soda, liquid soap and detergents, white vinegar, and lemon juice) when possible.

Unfortunately, chemical product manufacturers aren’t required to list their ingredients. To help ensure that the products you’re using are safer, use the EPA’s list of Safer Choice-certified products that follows a standard on products that are healthier for people and the environment.

Organizing your daycare cleaning 

A defined cleaning system makes cleaning easier and ensures every surface in your center receives attention.

A simple daycare cleaning routine might look like this:

1. Collect any visible debris or toys from the surface. This step is important, especially if you're using a vacuum cleaner since debris can get stuck in the vacuum.
2. Clean the surfaces with water and soap to remove any remaining dirt and dust. 
3. Rinse the surface of any dirt and the detergent used in the previous step. 
4. Disinfect the surface using a chemical solution to kill all the bacteria and germs. 
5. Rinse off the disinfectant. Not all disinfectants require rinsing, so check the manufacturer’s instructions. 
6. Dry the surface and organize any toys or items in the room.

Color coding and labeling  

Color coding is critical when a daycare has a huge cleaning staff. 

Label your cleaning products based on where they are used to clean. Similarly, label or color code all your cloth cleaning items to avoid any confusion. 

Here is an example of cloth color coding: 

  • Red: bathrooms and toilets 
  • Green: kitchen area 
  • Yellow: diaper changing area 
  • Blue: classrooms

To make this easier, ensure everything matches. For example, use a red bucket and a red mop for toilets. If you can't get enough colors for all rooms, you can use color-coded labels to differentiate the cleaning solutions and containers. 

Daycare cleaning supplies 

There are so many moving parts of running a daycare, so it's vital to have systems to automate some activities. 

For starters, you can set up a monthly order for cleaning products like disinfectants, detergents, sanitizers, and wipes. Scheduled orders are budget-friendly and convenient for cleaning crews that need products immediately. 

Once you buy your items, find a safe way to store them. Keep all cleaning supplies away from children's reach. Try to keep a dedicated room for cleaning supplies that children don’t have access to. If you have to store cleaning solutions in rooms (like the bathroom), install high shelves. 

Lastly, ensure you follow the instructions from the manufacturer on how to store the cleaning solutions effectively. In most cases, you only need to keep the bottle tops tightly closed after use and store them in a cool and dry space.

Using a cleaning checklist every time 

Another way to stay organized when cleaning your center is by using a cleaning checklist

A simple checklist can include the designated room or area that needs to be cleaned, such as “Bathroom Cleaning Checklist”, the actions that need to be taken daily and weekly, and the supplies necessary for cleaning that area. 

Some of the benefits of using a cleaning checklist include: 

  • Ensures you don't miss any spot during cleaning 
  • Reduces decision fatigue on where to get started  
  • Prevents you from feeling overwhelmed by keeping everything organized
  • Makes delegation more manageable and more effective since anyone can get the same results using the checklist
  • Makes cleaning feel like a routine

If several people clean a specific area, it's crucial to have a duty checklist in the room. A duty checklist includes a copy of the cleaning checklist, plus sections where staff members can sign their names and the time they completed the checklist. This way, other staff members know when a staff member last cleaned the room. It's also a good idea to include your cleaning protocol in your staff handbook so everyone on your team is informed on best cleaning practices.

Cleaning the daycare by area

The best way to clean a daycare or any facility is by doing it one room at a time. If possible, delegate each area to specific people. 

Play areas 

Playing areas are among the messiest spaces in a daycare. They're also one of the most critical areas to clean as children spend most of their time here. 

When cleaning the area, remember to use skin-friendly cleaning solutions. They should be gentle enough to protect children from issues like skin rashes or irritation. 

In addition, set aside different cleaning products to clean cushions, toys, and nap blankets. Make it a routine to clean and sanitize your play area every day, preferably in the evening. 

Kitchen and eating areas

Since all food handling and meal preparation happens in the kitchen, this area must always stay clean. It can help to store specific cleaning products for utensils, countertops, the floor, and more in the kitchen area—away from children, of course. 

Daily cleaning tasks can include disinfecting countertops, the stove, cabinet and door handles, and any dirty dishes. Clean and sanitize eating surfaces such as high chairs and tables before and after meals. 


Daycare bathrooms will become messy as children learn how to use the toilets. Therefore, it’s important to deep clean and disinfect them every evening.  

To keep the bathroom clean, clean visible dirt and disinfect commonly used surfaces like sinks and toilet bowls. 

Diaper changing areas

The diaper changing area is among the most sensitive areas in a daycare. It needs to be cleaned and disinfected before and after every diaper-changing session. 

The CDC diaper changing steps for childcare settings recommend the following steps for proper clean up: 

  • Remove liner from the changing surface and discard in the trash can.
  • Clean the surface with damp paper towels or a baby wipe.
  • Wet the entire surface with a disinfectant solution.
  • Air-dry the surface (don’t wipe it).
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Finding a daycare cleaning service 

As educators, your main priority is to help young children develop their knowledge and skills. Because you are still responsible for their health, safety, and well-being, knowing the basics of cleaning is necessary, especially for day-to-day situations. However, as your daycare business grows, you might find it useful to outsource the cleaning work to a professional cleaning service.

Here are some commercial cleaning companies to consider:

What to look for in a daycare cleaning service

Here are some tips to help you choose a professional cleaning service: 

  • Ask local childcare businesses if they can recommend a cleaning service
  • Ask the cleaning service if you can speak to several of their current customers
  • Ensure that the company is up to date on all cleaning regulations and follows proper daycare cleaning standards
  • Ensure that they use the right cleaning products for childcare settings
  • Confirm that they have insurance
  • Read their online reviews

Before hiring a cleaning company, write down your expectations and get a customized quote from several companies that meet your standards. Then, bargain and select the best offer.

Benefits of outsourcing daycare cleaning

Finding the right daycare cleaning service can have considerable benefits for your business. It can:

Keep the children in your daycare safe 

Professional cleaners have likely dealt with all types of messes, stains, and odors. They’ll know what products to use and how to use them safely so you don’t have to worry about germs, bacteria, or potentially dangerous chemicals being left behind on surfaces.

Improve staff morale

Hiring a cleaning service can boost employee morale. Being an educator can be challenging. While the regular workday requires cleaning the occasional mess, your teachers are not professional cleaners. Hiring a professional cleaning service allows your employees to do the parts of their job they are trained to do—teach. This can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety often associated with learning and executing every cleaning practice, on top of their other responsibilities. 

Increase enrollment

Families want to know that they’re sending their children to a clean and safe program. If your facility looks dirty or messy, parents will be less inclined to enroll their children. If it looks clean and well-kept, not only will they feel more confident in sending their children, but they’ll also be more likely to recommend your program to other families.

Provide consistent and flexible cleaning

To protect your children and their developing immune systems, regular cleaning is required to avoid health risks. With a cleaning service, you can guarantee consistent and flexible cleaning. Many businesses can offer services before or after hours, while some may be able to provide day porter services, where someone handles cleaning and maintenance throughout the day. 

Clean your space and clear your mind

When cleaning a childcare center, it’s essential to treat every area individually to ensure that all areas are thoroughly cleaned. Creating a cleaning routine and using a checklist helps you keep track of your supplies and cleaning regimen so that every surface receives the care necessary to keep it clean.

Cleaning a daycare is very critical to the well-being of the children you serve. While you can’t stop children from making messes, you can clean up after them to ensure that they can continue to play and explore safely. Taking the necessary steps to keep your center clean provides children, families, and staff with an optimal learning environment.

Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at

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