How to Clean a Playpen: Step-by-Step Instructions

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
August 26, 2020
baby with purple pacifier standing on crib

Playpens make it easy to keep your baby safe wherever you go. But with use, they can get pretty dirty. So, it's crucial to know how to clean a playpen.

Playpens are bulky, so you can't just toss them in the washing machine. However, that doesn't mean you need to let your baby's playpen get grimy. By promptly spot-cleaning messes and regularly deep-cleaning your playpen, your baby will be sure to have a safe, clean place to play.

Why You Need to Clean Your Baby's Playpen

Studies have suggested that newborns exposed to household germs and pet dander have a lower risk of developing allergies and asthma. However, the benefit of such exposure drops significantly after their first year.

Growing up in an overly clean environment can cause babies to develop hypersensitive immune systems. But that doesn't mean parents should refrain from cleaning items their babies frequently use, such as playpens.

So, how to clean a playpen without compromising your baby's developing immune system? Spot-clean it, wash using a gentle detergent, and always avoid harsh chemicals or disinfectants.

RELATED READ: How Long Can a Baby Sleep in a Pack ‘N Play? The Answer You Need!

What kind of detergent is best?

When learning how to clean a playpen properly, selecting the right kind of detergent is essential.

Detergents are chemical substances used to break down grease and oils. The active ingredients in most detergents are called surfactants.

Surfactants reduce water's surface tension, helping your wash water penetrate fabrics more evenly. Surfactants also help bond water molecules to grease. This operation is key to the cleaning process.

However, many commercial detergents contain other chemicals, too. Optical brighteners, enzymes, and perfumes are among the most common additives. While these chemicals help brighten colors, attack stains, and make your laundry smell fresh, they can also irritate your baby's skin.

So, when choosing a detergent for cleaning your playpen, look for a non-biological detergent that is free of fragrances and brighteners.

Babyganic's dermatologist-tested detergent checks all the boxes and comes in an environmentally-friendly concentrated form.


If you'd rather make your own detergent, washing soda makes a great base. For an ultra-gentle DIY detergent, combine four parts washing soda (also called sodium carbonate) with four parts baking soda and one part mild castile soap. Blending the ingredients in a food processor makes easy work of it. Store in an airtight container.

How to Clean a Playpen

If you're wondering how to clean a playpen, there are three main principles to keep in mind.

First, playpens are obviously too bulky for the washing machine, so spot-cleaning should be your first defense.

Secondly, it is possible to wash a playpen, but you'll need a bathtub to do so.

And thirdly, many playpen mats have a thick cardboard backing. If you soak a mat with a cardboard backing, you must dry it properly to prevent warping.

How to Clean a Playpen: Spot-cleaning

Spot-cleaning is a very handy technique, particularly for fresh spills. Baby food and formula respond very well to this method.

1. Blot

The first step in spot-cleaning is to blot the stain. In the case of a fresh spill, you can use a dry cloth or some paper towels to absorb much of the moisture. Then use a damp cloth or sponge that you've dipped into a diluted detergent solution to saturate the stain.

2. Flush with water

Next, you should flush the stain with cool water. If you can't manage to position the stain under a faucet, try dipping a sponge into clear water and blotting at the stain. The goal here is to ensure that no detergent residue remains. When the water runs clear and you no longer see any suds, move on to the next step.

3. Let dry

The final step in spot-cleaning your playpen is to allow the spot to dry completely.

Don't be tempted to use a hairdryer. If the stain wasn't fully removed in your first round of spot-cleaning, the heat could set the stain permanently.

RECOMMENDED READ: Best Baby Bath Tub: Expert Buyers Guide

How to Clean a Playpen: Deep-cleaning

Person Washing His Hand

Sometimes spot-cleaning just won't cut it. If your playpen has an all-over layer of grime, or if it's just seen a lot of use, it's a good idea to give it a deep clean.

To deep clean your playpen, you'll need a bathtub or other vessel that's large enough to hold the folded-down playpen.

1. Soak

Before soaking your playpen, give it a quick once-over and spot-clean any crusted-on stains.

Then, fill your bathtub with hot water and a capful or two of detergent. Remove the playpen's mat and place it in your tub, followed by the folded-down playpen. Open the playpen as far as possible while keeping it submerged.

If you'd rather not use commercial detergent, you can substitute the DIY detergent mentioned above, or simply use a vinegar and baking soda solution.

Then, let the playpen soak for 30 minutes or so, flip it over, and let it soak another 30 minutes.

2. Agitate

The next step in how to clean a playpen involves swishing it around in your bathtub. You don't need to scrub it, but agitating the playpen will allow the wash water to flush through the fabric, drawing out the grime.

3: Rinse

After swishing the playpen, drain the wash water from your bathtub. Rinse your playpen and mat with hot water until the water runs clear.

If you have a flexible shower head, you can use it to rinse the playpen. If you don't, you can ensure all detergent residue is removed by filling your bathtub with clear water, agitating the playpen, and draining the water. Repeat until all suds are gone.

4. Dry

The final step is to dry your playpen.

If possible, take your playpen outside and set it up on a clean surface in direct sunlight. If that is not possible, choose a sunny corner in your home, preferably by an open window.

The only trick to drying your playpen is keeping the mat perfectly flat. You can prop the mat up across the edges of your playpen, but we like to use a flat drying rack, like this one, to ensure the map won't warp as it dries.


How to Clean a Playpen: Now You Know

Cleaning a playpen is child's play! Just remember to use a gentle detergent, and if you're planning a deep-clean, don't forget to check the weather forecast.

When you know how to clean a playpen, it makes sense to invest in a high-quality model that you can pass down or resell later.

Need some advice on the best playpens? Check out our helpful roundup!

Do you have a favorite recipe for DIY baby detergent? Comment below to let us know!

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