For a baby, meal times are an exploration of new life experiences and development of motor skills. It's a time of tastes and smells – some they will love and some they certainly won't.
When you're feeding a baby with a spoon, there will be some times of mess. But once they are perched in their high chair and have progressed to finger food or table food, this is where they will test out every nook and cranny as to how dirty they can make it with their meal. Part of their development will include the feel and texture of their meal and not only in the mouth. Little hands will want to explore what happens to the food when pulled and squeezed and what can be done with it – other than eat it. The result will be a dirty high chair.
Hygiene risk of a dirty high chair
Some of the bacteria that can be harboured in a dirty high chair include:
- Staph aureus
- Enterococcus faecalis
These can be the cause of stomach upsets to a baby. Coliforms can also be present in high chairs that aren't subject to regular cleaning. This is a bacteria that is formed from unwashed vegetables, raw meat or fecal matter.
The main areas to look at are the tray, the straps, the cushions if the chair has them and the foot tray. Hidden crevices and easy collection points will be the main places bacteria will want to hide and grow.
How to clean a high chair
Whilst many parents may say they know how to clean a high chair, for other it's a new experience and may not be sure about where to start – or what to use.
A combination of products is helpful as it gives you all the options to clean each surface. You'll need some non-toxic ‘safe to use with babies’ wipes and then some mild detergent mixed with hot soapy water in a bottle or in a spray bottle.
Start with the tray. Either just spray it down or remove the tray and wash in the sink. It's then time to look at all the crevices that are in many high chairs; particularly if the seating area has padded, sewn sections where sticky food can easily get into. Thoroughly wipe it down and spray it well so the liquid gets into all areas. Underneath the arms is somewhere to pay particular attention to as it's where children often place their fingers. As there's bound to be spills and drips, the next places to clean are the legs and the bottom of the frame. And don't forget the foot tray as this can be particularly messy, as it's a place where everything can collect. If there are fabric cushions, pop them into the washing machine and dry thoroughly before replacing.
Using restaurant high chairs
It's not always easy finding high chairs in restaurants, but even if they are available, it's vital that you check how clean they are before the meal is served.
A survey carried out once found that some restaurant high chairs have as much as 1200 bacteria per square centimetre – more than that found on a toilet seat.
Whilst it's not possible to take apart high chairs in a restaurant and start washing the trays or removing cushions to clean them, have a good look at the state of the chair when you are offered it for any visible signs of dried on food, splashes of previous meals or a generally grubby condition. If it's obviously dirty, ask for another or for it to be well-cleaned and returned to you at the table.
Even if the chair looks clean, it's good to be on the safe side so always keep a packet of gentle cleaning wipes with you that can be used on surfaces your baby will be in contact with. Wipe the tray all over – including underneath, as well as the straps and crotch post. If the seat is plastic or wood, wipe well and if it's material, remove it and shake for hidden crumbs. The best design of high chair in a restaurant is one that has completely wipe-clean surfaces and no integral cushions.
Help to keep baby clean at meal times
To keep the clean-up operation to a minimum, always cover your baby as much as possible. Use a receiving blanket and a bib so large pieces of food can be caught. Wipe their fingers as they eat to try to stop them smearing the food around the chair – as well as all over themselves.
Be sensible but be clean
Keeping a baby chair clean doesn't mean becoming obsessive about every little splash and mark and immediately reaching for the cloth during each meal. Babies will get dirty and messy and so will the high chairs. The important thing to think about is basic hygiene. Keeping everything wiped after a meal means there’ll be no problems. A baby covered in spaghetti sauce is all part of the fun of them growing up so be ready with the wipes, but also have a camera to hand to take photos to record the memory to show them when they're older!
For more information relating to high chairs and answers to all your questions see the frequently asked questions section on my guide here: http://parent.guide/high-chairs/#faq