As a museum educator, I was horrified when I saw the media headlines alleging that there was a measles scare at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia.  As it turns out, it was a false alarm and no one actually had measles at the museum.

But this got me thinking about sanitation practices in museum exhibits. The particularly horrifying thing to me about the scare being in the Please Touch Museum is that it is a children’s museum, full of fun things to touch, play on and engage with on a very physical level. One would suspect that the risk of spreading germs is higher in exhibits with interactive components.  And these types of exhibits are no longer confined to children’s museums.


Students handle animal pelts and reproduction French fur trade goods on a field trip to the Detroit Historical Museum.

Students handle animal pelts and reproduction French fur trade goods on a field trip to the Detroit Historical Museum.


Activity carts, discovery rooms and other hands-on components are popular ways for all museums to engage audiences in new ways.  At the Detroit Historical Museum, we’ve engaged all sorts of tactile, hands-on activities in our galleries.

We have a process for cleaning and sanitizing these areas, but this whole topic had me thinking about my first job in a child daycare center.  We had very strict and thorough state-mandated sanitation procedures.

I thought I’d take a look at what the State of Michigan requires day care centers to do to sanitize their toys. I wanted to share that with you all so we can compare these standards to our sanitation policies. Clearly, day care centers are a different environment than museums, but I think we can take away and adapt some better practices for ensuring we avoid the next museum measles scare by ensuring our hands-on areas are sanitary.

Here’s what the State of Michigan requires for licensed daycare centers:

 “To clean and sanitize means to wash vigorously with soap and water, rinse with clean water, and wipe or spray the surface with a sanitizing solution. The surface should air dry for at least two minutes.”

“Caregivers are encouraged to use separate spray bottles containing soapy water, rinse water and a sanitizing solution.”

“Develop a cleaning schedule to ensure everything is cleaned at regular intervals. You can also implement a checklist for keeping track of what is washed, by whom and when.”

“Toys used by infants and toddlers should be cleaned and sanitized daily.”

“For absorbent items (e.g., stuffed toys, dress-up clothes):

  • Use only stuffed toys and dress-up clothing than can be laundered.
  • Launder items such as stuffed toys and cloth books used by infants at least weekly and launder dress-up clothes and stuffed toys every two weeks for toddlers and preschoolers.
  • Also, launder when visibly dirty ….

“When children are resting and playing on floors, extra precautions need to be taken as follows:

  • Vacuum or sweep floors daily.
  • Wash hard-surface floors at least weekly.
  • Clean carpeting at least quarterly by the extraction method.
  • Spot clean the floor immediately when an area is visibly dirty or contaminated.”

Do you have a regular cleaning schedule for your interactive areas?  What specific policies and processes work well for you?