(NBC) -- From rubber duckies to fish that squirt water, every child has a favorite bath toy. A Today Show investigation found the cute little toys can also be secret hideouts for germs.
They look like good, clean fun. Tub toys turn bath time into play time. But could the trinkets be bathing kids in germs?
"It's filth. Mothers don't think it is because it's a cute little toy," says Philip Tierno, a microbiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center.
From "Germs are good!" to "I'm throwing out the toys now!," see what St. Louis moms say about the report on our companion website MOMSLIKEME.COM.
Tierno is one of the nation's top experts on household germs. He says when kids take a bath, the water and toys can become infested with bacteria from their bodies.
"Bath water literally becomes a bacterial soup. The toys are the depository of these organisms and they can live and grow within that toy," says Tierno.
So what's growing? Tierno's lab tested some favorite bath toys moms assumed were clean.
In nearly every toy, Tierno found sky-hih counts of fecal bacteria like e. coli and strep. The worst were toys with holes that trap water inside and let germs thrive. When Tierno cut them open, they looked like sewer pipes, caked with black chunks of bacteria, flith kids could be ingesting.
Tierno says, "While in an of itself, it may not make a person sick, a child can become ill temporarily with nausea and even possibly diarrhea."
Some toys tested positive for staph aureus, a bacteria known to cause skin infections.
Bath water is not the only culprit. Even flushing the toilet from up to 20 feet away may contaminate the toys.
Tierno says, "Each flush may aerosally distribute or disperse fecal contents of the flush into or onto the toys."
Tierno says to cut down on germs, thoroughly air dry your toys away from any moisture and store them in a closed bin or closet. And most of all, avoid toys with holes.
Experts say a good way to disinfect bath toys is to wipe them off with alcohol or peroxide after using them. And if you see any black stuff, just throw the toy out.