Is Your Home Safe for Children?

By Victoria Davis

You want to be an ace parent and provide a clean home for your children. You use cleaning products that promise all kinds of benefits, such as killing 99.9 percent of all germs while making your home smell like a tropical jungle. All surfaces sparkle, sparkle, sparkle, and you make sure the kids’ clothes are ultra-clean and spot-free. It sounds like such a good idea, but is it really?

Read the Labels

Household cleaners are harsh. They can cause all kinds of problems: laundry detergents can cause skin irritation; cleaning fumes can cause indoor air pollution which can cause airway problems and irritate eyes; and the chemicals that make the lovely fragrances have possible links to disrupted hormone levels. Unfortunately, cleaning product companies are not required to list all ingredients on the labels, and many of the products have not been thoroughly tested for human health impacts. However, there are words to look for: “Caution,” “Warning,” “Danger,” “Poison” and “Keep away from children or pets.” If any cautionary words are on the label, the product may be flammable, corrosive, toxic, reactive — or a combination.

Read the fine print and you will be amazed at the safety instructions on common cleaning products. A label on a major brand of toilet bowl cleaner reads, “DANGER: CORROSIVE. Causes irreversible eye damage and skin burns. Do NOT get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing. Wear protective eyewear (safety glasses/goggles), protective gloves and protective clothing. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum or using tobacco. Remove and wash contaminated clothing before reuse. DO NOT BREATHE VAPOR OR FUMES. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.” Take a magnifying glass to the store and give yourself a good scare by reading the labels.

In addition to the indirect dangers of cleaners, many children have been poisoned by sampling these products. In 2010, U.S. poison centers answered nearly 2.4 million calls about human exposures to poisons. In children, about 40 percent of poisonings involve medicines; the other 60 percent of poisonings in children involve products such as plants, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, pesticides, paints and solvents. Poisoning is the fourth leading cause of death among children. 

What Can You Do?

Make sure your cleaning products are not accessible to your child. And remember that many poisonings occur when the cleaner is in use and the parent is occupied with cleaning. 

Switch your cleaning products to low or nontoxic cleaners. There are many cleaners on the market that are much safer — however, beware of “green washing” of products. Some companies use words like “natural” and “nontoxic,” but do not prove it on their product labels. Make sure the product states that they have listed all of their ingredients and you can understand what those ingredients are.

These products are pricier so you may want to consider making your own cleaning products with simple ingredients like white vinegar, baking soda and liquid soap. You can buy liquid soap in most co-ops and health food stores. Check online for tested, simple and effective cleaning recipes. 

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