Be it at home or at nursery school, both parents and childcare providers struggle to win the infectious disease battle, or at least declare a standoff, through regular use of powerful cleaning and disinfecting agents. While these cleaners may protect your child by defeating the germs, they may also pose potential health risks because of the sometimes toxic ingredients they contain. And while you cannot control the toxins that are common in public facilities, you do have a say in the how you choose to keep your own home clean.
Keeping a clean house is a necessary step in providing a safe living environment. Through proper cleaning and disinfection in the kitchen, for example, contact with disease-causing bacteria from raw or undercooked meat, shellfish, fish, and eggs can be reduced. But the products we use to clean the house can also have unintended health consequences.
Some research regarding the health risks of cleaning products has focused on adult janitorial staff working with industrial cleaners in settings outside of the home. This is because they tend to use more powerful and concentrated cleaning products. While household cleaners tend to be more dilute and less potent than their industrial-strength counterparts, many do contain some of the same potentially harmful ingredients. And while both children and adults are susceptible to the consequences of toxic chemical exposure, children are more so because of their smaller size, rapidly growing bodies, and immature immune systems.
Some chemicals that may be a concern include:
These compounds can be found in floor and carpet cleaners, degreasers, toilet/tub/tile cleaners, room deodorizers, oven cleaners, furniture polishes and waxes, laundry detergents, and disinfectants.
The good news is that safer cleaning products are available, and you can also use safer cleaning techniques to protect yourself, your family, even your pets. To start, be sure to read all labels well. Do not assume a green bottle labeled “natural” is toxin-free. Also consider the following pointers to avoid purchasing toxic cleaners:
Manufacturers of cleaning products are required to prepare a Material Safety Data Sheet containing information about a product’s health, fire, reactivity, and specific hazards, from a score of 0 (minimum) to 4 (severe) in each category. For household cleaning products, avoid any product with a score higher than 2 in any category. Visit the US Department of Health and Human Services Household Products Database website to find this and other helpful information on common household cleaners.
Environmental Protection Agency
Healthy Child, Healthy World
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Easy steps: chemical. Healthy Child, Healthy World website. Available at: http://www.healthychild.org/easy-steps/chemical. Accessed August 22, 2017.
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Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardMichael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 8/12/2015