Safe Cleaners for Babies’ Nurseries and Throughout the Home

When it comes to babies, safety is a priority for parents. We make sure the crib is sound, that we use safe mattresses and bedding, that toys are safe… But many of us are overlooking one key danger that lurks in the nursery — and throughout our homes.

Many household cleaning products contain hazardous ingredients, which, if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause everything from eye irritation to death. It’s important to look at the ingredients on all cleaners used in the nursery (and in the home in general) — if they are disclosed, because some of the chemicals they contain (and what they can do to you) may surprise you.

Household chemicals, especially those found in cleaners and air fresheners, have been linked to childhood asthma and asthma-like conditions, among other things. In a 2007 European study (Children of the 90s - also known as Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children), Dr. John Henderson from Bristol University showed that frequent use of household chemicals (such as bleach, paint and air fresheners) in the prenatal period is associated with persistent wheezing in young children. Just last month, Dr. Henderson’s follow-up findings in the March 2008 issue of the European Respiratory Journal, show that these exposures to high levels of household chemicals was linked to children developing persistent wheezing and asthma at later stages of childhood (by the age of seven years).

The American Lung Association recommends staying away from hazardous household products and turning to non-toxic alternatives instead. What are the safe alternatives? Many are on the market and some are already in your cabinets. For homemade cleaning solutions, a great start to your cleaning repertoire is distilled white vinegar, baking soda, and tea tree oil. There are many great sites with terrific ideas to get you started — and saving money.

Not all of us have the patience to make up homemade solutions, however. If you’re in the market for non-toxic cleaners, start by looking for products labeled non-toxic, bio-degradable, and made from renewable resources (e.g., not petroleum based). A wonderful website to check out is Grist’s Green Guide — it provides a wealth of information for those wishing to clean green.

Be alert to “greenwashing”, a now common practice where companies claim to have green products that are really not green at all. Instead of being taken in by often meaningless representations (such as “all natural”), look at labels for specific, non-toxic ingredients that perform well. The Safe Shopper’s Bible provides much good advice for selecting truly green, effective products.

Jeffrey Hollender, president of Seventh Generation, which produces non-toxic cleaners for the home (among other things), recently published a terrific book called “Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe and Healthy, Non-Toxic Cleaning.” In it, he provides invaluable tips for minimizing your — and your children’s — exposure to hazardous household products and insightful tips on keeping a clean, green nursery.


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