It’s easy to want to be lax when it comes to cleaning. Especially when you have kids who seem to love nothing more than to throw food around and paint on the walls. But given that kids love putting things in their mouths and touching objects we don’t want them to, it’s not actually good to be too lax about it. Not to mention that coronavirus has brought cleaning to a whole new level of front-of-mind consciousness. Not all cleaning products are created equally, however, and many in fact can potentially do quite a bit of harm in the process of being used.
“Especially if you have a newborn there are a number of ingredients that are important to avoid when looking at cleaning products,” says Rochelle Wilkinson, owner of Dirt Detectives Cleaning. “Among the key ones are bleach (specifically chlorine bleach), ammonia, volatile organic compounds (VOC), synthetic fragrances, phthalates and sulfates.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of safer cleaning products for you to reference if you’re unsure as to what to look for on the label. You can type in the product name or ingredient.
Why is this so important?
In the same way that we have to look beyond the marketing flash when food shopping and actually read nutrition facts and ingredients, we have to look beyond the label with cleaning products and read the ingredients. “The smell of your favourite disinfectant can be harmful to not only you, but can create life-long issues for your precious newborn,” says Wilkinson. “Babies don’t have the same lung capacity as adults and breathing in harmful chemicals like those listed above can cause asthma in babies who otherwise wouldn’t develop asthma.”
Newborns also have very sensitive skin that cannot metabolize chemicals in the same way adults do. “Contact or exposure to chemicals can cause issues such as eczema, cognitive disorders, neurological/developmental issues, can delay meeting crucial milestones, cancer and even death,” says Wilkinson. A little insider tip: your toilet is one of the dirtiest places in your home, but it doesn’t require a disinfectant toilet bowl cleaner. “Hydrogen peroxide is an equivalent disinfectant. If you have hard water stains, lime, calcium, rust build up that won’t budge – this scouring stick will certain have your toilet looking better than it has in years.”
Bleach is bad, really bad.
At this point you already know that bleach is a no-no if you have a newborn in the house, but it’s so common that it’s important to underline why. “Even diluted forms of the germ killer can be toxic for newborns to breathe in with their developing lungs and, over time bleach can even increase the risk of several cancers,” says Wilkinson. “An alternative is hydrogen peroxide, which rapidly breaks down to oxygen and water without leaving harmful vapors in the air.”
Be mindful of carpet cleaners.
Certain other products require extra steps to be used safely, but even so they may be harmful. For example, you may want to have your carpet cleaned after your newborn enters the infant stage and is learning to crawl or walk, but in reality the chemicals that are used to clean the carpet are actually doing more harm. “Many carpet cleaners contain VOCs. A simple HEPA filter vacuum such as the Shark Navigator is all you need to clean the carpet. A HEPA filter vacuum is going to trap 99.97% of dirt, dust and airborne particles. For carpet stains – white vinegar and hot water is an effective cleaning solution for even the toughest stains.”
Everyday products can be problematic too.
You wouldn’t think your everyday items such as toilet paper and paper towels can contain harmful chemicals in them, but they do! “Toilet paper and paper towels are white in colour because they contain bleach,” says Wilkinson. “We use several microfiber towels in every clients home. To prevent cross-contamination the microfiber towels are only used on one surface per room. We don’t want to use the same towel on your bathroom toilet as we do your bathroom faucet. And the best part? No added chemicals are used. Additionally unbleached toilet paper and paper towels are available.” There are also a growing number of bamboo options from industry disrupting brands like Cloud Paper (the rolls also happen to be soft like butter!).
That’s not all.
Tonya Harris, an environmental toxin expert and the creator of the Slightly Greener Method, suggests parents be mindful when buying oven cleaning sprays, furniture polish, air fresheners and Aerosol sprays. “Many of these are linked to health effects such as asthma, wheezing, and lower respiratory infections in babies and children, and some of the damage from cleaning products can occur before birth,” says Harris. “Others are associated with neurodevelopmental problems, such as glycol ethers, recently associated with neurocognitive issues in children, and phthalates, linked to lower IQ in children. Babies under 6 months experienced more earaches and more diarrhea with frequent exposure to aerosol sprays and air fresheners.” It’s not only newborns who are affected. “A 19% increase in postnatal depression in mothers who reported frequent use of aerosol sprays.”
For more details the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research and advocacy organisation for human and environmental health, breaks down which ingredients are harmful in specific products.