Safe & Healthy: An important, often neglected, childproofing step

Colorful plastic bottles of cleaning supplies. Many conventional cleaning supplies are toxic.

Whether your child is a baby learning to crawl across the floor, a toddler taking tentative steps of independence, or a confident older child, we pediatricians have recommended for years that parents lock up their cleaning products or keep them out of reach.

And for good reason. Even with our earnest reminders, there are more than 200,000 poisonings each year in the US from household cleaning products. Most of these are not very serious – but some are. In a recent annual report from the Poison Control Centers, there were deaths from ingesting household cleaners, from dishwashing detergent, from laundry detergent, from toilet bowl cleaners, and from mixed cleaners (someone thought this last was Gatorade).

More than half of these poisonings were in children under six, but those over 6 still accounted for tens of thousands of poisonings.

Poisons in Our Midst: Cabinet locks are not the answer

As concerning as these poisonings are, I’m perhaps even more concerned about these products when they are used as directed. When we spray, sponge, or splash them around our homes we’re releasing harsh chemicals into our air and leaving toxic residues on our surfaces.

Many parents choose their cleaning products because they grew up with them, or they’ve seen a cute ad, or they’re on special this week – without ever considering what toxic chemicals they’re bringing into their homes.

If a warning label must say Poison, or Danger, or Hazard, or Harmful or Fatal if Swallowed, or Use in a Well-Ventilated Area, there’s a good chance that this toxic chemical can have negative health effects on your children.

Ingredients in common cleaners have been linked to increased risk for asthma, cancer, reproductive problems, developmental problems, neurological problems, and endocrine disruption. Even using certain cleaners during pregnancy before a child’s born, has been linked to higher rates of asthma in the child.

Take Charge: Do a cleaning cabinet makeover

Updating this one small part of your home could make your whole home – and family – healthier and safer. It’s a little step, but the effects can really add up.

Whether you store your cleaning supplies in the laundry room, in the garage, in a cupboard up high, or like millions of Americans under the kitchen sink, you owe it to your family to look at the labels of the products in your home.

Warnings that you do see on labels give you good clues to dangers, but sadly what you don’t see on the label may still fool you. Companies aren’t required to list all of their ingredients and, frighteningly, many chemicals have never been tested for safety.

If the product is toxic, or if you don’t know whether it is or not, why continue to use it routinely?

Getting Rid of Hazardous Waste

When you’ve decided you’re done with these toxic cleaners, don’t put them in the garbage or pour them down the shower or bathtub drain, flush them down the toilet, or dump them in your backyard. Instead, take a celebratory trip to your nearest hazardous waste collection site for safe disposal. And treat yourself on the way home – you’ve done something great for your family.

To find out how to do this where you live, do a quick search on “hazardous waste” along with the name of your town. There should be an easy option close by. And yes, if a label says Hazard, etc., it is hazardous.

Restock Right

Choose today’s new generation of green cleaner that can get the job done and do it safely. Use only companies that commit to listing all of their ingredients on the label. Or choose one of the safe homemade cleaners described in Raising Baby Green. Look for safe ingredients that you’d be glad to have in your home.

Now THAT’S child-proofing done right, for the 21st century. No longer just preventing injuries, but going beyond that to choose health.


Lai, M.W., Klein-Schwarz, W., Rodgers, G.C., Abrams, J.Y., Haber, A.B., Bronstein, A.C., and Wruk, R.N. “2005 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poisoning and Exposure Database.” Clinical Toxicology, 2006, 44:803-932.

Photo credit: Willfried Wende

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

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