Thursday, April 22, 2010

Before Cleaning Up After Baby, Re-Think "Clean"

by Alexandra Zissu
Blogs for The Daily Green and Ask and Organic Mom

What cleaning products do you use for your home and laundry? When I do find time or am faced with the necessity to clean, I’m almost scared to, because of all the toxic chemicals that are known as common household cleaning products. I don’t know what’s worse for my baby -- a dirty house or a so-called clean one. But with a baby comes lots of spit-up, poop, and urine. What can I use & do to have a clean enough home that is also safe for baby? Thanks again for sharing!

You’re right to question common cleaning products. The number one thing anyone can do to reduce indoor air pollution is to replace every conventional cleaner under the kitchen sink and in the laundry room with greener, non-toxic versions. It’s a move I encourage everyone I know to do as there’s a true, clear, and obvious easy fix -- just buy any of the many good, trustworthy green brands on the market like Seventh Generation or Ecover. Or, if you have the time, it’s easy (and inexpensive) to make your own.

The reason to leave the common cleaners behind is that the corporations who make them aren’t required to list their ingredients. Apparently these are considered trade secrets, and therefore none of the public’s business. But many of the chemicals used in the products most of us buy (from laundry detergents to oven cleaners to furniture polish to stain removers) haven’t been sufficiently regulated and can be hazardous to your health, not to mention children’s health. Chlorine, for example, is a known carcinogen. Some products have warning labels but a study by the New York City Poison Control Center found that 85% of these labels are inadequate.

While it sounds like you’ve already considered what is in these cleaners, have you thought about what you mean by "dirty?" What are you really trying to clean? Spit up and poop, especially in the early days before starting solids, is just breast milk (or formula). It’s really not very dirty at all. Neither is urine.

Bleach Isn't Best
Somehow cleaning product advertising and commercials have gotten under our collective skin and we (as a culture) feel that spraying bleach on high chairs, baby toys, and even inside fridge produce bins is a good, "clean" thing. Au contraire! These things really aren’t dirty enough to warrant this kind of indiscriminate bad chemical use. Think about the hygiene hypothesis theory -- that the lack of early childhood exposure to dirt and infectious agents increases susceptibility to allergic diseases.

It’s really helped me to rethink what "needs" to be clean in my house. I don’t want to clean so much that Aili will be susceptible to disease! I haven’t used anything harsh in years. Our cleaning is very basic. If you’re still not convinced you’re cleaning up or killing off whatever dirt/germs you feel like are lurking about, think about how most scientists and doctors say that soap and warm water are better than soaps or gels that contain antibacterials for hand washing. I think this applies to homes, too. You don’t need the added ammonia, chlorine bleach or what have you. Soap, water, and elbow grease are more than enough.

Alternatives (Like Going Shoeless) Work
Another thing you might want to start doing to reduce household dirt when you’re concerned about a crawling baby, or even a kid who spends a lot of time down close to the floor, is removing your shoes before coming into your home. I live in New York City and the idea of letting my baby ooch around on urban street residue really turned me off. So we made a spot in our entryway for shoes and I never thought about it again. We actually started doing this way before I got pregnant and have been pleasantly surprised with our guests when we ask them to take their shoes off. At first people were reluctant but I have found that more and more of my friends are doing this in their own homes these days, so much so that we almost never have to ask anymore.

If you feel like you have the time to make your own products, test combinations of the following things until you find what works for you: borax, vegetable based liquid soap, water, club soda, white vinegar, baking soda and lemon. For cleaning glass (or baby urine), mix equal parts white vinegar and water. For gritty jobs (like the tub), make a paste of baking soda and liquid soap, and for everything else (including wood floors), liquid soap and water will do the job nicely. If this sort of mixology interests you, check out more concoctions on the website run by Home Safe Home author Debra Lynn Dadd --, or on, which is home to Annie Berthold Bond, author of Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living.

Happy cleaning.

Here are some additional helpful articles from The Daily Green:

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