Q: A while back, you wrote an article about toxic household cleaning products. I’m trying to baby-proof right now and I’m wondering — besides cleaning products, what else is around my house that could potentially be toxic to my kids?
A: Great question. There are so many things that we use every day that we don’t even think about being bad for us. Some cleaning products are an easy choice right off the bat, but what about everything else? That’s where my (expert) advice comes in.
Alcohol. This doesn’t just include those bottles of Jack Daniels in your liquor closet (though I really hope you’ve locked those up — and keep them locked up till your wee one graduates college). Think about it. There are so many potentially harmful household products that contain hazardous amounts of alcohol. Nail polish remover, shoe polish, and here’s a biggie — hand sanitizer. I keep my hand sanitizer at every point of entry in the house during cold season (call me crazy, I know), but this stuff should really be kept out of the reach of small children. Hand sanitizers contain 60 to 65 percent ethyl alcohol, which means that a little sip from that attractive-looking bottle could actually make your toddler drunk. This is, no pun intended, a sobering thought.
Air fresheners. A study released by the National Resource Defence Council in 2007 showed that many commonly used household air fresheners actually contain phthalates, a chemical that has earned a bad rap for being linked to certain cancers and developmental abnormalities. Eek. Why not try a more natural way to freshen the air? (Like showering? BOOYAH!) A little baking soda will usually help rid a surface or an area of offensive odors. Another trick: In college, after a particularly aromatic trip to the loo, we’d light a match for a second. This worked really well to eliminate odor (though I’m still not sure how or why), but it’s probably not the best idea if you’ve got little kiddies running around.
Batteries. Make sure not to leave batteries (especially button batteries, you know, like the ones in watches, some remote controls, and singing cards) lying around where kids can reach them. They may seem relatively harmless and even fun to play with, but if swallowed, batteries can cause harmful or even fatal results. On the plus side, now you have a great reason to stay away from those annoying singing cards in the first place.
Pesticides. When I was growing up, we had the exterminator come to our house once a month. He’d walk around the house with his spray can. To me, it looked like the Tin Man’s oil can, but hardly as benign; this one contained toxic pesticides. Unfortunately, pesticides are just as harmful to your own bottle-toting critters as they are to those many-legged critters you’re trying to get rid of. For natural pest control, try keeping your floors and countertops squeaky clean. Or for more targeted pest control, check out this detailed natural pest control guide.
Finally, see your house through the eyes of a toddler. Better yet, crawl through your house. Then you’ll really be able to see everything in your house from their vantage point. Move anything out of reach that can be harmful if swallowed. In the bathroom, this means toothpaste, mouthwash and of course, medicine. In the bedroom, this means cosmetics, deodorant and lotion. Many of these everyday items can contain potentially harmful chemicals. I learned this lesson the hard way when I thought the spray bottle of cleaner on the bathroom counter was high enough for my toddler not to reach, that is, until I found him standing on the toilet sucking on the spray nozzle like it was a straw. Also, make sure there’s no peeling paint anywhere in the house either, as paint chips can look oddly delectable to a toddler.
Follow this list, use your own common sense, and you will be able to relax, knowing your house is now safe for your little one to explore.