Solutions for a Healthy Home is a guide to helping you understand the clear and ever present dangers that exist when children are exposed to toxics in the home. It will help you to understand why these chemicals are dangerous to you, your children, and your pets, and it will teach you how to replace them with safer alternatives.
When weighing the various alternatives, it is important to remember that our goal is a safe environment for our children. While we want a clean home, we don't want our cleaning product to expose children to possible harm. Instead of measuring the cleanliness of our countertops by their whiteness (often the result of toxic bleaching), let's measure it by the absence of harmful substances. And let's not worry about having a completely pest free lawn. Instead, let's strive for a full and healthy lawn, which will necessarily host a few pests. In the choices we make, we must think bigger and plan for the long term. Our actions today might limit our children in the future.
So remember, some of the alternatives described in this booklet will work better than their toxic counterparts. Some of them will not work as well. Quite a few of them will cost less. Certainly, all of them work in the best interest of our children's health.
People have learned to keep their houses clean in order to ward off disease and infection. To help us do this, we have created a wide variety of cleaning products and disinfectants. The problem is that our zeal to be clean has gone too far. Today, the cleaner is frequently more dangerous than the things we are trying to clean up. Many common household products contain alcohols, ammonia, bleach, formaldehyde, and lye. These substances can cause nausea, vomiting, inflammation and burning of the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory system, and are linked with neurological, liver and kidney damage, blindness, asthma, and cancer.
Fortunately, we can achieve a level of cleanliness which is both hygienic for children as well as esthetically pleasing for adults without using hazardous household cleaners and disinfectants. You can either make your own household cleaners and disinfectants from a variety of common, less toxic household ingredients, or you can purchase less toxic commercial brands in stores. In addition to making your child's environment safer, most of these less toxic alternatives will also save you money. And, if your child likes mixing and making things, you can combine housecleaning with a supervised play activity for your child.
First, remember what you're trying to do — make your home hygienic and safe for your children. This means effectively cleaning up food from counters and getting dirt off of your floors. We're not trying to eradicate the Ebola virus. So, when choosing a cleaning or disinfecting product, ask yourself, is my child going to be at greater risk from some unknown germ or from a chemical known to harm people?
Here Are Some Cleaning Alternatives:
Air Freshener. To absorb odors, place bowls of vinegar, or baking soda around the house. Be sure to keep them out of the reach of children and pets! To make the air more fragrant, use essential oils or boiled herbs. To make boiled herbs, simply choose any herb or spice the smell of which you enjoy and boil it in water for a few minutes until the heat causes it to release its odor. Let it cool a little and put it out in a bowl. You can also add salt to discourage the growth of fungus.
Drain Cleaner. Use hair and food traps to keep the drain from getting clogged. If it does become clogged, try the following recipe. First, pour about 1/2 cup of baking soda down the sink. Then add at least a cup of vinegar. It will start to fizz. Put the cover over the drain. Finish up by rinsing the drain with a mixture of boiling water and salt. You might have to repeat the whole procedure more than once.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner. Sprinkle baking soda around the inside of the toilet bowl and then clean with a toilet brush. Also try letting white vinegar sit for a few minutes in the bowl before cleaning with the toilet brush.
Oven Cleaner. Make a paste of baking soda and water. First wipe away any residual grease. Then scratch off burnt spots with a scouring brush or steel wool. Finally, apply the paste and scrub.
Laundry Detergents. By adding baking soda, you can reduce the amount of commercial detergent you use substantially. If you're using liquid detergent, add about 1/2 cup of baking soda at the beginning of the wash. If you're using powdered detergent, add 1/2 cup of baking soda during the rinse cycle. Baking soda softens the water, thus increasing the potency of your detergent. When buying your commercial detergent, it is better to use a biodegradable, less toxic, phosphate free brand (keep reading for recommendations).
Window Cleaner. Put 3 tbs. vinegar per 1 qt. water in a spray bottle.
Automatic Dishwashing Detergent. As you pile your dishes up in the sink, sprinkle them with baking soda. Then, later on when you put them in the dishwasher you can use a lot less commercial detergent. It's the same basic idea as with the laundry detergent.
Carpet Cleaner. To absorb big spills, spread cornmeal all over the spill. Wait about 15 minutes, then vacuum it up. For stains, put 1/4 cup biodegradable liquid soap with 1/3 cup water into a blender to make a foam. Put the foam on the stain and rub. Finish up with a splash of vinegar.
Kitchen Cleanser. Just use baking soda on non-scratch surfaces, and a vinegar and water mixture on other surfaces.
Tub and Tile Cleaner. Mix 1 and 2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup liquid soap, 1/2 cup water, and finally, 2 tbs. vinegar (if you add the vinegar too early it will react with the baking soda). Then apply, wipe, and scrub.
Shoe Polish. Use a little olive oil.
Disinfectant. Make a solution of 3 tbs. liquid soap, 2 cups water, and 20-30 drops of tea tree oil, which is a natural disinfectant.
Brass and Copper. Cut a lemon in half, sprinkle it with salt and rub the lemon on whatever needs to be polished. Buff with a cloth to remove excess lemon juice.
Silver. Put a sheet of aluminum foil into a plastic or glass bowl. Sprinkle the foil with salt and baking soda, then fill the bowl with warm water. Just soak your silver in the bowl and the tarnish will migrate to the aluminum foil. Finally, dry and buff your silver.
Fabric Softener. Add 2 cups white vinegar and a few drops of an essential oil to your rinse cycle. WARNING! Vinegar can cause colors to fade a little.
Fragrance. If you are not chemically sensitive or allergic, essential plant oils can be a pleasing addition to homemade cleaners. A few drops of these fragrant oils can enhance our perception of cleanliness.
If you don't feel like making your own cleaners, there are a number of less toxic alternatives which can be found at organic and natural grocery stores, co-ops, and many larger conventional stores as well. Reading the label is always a good way to familiarize yourself with the substances in a product.
Organic and biodegradable products are generally the safest. Natural products tend to be the next safest, with conventional cleaners and disinfectants being the least safe.
Whatever you choose to do, whether it be making your own cleaners or purchasing them in stores, remember that many products can be harmful to children and pets if ingested, even baking soda and vinegar. So, remember to keep all cleaners and disinfectants safely out of the reach of children.
The play area is a place of joy, discovery, and fun. It is a place where our children create and learn. It is vital that we keep this place safe for kids.
The problem is that some play items contain hazardous materials. In particular, some art supplies and some types of plastic toys can pose a threat to your child's health. In both of these cases the existing government regulations don't protect children sufficiently. Presently, there are number of people working both inside and outside government to improve this. In the meantime, here is some information which will help you make healthy decisions for your child.
Art supplies may contain solvents, asbestos, lead, and cadmium. If chemicals from these products are inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or eaten by children (with discerning taste) the result can range from headaches or nausea to neurological disorders, cancer, and death. Fortunately, alternatives to toxic art supplies abound.
A study has shown that children are more likely to get leukemia if their father works with dyes, spray paints or pigments. This study did not look at mothers.
A study by The National Cancer Institute has shown that male artists are more likely than the general population to get a number of different types of cancers, including brain, kidney, bladder, colon, rectum, and leukemia.
Check the label of the art products you buy.
The Federal Hazardous Substances Act of 1960 requires manufacturers to use the labels, DANGER, WARNING, or CAUTION whenever a product causes immediate sickness or death. Long term health effects are not taken into account.
The Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) created a labeling system designed to protect artists from long term health effects as well. In their system, Health Label Nontoxic, Approved Product Nontoxic (AP), and Certified Product Nontoxic (CP) denote a product as safe for preschoolers on up. The CP designation also means that the product meets certain performance standards. About 85-90% of the art supply manufacturers in the United States are members of ACMI.
Make sure that there is adequate ventilation at your work space so that noxious fumes do not build up. You can do this by opening a window and by using a fan to disperse the fumes.
Use water-based rather than solvent-based products.
Avoid products which smell like food. Kids will try to eat them.
Avoid artists' pastels. Many contain asbestos, contaminated talc, lead, and cadmium pigments.
Avoid permanent felt tip pens. Crayons, pencils, dustless chalk, dustless pastels, and poster paints are a better option.
Use vegetable and plant dyes instead of cold water, fiber reactive, or commercial dyes.
Use white glue or school paste in place of airplane, epoxy, and instant bonding glues.
Don't permit eating around art materials!
Be sure to wash up after using art materials, especially before eating.
Vacuum or wet mop dust from your art work. Sweeping could inadvertently stir up toxic dust.
If you are not sure what something is made of, call the manufacturer and ask for a material safety data sheet (MSDS). They are legally obligated to provide you with this information.
Keep dangerous materials out of reach of children and make sure toxics are clearly labeled.
Unfortunately, very little is known as of yet about toxics in children's toys. The research done so far has shown that in at least some cases, there is cause for concern. The Danish government concluded that children can ingest dangerous levels of lead from toys made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, and subsequently proposed a ban on such toxic toys throughout the EU.
A study in the U.S. found that 21%, or one in five, of the vinyl plastic products tested were contaminated with lead and cadmium. These products ranged from backpacks to toys to raincoats to video game components. Eighteen percent of the products tested contained lead which exceeded the amount determined to be dangerous by the Consumer Products Safety Commission, and over 80% violated levels requiring consumer warning labels under California law. Every product that contained lead also contained cadmium, and some of the contaminated products are things which are commonly chewed on by young children. To make matters worse, children are a marketing target for these products which often feature popular children's icons. Exposure to these substances is dangerous to your child. Lead decreases intelligence and damages the nervous system at low levels of exposure. Cadmium damages the kidneys and is a known carcinogen. However, there are steps that you can take today to reduce your child's exposure to these products.
To find out more about CHEC's efforts to make toys safe for children, visit our Science Facts section which offers additional information on getting toxics out of toys.
Presently, there are alternatives to all consumer uses of polyvinyl chloride plastic.
According to a recent nationwide survey, 900,000 American children aged one to five have blood lead levels higher than the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's level of concern.
Cadmium is not regulated by the Consumer Products Safety Commission although it is a known toxic.
Avoid plastic toys which are known to be contaminated with lead or cadmium. For a list of contaminated products, contact CHEC or Greenpeace.
Until public and government awareness of contaminated vinyl toys increases, we will continue to lack adequate warning labels. There is very little information to tell you which vinyl plastic products are contaminated and which are not. In the mean time, be wary of vinyl plastic toys which are likely to include PVC.
Contact both your government and toy stores and tell them that you won't accept toxics in children's toys.
Don't give your child painted antique toys. The paint on such toys often contains lead.
Written by: Children's Health Environmental Colition
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