Let’s face it, babies and toddlers are adorable messy little creatures that have natural abilities to make mess every time they move. Forgive them, children under five years of age are still developing their sense of balance and coordination skills. They’re still discovering what their body parts are able to do and have not really mastered how to use their little fingers, palms, arms, legs and feet. This is why they always seem to knock things off and spill every single thing you put next to them.
But what can you do with all the mess they make? How can you clean up after them in a safe way, which will have minimal impact to the planet?
Tip #1 – Look at diluting your regular cleaning products
Most of the mainstream cleaning products are over-formulated which means they contain unnecessary levels of chemicals that can be harmful to a young child and the environment. Manufacturers do this so they can make bolder marketing claims like ‘10X better than brand X’. But as the saying goes ‘you don’t need a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ and this is certainly true when it comes to cleaning products.
So, if you want to clean up around young children, dilute the cleaning products a little more than normal and you’ll get more or less the same results, but with less of the harsh smells coming through and far less chemicals going into the environment around your children for them to breathe in.
For washing up, instead of your normal big squirt of washing-up liquid, try squirting less or make up your washing bowl with more water in it. Again, you’ll still get the same result but you’ll use fewer chemicals (and save money).
Another trick is to soak the dishes in warm water before you start washing up. Warm water will soften and loosen the oily and fatty residues, which will become eventually easier to scrub out later on.
Essentially, the aim is to use less of the product and decrease the amount of chemicals around your children.
Tip #2 – read the ingredient list
Cleaning products are usually made of chemicals derived from the oil and gas industry. Petroleum is dug out of the earth and heavily processed to become ‘surfactants’.
Surfactants are the main workhorse in cleaning products. Most stains are oily in nature, so water alone cannot remove them because as we all know, water and oil don’t mix. What surfactants do is it allow water to mix very well with oil, by lowering the surface tension of water and making it behave more like oil. This tricks the oil into thinking that water is “oil” so they end up mixing, which then results to oil coming away from a surface.
These petroleum-based surfactants are widely available and have been around for many decades, which means that they are cheap and easy. They are also quite effective, that’s why most manufacturers use them. However, the problem with these is that they have a lot of impurities and heavy metals that could potentially be unsafe for young children and for the environment. And, of course, they come from fossil fuels which we know are damaging to the environment and cause climate change.
Although surfactants are inevitable in cleaning products – they don’t need to be petroleum-based. We can now create surfactants from plant-based resources that give excellent cleaning performance with a very good safety and environmental profile.
Also look out for (and avoid): Perchloroethylene or “PERC”, a neurotoxin and carcinogen; Triclosan and Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS” which are contributing to the growth of drug resistant bacteria; 2-Butoxyethanol which can cause throat irritation and kidney damage; Ammonia and Chlorine are both know irritants; and Sodium Hydroxide (also known as lye) is highly corrosive and can cause burns and irritation.
Tip #3 – Use – genuine – eco cleaning products
Eco cleaning products are definitely worth reconsidering when you have young children at home. They are made with plant-based ingredients that work just as well as chemical cleaning products, but are gentler on the skin and better for the environment.
But take note that some brands tend to redesign their packs to make them appear ‘eco’. They do this by adding a few things like leaves or making the pack colours a little paler or making the liquid inside colourless. True eco products genuinely use plant-based ingredients rather than petroleum-based ones, so if the brand writes this on their pack, then chances are that they are true eco products. It’s always worth reading the ingredient list to be absolutely sure.
Kitchen staple items like lemon, baking soda and vinegar are also good alternatives. These work by exposing the dirty things to an acidic or alkaline environment that helps break down fatty, greasy residues. Just keep an eye out for the residues that can be left behind by these natural cleaners like pulp from the lemon or a strong vinegar smell.
Tip #4 – Avoid products that have strong fragrances
We know that fragrances make the cleaning up chore more pleasant with the smell of flowers, citrus, and lavender. But did you know that fragrances are actually made with a complex range of chemicals that usually contain allergens? If you have young children, it’s best to stay away from cleaning products with strong fragrances, especially the ones that your kids will be interacting with a lot, like their clothes, food dishes and high chairs. The fumes can be irritating for young lungs, so avoiding these will be beneficial.
Air fresheners are also notorious for having lots of chemical fragrances that can pollute our homes. If you’re using air fresheners to get rid of smells at home, then it might be good to switch over to things like activated charcoal that can naturally absorb odour molecules in the air. You can also try airing your house by opening your windows regularly. If you have multiple windows, open at least two windows so the air will circulate better in the rooms.
Essential oils in a diffuser could be good alternatives to air fresheners as they are normally extracted from natural sources. However, be mindful that, as with many things, too much of something can be bad and this applies to essential oils too. We know that fragrances can bring so much delight, so all we can say is to keep things in moderation. If you’re happy to change things up, why not try putting indoor plants in each room – especially in the nursery and rooms where you spend a lot of time. They are scientifically proven to improve the air quality at home and also create a calmer environment.
Hopefully, these tips will help you clean safely around your young children. Chemical-based cleaning products from trusted manufacturers have passed stringent safety testing and they comply with the regulatory requirements. However, times are changing and better options are now available, so it’s best to review your repertoire and see if you can replace them with even safer ones – safer for your child, yourself and the planet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Von Sy is founder of Nimble, the UK’s first and only range of child-friendly household cleaning products powered by plant-based ingredients. Nimble’s award-winning, patented products are available in major retailers including Boots, Ocado and Amazon and are exported abroad.
Nimble has been featured in the BBC’s ‘The customer is always right’ – winning best product, and the range is featured in the new royal baby book “Our Royal Baby”, written by Royal Commentator and HRH The Prince of Wales biographer, Robert Jobson and published by St. James’s House.
Twitter and Instagram: @nimblebabies