But this was a Mess. The kind that requires a parent and something stronger than water. So I pulled out the handy spray bottle we keep under the sink, sprayed it down, and got to work. This Mess required that I run downstairs with some laundry and start it right away, so I did that. Thinking nothing of the fact that I was leaving my kids by themselves upstairs for the two minutes it would take to start that load of laundry. Why should I? I was not exactly leaving for the wilds and abandoning my children.
However, I didn't think about the fact that I left the spray bottle out. I went back upstairs, finished cleaning up the mess, then went into the kitchen. The toddler (now a toddler, not a baby!!) came running into the kitchen and I was horrified. "Why is she wet?" I demanded of my older child. "Hey, why is your sister wet?" My older child walked into the kitchen holding the spray bottle, a big smile on her face. "She wanted to get wet!" I was told.
Now, this was not a small amount of spray. My poor younger child was dripping because her sister had squirted her so much, all over her head and body.
The spray bottle was taken away and I took the toddler to change and rinse off while HusbandX took care of The Talk. Because this is a very serious problem, and she needed to know about all the bad things that could have happened from spraying an unknown substance at her sister. "You could have blinded her, or made her very sick. She could have had to go to the hospital." By the end of this talk, our Munchkin was crying. Hurting her sister was clearly not at all something she'd thought about. Just, here's a fun thing to spray I'll get you!
Thankfully, in that spray bottle was nothing more harmful than diluted white vinegar. Mind you, it can still be a powerful substance and I'm glad that it's diluted. But considering the myriad other substances we could have had in a spray bottle, vinegar is by far the best.
This is not just a problem in our house. Kids are curious by nature, and we want them to be so! But that often means that they will find ways to get into the very things we don't want them to. According to the CDC: "Every day, over 300 children in the United States age 0 to 19 are treated in an emergency department, and two children die, as a result of being poisoned." As a parent, that statistic is distressing and makes me hurt for those families. Approximately 730 kids die each year due to poisoning, just in the U.S. Personal care products (cosmetics and household cleaners) are the biggest cause of all these poisonings. I'm sure fads like eating Tide pods doesn't help the numbers, but poisonings are a serious issue for all children and it can happen to any of them. These are also just the numbers of kids whose poisoning is severe enough to go to the hospital. What about all the ones in urgent care, or whose parents called the Poison Control hotline and were told that monitoring at home is enough?
The average household is filled with toxic substances. The typical advice is to lock these substances up, or keep them out of reach of children. If you have a kid like mine, however, those won't work. Our older child has been able to open "child-proof" items and open baby locked doors for a long time now. She's also a climber. Last year we thought a bottle of gummy vitamins was safe in the highest shelf in the kitchen, over the stove where it's hard to reach, until she climbed up and opened it to eat all the gummies. The safety cap was nothing to her. She was four. (We no longer keep gummy vitamins around.)
As if the risk of poisoning wasn't enough, there's also the indoor air pollution that's directly tied to cleaning products. The American Lung Association has warnings about cleaning chemicals because they can "worsen asthma and other lung diseases and risk heart attacks and stroke". That doesn't really sound like something I want my family or myself exposed to. I'm trying to clean my house, and increasing the pollution in it really doesn't do that.
Even if it doesn't cause any of those issues, even with normal use cleaners can cause eye and skin irritation. If you've ever gotten an accidental faceful of fumes that made your eyes water, or gotten something on your skin that burned or itched, you know how unpleasant that can be.
|If you're concerned about the air quality inside your|
home, might I suggest house plants?
So instead of risking all of that, I use baking soda and vinegar as my cleaners. Frankly, I'm sold in part because it's easy. I don't have to store 80 different products for different things. I have a few jugs of vinegar around the house and one Costco bag of baking soda down in the laundry room. One or the other is good for most things that need to get cleaned around the house, and the acidity or baseness does help to kill germs and bacteria. We don't need to go red alert and kill all the bacteria in our houses with antibacterial cleaning products. It doesn't decrease the likelihood of getting sick, for one thing, and for another it may very well harm our immune systems.
One warning: many recipes for "all natural" or homemade cleaning solutions call for essential oils to mask the smell of vinegar, or just to make things smell prettier. This is fine, but be very careful about how much you use, and how you use them. The people who push them never mention that they can also be poisonous (per the Poison Control website). Which is part of why toxic exposure to essential oils has increased in the last decade. Even if it's not toxic, there are still plenty of health problems caused by essential oils (such as allergies, respiratory problems, and chemical burns). Essential oils, even ones that are harmless to humans, can also be toxic to pets. The goal is to reduce the risk of poisoning your family, not increase it. I do use essential oils (sparingly, lightly) in a few applications, but most of the time I just don't find it worthwhile. If it's meant to cover up the smell of vinegar, the smell dissipates on its own very quickly.
Of course, we do still have a few other cleaning products. We bought bleach a while ago (I can't remember why anymore) and have used it (diluted) a few times. We obviously have dish soap and hand soap and laundry detergent. But my floors are cleaned with vinegar and water, as are my windows, counters, bathtub, and toilets. Things that need scrubbing get a bit of baking soda, a scrubber, and some elbow grease. I have even been known to add one or the other chemical to laundry on occasion. Mostly to diapers, since the baking soda helps remove any lingering smell while the vinegar helps to soften them.
As I said earlier, not having a variety of different cleaning products around is more convenient. I know exactly what I need to reach for, and it keeps the under sink areas quite tidy. Plus, both baking soda and vinegar are cheap, far cheaper than cleaners I can buy at the store. There are "eco-friendly" products if you're looking to reduce the pollution in your home but it can be difficult to tell what's real and what's greenwashing. They also do not reduce the risk of poisoning, which is my biggest concern in a house with small children and pets, since many of them still contain chemicals that can irritate skin, eyes, and are harmful if swallowed.
Making a clean home shouldn't involve a risk of poisoning, or increase the amount of pollution we're exposed to. Powerful cleaning chemicals have become so ubiquitous, however, that we rarely think about just how dangerous they can be. No one thinks that cleaning the bathroom with multiple cleaning solutions can cause chemicals to mix in dangerous ways. Who among us checks all the ingredients (if they're even listed) to make sure the glass cleaner doesn't contain ammonia because the sink and counter cleaner contains bleach? It's easy enough to think "I'd never mix those chemicals together" when you're thinking about the raw ingredients. It's less easy to remember which cleaner contains which, and to never use them on the same day or in the same area of the house. I find it much easier and safer just to keep a few of the raw ingredients around, since that's where the cleaning power comes from anyway.