Keeping your House Safe for Children

The average baby learns to crawl at eight months. It doesn’t take long until they start pulling themselves up onto tables, chairs and other surfaces that were previously beyond reach. And let’s not forget the curious nature of toddlers.

Babies and small children can get from one place to another in the blink of an eye, and in seconds could be exposed to dangers that could have very harmful consequences. It takes years for children to become self aware to the point where they can recognise potential hazards; therefore, ensuring your home is safe and secure is of paramount importance.

Child proofing consists of much more than inserting plug protectors, installing baby gates and picking up small objects. Chemicals left in the kitchen and bathroom are very often disregarded, yet they can pose a very serious threat if touched or ingested.

Child Safe Storage

Cleaning products are responsible for over 10% of all toxic exposures. Of this figure almost a quarter of them involve children under six who have ingested liquids that have been left on display.

Leave Child Safety Locks on Cabinets

Even after your children figure out how child locks work, leave them on. While they are generally only useful for protecting children between six and 25 months of age, they will serve as a constant reminder of areas that are “off limits”; therefore, the habitual element will stay with them for much longer.

Store Cleaning Products in a High Cabinet

Keep detergents, pesticides, household cleaning products and any other harmful substances locked away in a high cabinet. Do not keep them in cupboards under the sink or anywhere that your child can reach. The same rule also applies to any cleaning equipment.

Change your Cleaning Products

Change hazardous products to non-hazardous cleaning products. For example, swap chlorine-based bleach for non-chlorine bleach or consider making your own organic homemade products instead. Even if you exchange hazardous products for non-hazardous products, you should still keep them out-of-reach.

Always Remain Vigilant

Supervising your child is the best way to keep them out of harms way; however, it’s not always possible. When you’re cooking or doing something that hinders your attention span, place your children somewhere safe, such as a playroom.

Do not store cleaning products under the sink.

Image Credit: Rev. Al Deaderick

Buy Products with Child Resistant Caps

If possible, buy products that have child resistant caps. Never transfer harmful medications over to food containers or a storage device that doesn’t have a lock.

WARNING: Child resistant doesn’t mean child proof. Children can still take off child resistant caps and open child resistant locks, etc., it simply makes it more difficult for them.

Keep the Lids on your Bins

Keep the lids on your bins and make sure cans, containers and empty bottles for recycling are stored out-of-reach. Just because something is empty it doesn’t mean it’s not harmful. Cleaning residues may still be present.

Create a “Safe Cupboard”

Set aside one cabinet for your child to explore, but make sure it’s not too close to the oven. Fill it with safe, yet interesting looking containers and bottles, such as yogurt pots. This will distract your children when they are curious. It could also be a good idea to change the contents every now and then to keep it stimulating.

Close your Dishwasher

Close your dishwasher when it’s not in use. It’s easy for knifes and other sharp objects to fall into the bottom tray, and any leftover dishwasher detergent could be highly toxic if your children eat it.

Never leave your dishwasher open in the presence of children.

Image Credit: Joanna Bourne

Don’t Store Cleaning Products in Food Containers

Never store cleaning products in containers or bottles that were once used for food. Even if the liquid is a completely different colour, children may not be able to tell the difference.

Don’t Use Poisons for Rodents

Never place roach, mouse, rat, or any other rodent poison on the floors of your home, even if they are under the kitchen worktops.

Store Auto and Gardening Products Somewhere Else

Do not store automotive or gardening products in the house. Place them out of sight in a locked shed or garage.

Remove Toxic Houseplants

A surprising amount of common houseplants are highly toxic, such as lily of the valley and English ivy. If you have any poisonous plants or flowers in the house remove them.

Over time it’s easy to become lazy with storage procedures. Even if your children know that they shouldn’t touch certain products, it’s never worth taking the risk. Children can find it very difficult to gauge danger and curiosity will often get the best of them.

Child-Safe Cleaning

Childproofing your home isn’t all about selecting the right products and storing them in a safe place. The time and way you clean can also have a significant impact.

Don’t Play When Cleaning

Do not play with your children when you’re cleaning. You may have harmful substances on your hands or gloves that could cause illness. Always make sure to use cleansing hand towels after cleaning any surfaces with chemicals.

Never Leave Cleaning Products Unattended

Don’t leave cleaning products unattended. It can take seconds for a child to swallow hazardous liquids.

Discard Old Batteries

Discard old batteries – even if they are inside electronic goods – and make sure any new batteries are out of sight and reach of children. Alkaline substances are highly poisonous.

Dilute Household Cleaners

Remember that less is more. Most household cleaners can be diluted with water, and will still clean just as effectively. Diluting is a quick and simple way of the making the harmful chemicals less harsh.

Diluting your cleaning solution with water could make the chemicals less harmful.

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Establish your Cleaning Routine

Make sure other people – such as babysitters and cleaners – understand your routine and approach to child safe cleaning.

Use Water when Possible

You don’t always have to use chemical cleaners. Sometimes water will do the job. For example, if you accidently spill something on the carpet, household cleaners may remove the stain, but the chemicals could become locked inside the fibres. In these circumstances water or steam may be just as effective.

Choose the Right Time to Clean

Pick the right time to clean, such as when your children are sleeping or away from home. Toxic exposure usually happens between 4pm and 8pm as that tends to be the busiest time in the average household.

Remove Mould Immediately

Mould can be very harmful to the respiratory system; therefore, it should always be removed immediately. First clean the area with soap and water, and then wash it with a solution made from one part bleach and ten parts water. Remember that bleach is highly dangerous, even in small quantities. Never conduct cleaning with bleach in the presence of children.

When you buy commercial cleaning products you expect them to do one thing; clean. Unfortunately, while these products may kill harmful germs and bacteria, they could contribute to other forms of pollution that could be harmful to inhale, ingest or touch. Make sure to keep any potentially harmful substances outside of the cleaning area in a refuse or rubble sack.

Prepare Yourself

Problems will often occur when you least expect and learning a little first aid could mean the difference between life and death if there’s ever an accident.

Keep Important Phone Numbers with You

Keep important phone numbers with you or within easy reach at all times. Place a note by your landline and store numbers on your mobile for poison control and your local doctor. In emergencies every second counts, and you don’t want to waste precious time looking for contact details.

Keep a First Aid Kit in your Home

Keep a first aid kit with up-to-date instructions in your home at all times. If you ever use anything replace it at the earliest possible convenience. In addition, check all of the use-by dates. Antiseptic creams, medication and even bandages can go out-of-date. Make sure bulk toilet rolls are kept handy for any quick solutions.

Learn Basic First Aid Procedures

Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the Heimlich manoeuver. Having basic first aid knowledge could save your children in life threatening situations.

Having a basic understanding of first aid procedures could save a life.

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Check your Carbon Monoxide Detector

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that can build up in your home when household appliances use open flames. It is particularly dangerous because it doesn’t have a smell or taste. Make sure you have a carbon monoxide alarm fitted near flame burning appliances.

Take Suspected Poison Containers to the Doctor

If you ever find an empty bottle, packet or container and suspect that your child has consumed the contents, take it with you to the doctor or hospital.

Do  Not make your Child Sick

Do not give your child salt water to make them sick, or anything else to drink if they have consumed a harmful substance or are burning up. Simply wet their lips with cold water and dial 999 immediately.

Hopefully you will never find yourself in a situation where you’ll have to use any of these procedures. Learning them, however, could save a life in desperate circumstances.

Common Problems

While cleaning products are an essential part of our health and wellbeing, remember that there are a wide array of options, each containing different chemical compounds. Therefore, if you encounter problems with one, there’ll always be something else available.

Airway Irritation

Strong fumes from household cleaners, air fresheners and other fragrant liquids can cause airway irritations and induce asthma-like symptoms.

Eye Irritation

Strong fumes may also induce eye irritations and hay fever symptoms. Redness, heavy watering and inching are very common, especially among babies. Some cleaners can cause serious long-term damage if they are splashed directly into the eyes.

Skin Irritation

Babies have sensitive skin and products in certain household cleaners and detergents may cause skin irritations such as eczema.


Having a home that’s “too clean” can induce allergies. Children need some exposure to germs in order for their immune systems to develop, otherwise they could become hypersensitive to allergens that should be harmless.


Poisoning is without a doubt the most harmful problem of all. Each year over one million children accidently poison themselves, sometimes with fatal consequences.

Everyone’s body reacts to chemicals in different ways; therefore, it can be difficult to determine which chemical compounds are problematic. Always remain vigilant and if you notice a problem – no matter how small – consult a doctor.

Toxic Chemicals

Most household cleaners will contain some form of toxic chemical; therefore, moderation is key. Even though most solutions are heavily diluted, always exercise caution and ensure you make changes if your child suffers from minor problems.

Air Fresheners

The chemicals used in air fresheners can coat nasal passages with and oil-like substance that can destroy the nerves. Toxic chemicals include formaldehyde and phenol, which can burn, peel and break the skin.


Ammonia is a highly volatile gas that has a sharp and pungent odour. It is often a key component of domestic cleaning products and can be highly damaging to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract.


There are various forms of bleach on the market, each with different active ingredients (chemicals used as a cleaning agent), such as hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite and chlorine.  Bleach can irritate and burn the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. If ingested it can be fatal.

Bleach is one of the most harmful household cleaning products.

Image Credit: Orin Zebest

Carpet Shampoo

Chemicals used in carpet shampoo are designed to power over the stain; however, they are often toxic and include ingredients such as percholrethylene, which can harm the nervous system; and ammonium hydroxide, which can cause respiratory problems.

Dishwasher Detergents

According to Poison Control, dishwasher detergents contribute to more child poisonings than any other cleaning product. Most dishwashing solutions contain chlorine, which is highly toxic if ingested.

Drain Cleaner

The majority of drain cleaners contain lye, which can cause oesophageal damage if ingested; hydrochloric acid, which can harm the skin, kidneys and digestive tract; or trichloroethane, which can irritate the eyes and skin.

Furniture Polish

Furniture polish and floor polish is highly flammable due to its petroleum distillate content. In addition it contains nitrobenzene, a toxic chemical that can be absorbed through the skin; and phenol, which can induce the same toxic effects as air fresheners.

Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergents usually contain either sodium or calcium hypocrite, which is highly corrosive and can cause skin and eye irritations. It may also contain linear alkylate sulfonate and sodium tripolyphosphate, which can be absorbed through the skin and cause liver damage.

Mould and Mildew Cleaner

Mould and mildew cleaners usually contain sodium hypochloride. If swallowed it can inhibit reflexes and cause serious tissue damage. Some cleaners also contain formaldehyde, which can induce nausea, headaches and shortness of breath.

Mould and mildew can be harmful to the repertory tract if left alone.

Image Credit: Thomas Anderson

Oven Cleaner

Oven cleaner often contains sodium hydroxide, which can irritate the skin and eyes. If swallowed it can inhibit reflexes, cause serious tissue damage and have fatal consequences.

Toilet Cleaner

Toilet cleaners usually contain hydrochloric acid and hypochlorite bleach, which is highly corrosive and can burn the skin and eyes. If ingested or combined with other chemicals to it could result in vomiting, comas and even death.

Fundamentally, almost every household cleaner will contain some form of harmful substance. Even if they are ecological and non-toxic, always remain cautious and ensure that they are out-of-reach of children.

It doesn’t matter how much you prepare, when you have children there’ll always be worries stirring about your mind; and rightly so. Never let your guard down as dangers often come from the most unlikely places. While you can’t predict everything you can certainly reduce the chance of problems occurring.