Under lock and key: secure cleaning products to protect kids

Bright colors and interesting shapes make some cleaners appealing to children. But the contents can be deadly is swallowed.
Bright colors and interesting shapes make some cleaners appealing to children. But the contents can be deadly if swallowed.

A recent study showed the number of injuries young children suffer due to exposure to household cleaning products has been decreased by close to 50 percent in the past two decades. But despite the progress, about 12,000 children under the age of 6 are still sent to U.S. emergency rooms each year because of accidental poisonings caused by cleaners.

While the importance of keeping cleaners out of reach of children may seem like common sense, the sheer number of ED visits related to accidental poisoning proves that more work needs to be done. In response, Lois Lee, MD, MPH, of Children’s Emergency Department Injury Prevention Program shares her thoughts on the topic.

Out of the thousands of parenting buzzword that have come and gone over the years, I’ve always thought ‘toddler’ was the most accurate. At that age kids are just learning how to move independently— from crawling to walking and everything in between— and the result is a blur of explorative energy, ‘toddling’ everywhere their small bodies can take them.

But as their feet bring them to new places, first slowly on wobbly legs and then faster and faster as they master mobility, their hands are constantly exploring the world around them as well.  And unfortunately, for kids that age, what gets in the hands often ends up in the mouth.

Choking and/or cuts to the mouth and throat are very real dangers for young, orally curious children, but some of the more common mouth related injuries come from poisoning. Despite the wealth of information available about the dangers of house hold cleaners, they’re still some of the worst offenders for poisoning and internal damage done to young children. Although it may seem like common sense to keep cleaning products out of reach of small hands, all too often I see kids in Children’s Hospital Boston’s Emergency Department after accidentally drinking some type of cleaning solution. Thankfully many of the products aren’t overly toxic, or too little is consumed to cause real damage, but you never know when a child could get into something that is potentially lethal if swallowed.

If you have kids, it’s imperative that cleaning products are either in locked cabinets or stored in places out of reach of children, like on a high shelf. Cabinet locks can be purchased relatively cheaply at a variety of retailers, from department stores to toy stores. Some parents assume when a product advertises the virtues of its child-proof caps, it’s safe to leave lying around. The definition of “child-proof” varies greatly on a child’s dexterity and desire to get at whatever is inside the container so it’s impossible for any company to guarantee a child can’t open it. Blind faith in a chemical company’s concept of ‘secure’ probably isn’t worth the risk.

Lois Lee, MD, MPH
Lois Lee, MD, MPH

When you’re cleaning the house and have cleaners and solutions out for easy access, make sure to keep your smaller children in a secure area like a playpen or another room. And because you never know when he may ‘toddle’ his way into your cleaning area unannounced, always keep the cleaning solutions you’re using up on a shelf or countertop where it’s off limits to kids.

I fully support the eco-consciousness sweeping the globe, but recycling old drinking containers to hold any type of chemical liquid is extremely dangerous. Old soda bottles or gallon milk jugs may seem like an eco-friendly way to store paint, varnish or a cleaning solution, but I’ve seen children come to the ED for poisoning after a well meaning adult poured them a drink from a container containing a solution they thought was water. If you’re interested in recycling drinking containers, brainstorm some ideas for arts and crafts made from recyclables and make them with the kids as family project.

If your child should drink some type of cleaning solution you should immediately call the National Poison Center Hotline (1-800-222-1222). The experts on the phone can guide you about the next steps for home treatment or decide if a trip to the Emergency Department is in order.  If you do take your child to the ED it’s always a good idea to bring the swallowed cleaning solution with you, especially if the bottle lists its ingredients, so the medical staff knows what ingredients may have been ingested.

Giving health care providers any and all information about the potentially dangerous liquid your child drank is helpful, but it’s best to avoid the situation all together by taking precautionary steps. Keeping cleaners out of sight and reach at all times from your little ones helps better ensure they don’t ‘toddle’ themselves into harm’s way.