Baby and Child Safe Disinfecting

As a mother of two little boys, disinfecting is a topic that is quite important in our household.  Now I am not a germ-freak by any means, but I must say, boys are gross!  And once they are potty trained, the bathroom is just not as clean as it used to be.  But now with little ones especially, I am concerned about using highly toxic chemicals to clean and kill germs.  Both germs and chemicals can cause illness.  So I did a little research on some of the products available for use in the home, and here are my findings:

Disinfectants are usually phenol- or cresol-based and deactivate sensory nerve endings. They attack the liver, kidneys, spleen, pancreas, and the central nervous system (CNS) and it takes over a year to eliminate the unhealthy effects of spraying 2 ounces, even with heavy cross ventilation.  Bleach, also commonly used as a disinfectant, is the number one chemical involved in household poisoning.  Hypochlorite (bleach) was the source of 54,433 poisonings in 2005.  Bleach may cause reproductive, endocrine, and immune system disorders.

Hazards of Select Disinfectant Ingredients

Alcohols- these are used as skin cleaners as well as a transport medium for other active ingredients, but nevertheless are irritant to eyes, nose and throat at high airborne concentrations and are highly flammable.

Aldehydes- glutaraldehyde is classified as a skin and respiratory sensitisor. Formaldehyde is a strong respiratory irritant and is also classified as a category 3 carcinogen.  Formaldehyde is commonly used as a preservative in cleaning products.

Bleach and Related Substances- Hypochlorite and organic chlorine-releasing compounds are corrosive in their concentrated form and are classified as eye and skin irritants even when diluted in a 5 to 10% solution.  In 1994, the Clinton Administration announced a Clean Water Plan that could eventually eliminate chlorine and chlorine-based products due to the many hazards they entail. Sodium hypochlorite is an oxidizer that has been implicated in many household accidents and/or deaths, according to the American Association of Poison Control Center’s annual reports. Improper use of bleach may result in mixing with acid-containing products such as toilet bowl cleaners or ammonia to create toxic gases which are dangerous or even fatal if inhaled. Furthermore, concentrations of sodium hypochlorite as small as .04% have been shown to elicit positive skin contact sensitivity responses in a clinically sensitized individual.

Phenol-Based Disinfectants- In 1994, EPA classified ortho-phenylphenol (OPP) as a carcinogen, and many studies have shown its cytotoxicity and genotoxicity.  OPP is irritating to the skin and eyes. There have been reported cases of allergic contact dermatitis, contact urticaria (hives) or of depigmentation of the skin. Residue on surfaces can cause hazardous injury to tissue or mucous membranes.  Phenol-based products used in hospitals are banned from use on infant contact surfaces.

Safer Disinfecting for the Home

There is a great product recommended by Dr. Doris Rapp, author of “Is This Your Child?” and an environmental medicine specialist, which kills germs and cleans in one step without alcohol, ammonia, chlorine,  phenol, or gluteraldehyde.   EPA registered Basic Germicide is what we use in our own home. A much safer choice to use where you need a germicidal cleaner.  Basic Germicide provides a balance of product strength against the type of ingredients used in the product. It is a concentrated quaternary ammonium-based germicide and cleaner with the main active ingredients derived from quaternary ammonium salts.  Basic Germicide is tested and shown to be effective against MRSA, a form of staph infection which can be deadly, as well as over 40 other microorganisms.  It is safe to use on all nonporous surfaces.

Most chlorine bleach products are used for general sanitizing purposes and cannot make any specific claims of effectiveness as they are not EPA-registered products.  Basic Germicide is effective against more types of bacteria, fungi, and viruses than most household disinfectants.  The product is composed of ingredients whose effectiveness has been verified by stringent performance testing in accordance with EPA requirements.  As a highly concentrated disinfectant, the ingredient functionalities of this product are much stronger than is the case with ready to use disinfectants. While Basic Germicide is toxic in a concentrated form, it has a high dilution ration of 256:1 and is non-toxic when diluted according to directions.

Basic Germicide is very affordable with a low cost per use when diluted according to the package instructions.  One quart makes enough solution to clean and disinfect more surface area than 482 17-oz spray bottles of full strength Lysol disinfectant.  To disinfect and clean surfaces, we mix 1/2 teaspoon of the concentrate with 16 ounces of water in a spray bottle. For maximum effectiveness, use the standard procedure for EPA registered disinfectants:  spray on, allow a contact time of 10 minutes, then wipe away. Rinse any food contact surfaces or toys after disinfecting.  The product has been used by environmentally conscious organizations such as the Cousteau Society, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, NASA, and the Biosphere 2 project.  We also use Basic Germicide to clean toilets, generally 1/2 to 1 ounce full strength applied around the inside of the rim, allow to stand 10 minutes, then we clean the toilet with a brush.  Note: for mineral deposits in toilets try a pumice stone. 

You might be familiar with some of the experiments in Doris Rapp’s books “Is This Your Child” and “Is This Your Child’s World.”  In one of Dr. Rapp’s studies, she tested the effect of bleach on six-year-olds handwriting.  Before a bottle of bleach was opened, students wrote their names fairly well. Then, with just an opened bottle of bleach in the room, the children wrote their names again.  The difference was dramatic!  Some wrote messy, some too small to read, and one even wrote backwards.  One mother tried this test for herself at home:  ” I didn’t  tell my kids what I was doing. I only told them to write as neatly as they could. They printed their names on a sheet of paper. Then, I told them to hold up their papers while I wiped the table off with a Clorox wipe. As soon as it was dry enough, I had them put their papers down and write their names again. I was
shocked! My daughter’s writing was visibly messier; instead of letters being tight and connected, they were loopy and crooked. My son was completely distracted by something while he was writing his name! (This is uncharacteristic of him. He has no attention difficulties.) When he realized that he was talking about something else, he stopped mid-sentence and said:  Wait, I’m supposed to be writing my name!   The next letter he wrote was upside-down (which my son had never done before). I took it to the next level and had my children move to another room where there were no Clorox fumes. They wrote their names again and proved that without being under the infuuence they could write just as neat as the first time. I could clearly see that the chemicals were affecting both writing ability and focus.”  So in my opinion, based on this unofficial test, the Clorox wipes should also be avoided.  It is quite simple to spray something like Basic Germicide on surfaces and wipe down with a clean rag or a paper towel.  But if the wipes are desired, the same manufacturer does make safe disinfecting wipes, fragrance-free.   So since we have lots of safe choices for our homes, a clean and safe home should be our goal.  Do it for your health and your children’s health.

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  1. Kathryn Gordon said,

    November 20, 2008 at 6:47 am

    What company makes the Basic Germicide you recommend?

  2. jstevens said,

    November 20, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Here is a link:

  3. jacqueline J. Lefrancois said,

    February 3, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I am the grandmother of a 3 year old that goes to day care. The problem is they use clorox to disenfect but the fume smell is so powerful it hits you in the face as you walk through the door. I want to know if these fumes are dangerous for my grandchild to inhale while she is at this daycare during the day . Also what can be the side effects if there are any. I know the fumes are strong and affects me. Moreover, I can’t wait to leave the building.

    thank you,

    a concerned grand-mother

    • jstevens said,

      February 18, 2009 at 11:10 pm

      Here is little blurb on bleach that might be helpful:

      Bleach: The chemical known as hypochlorite in bleach causes more poisoning exposures than any other household cleaning substance. May cause reproductive, endocrine, and immune system disorders. (Source: Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poisoning and Exposure Database (2005).) The main ingredient in chlorine bleach is sodium hypochlorite. Chlorine is toxic as a skin irritant, and by inhalation. Sodium hypochlorite can create poisonous chlorine gas if mixed with ammonia (which may be an unlabeled ingredient in some cleaning products) or with vinegar. Workplace safety data sheets warn that sodium hypochlorite may be a neurotoxin and cause liver damage. People with chemical sensitivies report adverse reactions to minute quantities of chlorine.

      I also have more information over here.

  4. Marie-Helene said,

    February 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    My 3 year old has eczema and we have been trying to find the source of it for some time now. The only thing that seems to help clear it up is the use of Hydrocortisone type creams. We recently have tried an elimination diet but did not see the results we were hoping for. I am starting to see a pattern of eczema flare ups after she plays on public type surfaces…for example the playground area at a mall, a birthday party establishment that entertains the kids with giant moonwalks, “blow up” slides, and jumpys, as well as the surfaces in the preschool she attends part time. Thank you for posting your article. I’m suspicious she has an allergic reaction to the disinfectants used to sanitize these places. I’m going to take some of your information to her allergy doctor to see if they can do anything to confirm this might be the source of her discomfort.

    The eczema flare ups have become more than an annoyance when last fall she was at preschool and had a bad flare up. I picked her up and noticed immediately that her hands were red and scaley with a little cut on the back of one of her hands. The teacher neglected to apply her cream as directed and the poor child must have been so itchy the skin broke in a tiny spot causing the cut I saw. She has never had a history of itching till bleeding before. The next day her hand began to swell and by the evening we were at the childrens hospital, her hand kept swelling. Almost 4 days later we were still in the hospital when the results for the culture came in. They had been treating her for MRSA staph and the swelling was not responding to the IV antibiotics. The culture showed Group B Strep. The conclusion was someone at the school with the strep infection coughed/sneezed near her and the tiny opening on her eczema inflamed hand causing the strange site of infection. When the initial thought of it being MRSA was reported to the school they finally “fessed” up that she was seem putting her hand in the toilet that day. She has never done this sort of thing Ever. We felt they were either trying to “cover their butts” in the event it was MRSA. I am now suspicious that had she put her hand in the toilet that the disinfectant present could have been the cause of such a bad eczema flare up in the first place.

    Thanks for listening and thanks again for posting this information. I hope it helps in finding the sources of my child’s eczema flare ups as well as helps us to create a healthier world that is also clean at the same time.


    • cera said,

      November 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm

      my 5month old infant has eczema and i do too on my hand we use tripple cream at night on him after bathing or before jammie time his dr said we have a very good controll over it i was woundering if u have tried it for ur child its amazing stuff 🙂

    • Karena said,

      December 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm

      hi, i have been looking everywhere for days trying to find one person that had a child that had a reaction to play areas. i finally made the connection after the last trip to mcdonald’s. please email me if you have any information. everytime i mention anything like this to doctors, they roll their eyes and hand me creams. i too think it is the disinfectants they spray on the play areas. his “eczema” all started after a trip to bouncertown 8 months ago. people thought i was crazy for saying it was the that place that somehow caused it. thanks, Karena

    • Karena said,

      December 10, 2009 at 1:16 pm

      also, i just read how the chemicals in these disinfectants attack the liver, which is the body’s way of eliminating toxins. if the liver is overworked, the toxins are excreted through the skin, causing rashes. it all seems to make sense now. and it is terrifying how long these chemicals stay in the body. boosting the liver and body’s immunity naturally and detoxing safely may be the answer. it is sad that i can’t take my child to a public play area because they want to spray poison all over it.

  5. rfrederick said,

    July 13, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    One of my company’s project is to open a daycare and I am tryin to source the most safest and effective disinfectant and sanitizer to clean certain areas for example the floors and to sanitize their toys and would not negatively affect them in anyway. It will be hosting children at an infant stage and up.
    Your help will be greatly appreciated.

  6. jstevens said,

    July 14, 2009 at 9:20 am

    rfrederick, do you have a specific question that is not answered in the blog?

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