It should have been simple. My mom wanted to buy my son Kai, then 4 months old, a teething toy. But standing in the baby toy aisle at Target, I was paralyzed by indecision. “This is cute,” she said, showing me a colorful ring of keys. “Tha tis cute,” I murmured, scanning the packaging for“BPA-free.” I’d read loads of stuff about bisphenol A (pronounced bis-FEEn-al A), or BPA, a chemical thatcould lead to cancer. It’s something my mom never had to worry about when she was raising me.
Today, moms are bombarded with so much information about all kinds of scary-sounding stuff from phthalates to pesticides. Like me, you may want to raise your baby “naturally” by limiting his exposure to chemicals. But you shouldn’t have to sweat every gift he receives from Grandma or take out a home equity loan to pay for all-organic grocery trips. So, where do you start? First, try not to become overwhelmed suggests Jennifer Taggart, author of Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure. “Trying to tackle reducing exposure to potentially harmful chemicals can seem to be a Herculean task,” says the mom of two. “Just take itone simple step at a time.” Start with these five steps: They’re pretty painless and their payback is big.
1. Green Your Clean
Even if you’re someone who might not think twice about what you use to clean your house, once your kid starts drinking his bathwater and licking the windows, you might begin questioning the use of harsh chemical cleaners, especially when you read the labels or note the childproof caps on the packaging. “There may be giant signs that say ‘warning’ or ‘danger,’”says Alexandra Zissu, co-author of Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning and Greening the World You Care About Most and a mother in New York City.
- Buy “green” cleaners, specifically ones endorsed by a third-party group, such as Green Seal (greenseal.org), which certifies household cleaners that meet certain health and eco standards. “Manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients,” says Taggart. Green Seal-certified cleaners cannot contain ingredientsknown to cause cancer or skin sensitivity; they cannot include phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates); and the manufacturer must disclose the use of added fragrances.
- See how your favorite cleaning product fares by visiting Green Seal’s website. Does it provide a full ingredient list? Yes? Good sign! Scan for the word “fragrance.” Synthetic fragrance indicates it may contain phthalates, chemicals added to make scents linger longer. Safer cleaners are scented, if they’re scented, with essentialoils, which should be listed by name (e.g., rosemary oil). A phrase like “fragrance containing essential oils” does not count. The manufacturer should also give detailed information about ingredients’ safety. Are you comfortable with what you see? Great! If not, consider a new cleaner. Good cleaners to try: Simple Green Naturals, Seventh Generation, Method or Clorox Green Works.
- Make your own cleaners. “I have a white porcelain sink, which stains easily, but it’s no match for baking soda and lemon,” says Katherine Scoleri, mother of two in Peachtree City, Georgia, and founder/editor of safemama.com. Scoleri also uses a combination of baking soda and white vinegar to remove soap scum from the tub. (These mixtures will clean surfaces but don’t necessarily kill bacteria. When you want something stronger, try hydrogen peroxide.)
When a label says nontoxic It usually means the product won’t cause personal injury when inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. It doesn't mean the product is free of chemicals.
When a label says biodegradable It simply means the product decomposes. It doesn't mean the product is healthy for us or for the planet.