If you have a child in school or daycare, sanitizers and disinfectants are probably part of your child’s life. But many of these products contain toxic ingredients and are generally not necessary to protect health. In fact, some evidence points to overly sterile environments as possibly leading to more asthma and allergies. Take it from Bert, there are safer, effective ways to reduce germs at home and at school.

Good practices to use at home and teach your kids:

Teach children good hygiene. Children should wash hands with soap and water— scrubbing for 20 seconds, rinsing, then drying—after using the restroom and before eating. Parents can also teach children to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose, and mouth because hand-to-face contact is an important exposure route. Finally, children should cough and sneeze into their elbows rather than hands.

Clean surfaces with soap and water. Cleaning works by physically removing the germs from a surface. That means there are fewer germs that can cause infection.

Steer away from antimicrobial soaps. Most antimicrobial soaps contain the chemical triclosan, which can kill bacteria but not viruses. Many scientists are concerned about the toxic effects of triclosan on people and the environment, and these products are no more effective than regular soap against cold or flu viruses.

Ask your school to sanitize safely and disinfect only when needed:

Wash hands: schools should ensure that students wash hands frequently as a first line of defense, after recess or restroom use and before eating. As a rule, soap and water hand washing is much more effective than hand sanitizers, which also pose other risks. If schools do choose to make sanitizers available, they should be alcohol-based, fragrance-free, and stored out of reach of children.

Start with soap and water: in most cases, soap and water cleaning is enough.  If schools choose to use a disinfectant, they should use it correctly and when children are not present. Disinfectants are regulated as pesticides and must be used according to label. Surfaces should in most cases be cleaned with soap and water before a disinfectant is used. Proper use of a disinfectant generally requires that it remain on the surface for a certain period of time. Disinfecting wipes must also be used according to label in order to be effective, and are not a good choice for most school uses.

Clean surfaces: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends daily cleaning of surfaces that are touched often, such as desks, countertops, and doorknobs.

Wash toys: childcare centers should wash toys regularly in the dishwasher or washing machine.

Safe Storage: sanitizers and disinfectants should be stored safely, out of the reach of children.

Use disinfectant only when needed: the CDC recommends cleaning and using a disinfectant on any surface soiled with blood or other body fluids, following establish guidelines for handling body fluids.

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