Unplugged: the dangers of the under-sink cupboard

Understand the risks to your child from what lies beneath the kitchen sink…

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  • In the news

    The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow has issued a letter, warning of the dangers of washing machine detergent tablets being kept within easy reach of children.

    According to the BBC, the hospital is alarmed at the number of children being admitted with mouth, throat and eye burns as a result of biting or squeezing liquid tablets found under the sink.

    A medic said, “It really is only good fortune that we haven’t seen a death resulting from this type of injury.”

    Detergent tablets aren’t the only potential problem when it comes to safety in the home. Find out what other chemical dangers your child could be exposed to in your home…

  • Chemical critters

    Adam Lowry, chemical engineer and co-founder of Method (chemical-free cleaning product brand), tells us, “The most toxic place in the home is under the sink. It’s ironic that we have to protect ourselves from what we clean with.

    “Bleach causes more household poisonings than anything else, worldwide.” Adam adds.

    Manufacturers often state that ingredients such as solvents, phthalates and fragrance are present at a ‘safe level’. But, as Adam explains, “Some may argue that at this level it’s safe, but kids aren’t ever just exposed to one chemical based product at one time – people are exposed every day all around the home.”

    Adam adds, “Here’s what you know, phthalates are potential problem causers. You know they can affect asthma and allergies. There’s enough indication to show it’s a problem and so we should avoid it.”

    Products that claim to be safe don’t always live up to their claims. “’Natural’ is often used a proxy for safety,” says Adam. Look for brands that have eliminated toxic chemicals in a sustainable way that still do the job.

  • Floor forager

    Storing chemicals in a locked cupboard out of the reach of children may seem an obvious solution, but Adam warns, parents need to think about safety all around the home.

    “Kids harvest the floor for everything. They explore with their hands and their mouths. If you’ve used a floor cleaner and then your child is playing and picking things up, the problem is still as present as the cupboard being open.”

  • Sensitive soul

    Children’s skin is also at risk from harsh chemicals. Detergents contain surfactants, with are often petroleum based. These can be harsh on sensitive children’s skin as they leave an irritant residue.

    Lovely smelling fragrances can also cause problems. Adam says, “Essential oils were never designed to be put on your skin.”

    Look out for alternatives like lavender, grapefruit oil and eucalyptus, which do the same thing but aren’t likely to irritate. 

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  • Beyond the bottle

    Chemicals are also a danger to the wider environment. Unsustainable ingredients and non-biodegradable packaging have a broader impact than simply in your home.

    Natural ingredients may be a good alternative in a product, but if they’re not handled sustainably, the problem hasn’t been eradicated.

  • Get chemical-savvy

    Give your home a chemical blitz, so it’s safer for your whole family:

    • It sounds simple, but do keep any cleaning products out of the reach of children, regardless of whether they claim to be safe and natural.
    • Opt for products that have eliminated the need for solvents and phthalates (part of the BPA family) but still do the cleaning job. 
    • Look for sustainable products that have naturally sourced ingredients and packaging. 
    • Make sure you know how to treat a burn if it does happen.
    • Head to ROSPA for more info on keeping your children safe in the home.


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