Eco-Healthy Child Care® Fact Sheets:

Household Chemicals

Household chemicals can be toxic to our health and to the environment. A wide variety of toxic chemicals are routinely used as ingredients within cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting products. Children are especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals because their bodies and organs are still developing, making the safe use of these products in childcare essential.

Health Concerns and Exposure Information

A wide variety of toxic chemicals are routinely used as ingredients within cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting products.

Children are exposed to toxic household chemicals through inhalation, skin and eye contact, and ingestion. These chemicals have a variety of negative health effects including:

  • Poor air quality
  • Irritation to the skin and eyes
  • Harm to the respiratory tract
  • Disruption of the endocrine system
  • Pollution to the natural environment


Cleaning vs Sanitizing vs Disinfecting

Routine cleaning with detergent and water is the most useful method for removing germs from surfaces in the child care setting.

A gloved hand holds and uses a bottle of cleaning chemical spray.

A sanitizer is a product that reduces germs on inanimate surfaces to levels considered safe by public health codes or regulations. A sanitizer may be appropriate to use on food contact surfaces, toys that children may place in their mouths, and pacifiers.

A disinfectant is a product that destroys or inactivates most germs on non-porous surfaces. A disinfectant may be appropriate to use on diaper changing tables, counter tops, door and cabinet handles, and toilets and other bathroom surfaces.


Tips For Reducing Exposures

Choosing Safer Cleaning Products

Third-party certified green-cleaning products are less toxic and environmentally safer. They also often cost the same as conventional cleaners.

Green Seal and ECOLOGO* are companies that research and certify products that are biodegradable and environmentally friendly.

Visit and/or search for ECOLOGO certified products in the UL Sustainable Product Guide to verify whether the products you use are safe, healthy and effective.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also created Safer Choice to help consumers find cleaning products that are safer for human health and the environment. EPA’s Safer Choice Fragrance-Free label contains products without fragrance which are a safer option for us around younger children. Product seals for safer cleaning products*Ecologo criteria do not specifically prohibit the use of all quats (quaternary ammonium compounds) in disinfectants. These chemicals increasingly are considered to exacerbate asthma.

Using Products Effectively

Bleach and Quats:

Disinfectants such as bleach and those containing quaternary ammonium compounds, or “Quats,” should not be used when children and adolescents are present, because these are known respiratory irritants. Bleach and quats can also cause asthma and reproductive problems.

An illustrative depiction of a bleach container.

If you are using bleach to disinfect, choose an EPA registered, fragrance-free, household bleach--not laundry bleach.

The product you purchase should have a label that lists the EPA Registration number #. Any leftover bleach solution should be discarded at the end of the day as it will lose effectiveness after a day.

Read the label to find the concentration of sodium hypochlorite (bleach) in the product to make sure you are using the right dilution ratio or correct amount of bleach and water.

A green funnel.Use a funnel when mixing bleach solution to reduce exposure to fumes. Always use the personal protective equipment indicated on the Safety Data Sheet when mixing bleach.

For more information regarding dilution and contact time see the instructions provided in Appendix J of Caring for Our Children.

Safer Alternatives:

Keep in mind that there are safe, effective alternatives to chlorine bleach. If you determine disinfecting is necessary, select an EPA registered, fragrance-free disinfectant that has less harmful substances such as: Ethanol, Isopropanol, Hydrogen Peroxide, LLactic Acid or Citric Acid.

Remember to always use the least-toxic cleaner, sanitizer, or disinfectant. For EPA-registered, safer sanitizers and disinfectants, visit:


Indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor. Off-gassing from paint is a large contributor to poor indoor air quality. Many paints are made of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

VOCs are organic compounds, such as benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene, that readily evaporate into the air and can be inhaled. VOCs are associated with a variety of adverse health effects including cancer.

When it comes time to paint, make sure to:

  • Use "no-VOC" or "low-VOC" paints.
  • Look for alkylphenol ethoxylate (APE) free paints.
    • APEs are chemicals of concern often used as surfactants.
  • Avoid "ant-fungal" and "anti-microbial" paints.
    • These paints can have pesticides added to them beyond what is needed for standard preservation.
  • Choose Green Seal-11 certified paint. This certification limits harmful substances like heavy metals and carcinogens.

Different colored paint rollers on a wall.


Anti-aerosol illustration.Keep aerosol spray away! Aerosol sprays - such as deodorants, cooking sprays, hair sprays, carpet cleaners, furniture polish, and air fresheners - spew invisible droplets of chemicals into the air. The invisible droplets are inhaled by children and can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. Choose pump sprays or wipes instead.