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Disinfection Practices to Protect Our Children

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With the rise of the Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), we have all become more mindful of cleaning surfaces and may have experienced the frustration of searching store after store for that elusive Lysol container. Now, more than ever, parents around the world are ramping up cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting practices to ensure our homes are as healthy and safe as possible for the entire family.

As parents, we know that young children are inquisitive and learn by touch, using their little hands to explore everything within reach. Unfortunately, a child’s innocent touch may be exposing them to more than just new textures; they are in contact with harmful germs found on the object’s surface. The National Institutes of Health published a research study citing that Coronavirus particles lived on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for two to three days. Therefore, routine disinfection of baby products and surfaces frequently touched by young children is necessary to prevent the spread of infection.

What is the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting?
Cleaning surfaces simply means physically removing visible dirt and debris, often with the use of regular soap and water. While routine cleaning is recommended for many household surfaces, certain baby products require a more thorough cleaning process that involves disinfection.

While sanitation decreases the number of germs on surfaces, true disinfection is the best method to prevent spreading harmful germs by physical contact. The process of disinfection is what truly kills viruses and bacteria on surfaces. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines both sanitizers and disinfectants as antimicrobial pesticides. However, surface disinfectant products undergo more rigorous testing by the EPA, so they are the most effective products to use for deep cleaning.

According to the EPA website, there are no “sanitizer-only” products with approved antivirus claims. Therefore, sanitizers are not included in the EPA’s recommended list of disinfectants helpful for fighting against the Coronavirus. This list details the ingredients found in common disinfectants, such as: hydrogen peroxide, ethyl alcohol, isopropanol, and sodium hypochlorite (an ingredient found in Clorox). In general, soap and water are good for cleaning hands, but stronger disinfectants are useful for surfaces.

What is the most effective process for disinfecting surfaces?

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions for all products to see if specific disinfecting recommendations are mentioned. If not, contact customer service for the product. Manufacturer warranties may be impacted by certain cleaning methods or care processes.
  • Set a routine for disinfecting commonly used items at regular intervals. A deep, thorough cleaning should be planned at least once weekly, and more frequently if your items have been exposed to an infected person or someone outside your home. On other days, a quick swipe with a disinfecting wipe is helpful. The National Association for the Education of Young Children provides detailed guidelines regarding the frequency of cleaning, based on product type.
  • When cleaning for the first time, do a “patch test”, especially on cloth surfaces, to make sure the integrity of the fabric or material will not be affected by the product. During this test, a small amount of product is applied in a hidden area to see how the surface responds.
    • Rinse or wipe surfaces thoroughly using a clean cloth and plain water after cleaning to remove chemical residue.

What children’s products require disinfection?

  • Changing tables, Potty chairs and Diaper pails can be wiped down with approved household disinfectant wipes but, as with all items below, first check the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Plastic toys in contact with a child’s mouth, including pacifiers, can typically be cleaned in the dishwasher.
  • Toys can be wiped down with approved household disinfectant wipes, washed with soap and water, and machine-washable toys can be put into the washing machine.
  • Cribs, cots, and mats can be wiped down with approved household disinfectant wipes.
  • Play-activity centers can be wiped down with approved household disinfectant wipes.
  • Strollers can be wiped down with approved household disinfectant wipes.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that certain products be disinfected using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectant. However, car safety seats and seat belts may be cleaned but must not be disinfected, because chemicals can degrade the necessary strength needed to keep children safe. Please refer to these specific tips for car seats.
    • Caregivers should use alternate means to prevent transmission of COVID-19 during transportation including following established precautions, including physical/social distancing, using cloth face coverings, and practicing hand hygiene.

For those concerned about the potentially toxic effects of disinfectants, rinsing the cleaned items with plain water should help relieve these concerns. For the purposes of this article, natural disinfectants will not be discussed, and parents are encouraged to adequately research the effectiveness of whichever options they choose. To assist in making this decision, please consult with your child’s Pediatrician or Family Physician. For accidental ingestion or eye/skin exposure, contact Poison Control immediately: 1-800-222-1222.

 While contact with germs is unavoidable, the health and safety of our children is most important. Appropriately cleaning and caring for household items helps to maintain their quality and usefulness for years to come. Most importantly, disinfecting the surfaces in contact with the littlest members of our families, ensures a bright and healthy future for them as well.

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Written By:
Mia Armstrong, MD

About the author: Mia Armstrong, MD is a Board-Certified Pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to her mother, she dreamed of becoming a Pediatrician since the age of three years old! She accomplished her goal by receiving her Medical Degree from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, GA. She completed her Pediatrics training in Jackson, MS at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Armstrong loves caring for children and teaching families how to be healthy! Though she enjoys working with children of all ages, she has a special interest in teaching new parents to care for their newborns and offering breastfeeding support as a Certified Lactation Counselor. Her other medical interests include asthma education, routine well care, and immunizations. She also enjoys traveling and exploring new cuisines and adventures. Dr. Armstrong loves to talk, never meets a stranger, and is excited to share her insight with parents everywhere through her blogs!

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