Germs, Schools And Non-Toxic Cleaning – The Problems & Options

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Chemicals and back to school – it is bugging me.

A friend of mine told me her daughter was spraying Lysol at school for a classroom job and my jaw dropped. Yes there is hand sanitzer all over the place and yes schools still have to disenfect and santize but should the children really be spraying a toxic substance that says, “Keep out of the reach of children” and instructs people to use in well venilated areas and then wash hands?

Classrooms are having children share crayons, scissors, pencils to promote community but then spraying the community items with chemicals. Wouldn’t it make more sense to not share these items, wash our own hands and not spray the stuff unnecessarily?

Can’t we teach sharing without having to go down this road and then wonder why so many children are missing school because of ashthma problems. With 6.2 million children having asthma and it being the leading cause of children missing school – one would think we raise an eyebrow and start to connect the dots.

The Problem With Lysol

The EPA is monitoring toxins in schools and indoor air pollution while theCDC is partnering with the makers of Lysol. Lysol holds a summit for school officials to help them learn about ways to use their disenfectant to keep schools safe from the flu this season. I wonder if the EPA attended this conference and talked about asthma, indoor air pollution, venelation and toxicity. Maybe they need to do some connecting of the dots and school officials need to recognize who’s holding the summit and what the sponsor has to gain – it isn’t out of the goodness of their hearts – there’s a bottom line.

Research has lead me to realize how far the greening schools movement has come and how far it has to go. People are reluctant to change but big companies Lysol are hard to beat when summits and big dollars are being spent. This is why a grass roots effort and campaigns like Healthy Schools and Cleaning for Healthy Schools needs to be promoted so there is more awarness and education.

Everyone Is Scared Of Germs

As a past teacher who used bleach and Lysol I can safely tell you – I did not know. Now I do and I feel horrible but also recognize the need for a clean classroom. When I spoke with a custodian he asked me if he cleaned the desk why does he have to santize or disenfect it; it is clean. G-E-R-M-S!!!! We are all scared of this four letter word, germ.

We seem to be using Antibacterial everything. Antibacterial dish soap, hand soap, body soap, lotion and the list keeps going. I just saw antibacterial spray for a key chain or a back pack. Yeah, it’s everywhere. Did you know, they even put it on sponges to kill germs, that’s why they’re a little wet when you open the package.

Another reason to get yourself a Skoy cloth! Kill the germs so we don’t get some weird disease or shoot, a common cold! I can’t poke to much fun of this because I had a ton of the stuff at one time. When I taught, I bought the stuff in bulk and in all varieties. I’ve even seen schools and hospitals putting up hand sanitizer pumps! Even though there has been several reports that the stuff isn’t any more effective then soap and water.

Other Bad Chemicals Like Triclosan

What chemical is use to kills those germs anyway? Triclosan and it is a pesticide. Makes sense because pesticides kill “pests”.

Did you know it is in over 140 different products? I didn’t know triclosan is in some toothpaste brands. Scary. What is even more scary, the idea that this pesticide is found in a mothers breast milk.

The EPA has just done a preliminary report on Triclosan and it raises some red flags. I recommend visiting the Environmental Working Groups summary of the report and their recommendations. Healthy Child also wrote a great article with some resources and reports that I highly suggest reading.

My 3 Tips for a Clean and Healhy Classroom:

1. Wash hands. Have children wash hands often and for 5 Mississipis (1 Mississipi., 2 Mississippi., etc.) Don’t just assume this will happen, stand watch, help, role model.

2. Make Cleaning the Desks a Daily Classroom Job. Use a bucket of warm water and soap. Children love cleaning and this can easily be done and is not dangerous. Even a spray bottle with warm soapy water and a microfiber.

3. Sanitize and Disenfect with the lowest toxity level possible. All disenfectants have to be EPA approved which means they are a pesticide BUT there are safer ones that have a safer PH level and do not cause respitory problems. Healthy Schools has a guide and many suggestions for chosing a safer disenfectant. Do the sanitizing and disenfecting when the children are not in the classroom and open the windows for venelation.

If the children are washing their hands (germs down the sink) and washing their desks daily the classroom will be healthier.

Rules For Children At School

Children should stay home if they have a fever for at least 24 hours and be taught to sneeze in the crook of their arm to not spread the germs – even a 2 year old can learn to do this!

None of this means that Lysol or Triclosan needs to be sprayed all over objects to keep a classroom healthy. For teachers that feel door knobs should be cleaned or items like keyboards, shared items, etc., consider some rubbing alchol on a cotton ball when the children aren’t around or try For My Kids or a some vinegar in between the heavy duty cleaning that the custodians do.

There are options, and we don’t need to be paranoid about the health and safety of our kids. After all, our parents (and grandparents) survived for decades without all this stuff, so why can’t we?

interiors of a kindergarten class with the Green chairs and children’s decorations

River Valley Charter School Example

The River Valley Charter School is one of the first schools in the country to replace the toxic chemical cleaners everyone is used to and turn to greener options instead. The school recently replaced their chemical-filled cleaners with an alternative made with a mixture of salt, water, and vinegar.

In November, the mixture, called Force of Nature, was introduced into the school. Officials from the school say that they were simply used to using high-chemical mixtures in their building. School director Andrew Willemsen spoke to the Daily News about switching to an alternative.

“If you look at what’s in some of these products, it’s quite toxic,” Willemsen said. “It’s effective but we wanted to find something that would keep the kids safe and at the same time get the place clean.”

The school switched cleaning products after they became aware of multiple students with severe allergies. Many schools offer kids with allergies the option to sit at “nut-free” tables during lunch so that no allergens come in contact with them or their food. However, River Valley Charter School doesn’t have a cafeteria and students have to eat lunch at their desks. This could cause a higher chance of exposure to children with allergies.

Even though standard, chemical-filled cleaners are commonly thought to be more effective, this isn’t actually the case.

“For kids with life-threatening food allergies, these cleaning products weren’t cutting away all of the particles,” Willemsen said.

Since the school would use a substantial amount of cleaning products on the desks and tables to try and prevent any cross-contamination, the price of cleaning supplies quickly added up. The switch to Force of Nature helped the school out financially and helped ensure that no child was at risk.

Today, more parents and educators are taking special care to avoid exposing kids to potentially dangerous chemicals, and The River Valley Charter School is hardly the only educational institution looking for ways to be more Green and Clean. In fact, according to a recent international study by Unilever, one in three consumers now tries to buy from brands that have a positive social and environmental impact.

At River Valley Charter School, custodians will use the new chemical-free product to clean everything from desks to tables, to hallways, and floors. School officials haven’t noticed any differences in how the new cleaner affects the children.

“There have been no differences, which is actually good news,” Willemesen said. “It doesn’t have any odor to it except that it smells a little like pool water. The good news is that everyone is fine.”

6 thoughts on “Germs, Schools And Non-Toxic Cleaning – The Problems & Options”

  1. My child came home from school the other day saying that they learned to cough and sneeze into their elbow with Germy Wormie, and I was totally taken aback. I always covered with my hands. But I went to the website and now I get it, hands touch, elbows don’t!! Kids can touch 300 surfaces in 1/2 hour and they hate to wash their hands. This is a simple thing that can make a huge difference.

  2. So very true about washing hands and sneezing into your elbow. We just got back from the doctors and as we left we went into the bathroom and washed our hands.

  3. Sommer, these are great points. I’m sure I don’t even need to get you started on how they use Lysol around infants as well in daycare. And yes, at one point, none of us knew. I still have old bottles of chemically-based stuff hanging around the house. But now we need to spread the word. This was a great post, and I’m going to tweet it out now!
    .-= Lynn from´s last blog ..Farmers, The First Lady & Me =-.

  4. I would use a spray bottle of vinegar and water to clean desks, or something safe like Shaklee H2. Easy to mix up, cheap (in the case of vinegar), and totally safe for the kiddos. I was a teacher, too, and I’m trying to remember what was in the bottle my kids cleaned up with. It might have been Lyson! Gaaaaah!
    .-= Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship´s last blog ..Cultures for Health Freebie Reminder =-.

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