Childhood and parenthood is a full body contact experience. I did not anticipate this—the ongoing physicality. I don’t just mean the pregnant part or the nursing part, but for years. Beyond the lovely affection and desire to be held, there’s the lugging of gear for every outing to the need for lightning fast reflexes for the unexpected to the “if it’s too quiet, you’d better go check” constant alertness to the “Mom/Dad, will you help me learn to ride a bike/throw a ball/jump rope/fly a kite/get my shoe off the roof.” I was in my best shape when my kids were younger.
I remember a conversation I had when my kids were toddlers with a mom whose kids were about fifteen years ahead of mine. She said, “It’ll be a physical marathon for the first ten years, and then it becomes a mental and emotional marathon.”
I’m well into the teen years now, and she’s absolutely right. We can discuss which stage is harder or more preferable—they all have their ups and downs—but for the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on keeping things clean during that childhood marathon.
Messy mealtimes are a given with children. I’m convinced that whoever came up with oatmeal masques or chocolate Spa wraps likely got the idea from watching their young children eat. But it’s not just mealtime where the mess happens. By the time my kid #2 rolled in, I was enough of an expert to pack and extra outfit for myself, as well as for each kid, on all outings. Or at least an extra shirt. Things just happen with kids. They wipe their sticky selves on you. They spill their drinks and food on you. They invite you to join them rolling down the grass or jumping in the leaves or seeing what the world looks like upside down on the playset, and you do it. Because they’re right. It’s fun. But I didn’t wear white for about 12 years.
Then there’s the layer of grime that builds up on every kid-related (and non kid-related) surface. Everything gets touched in every way. It gets tasted. It gets dropped. It gets “decorated.” It gets used in ways the manufacturers never intended. The buildup is intense.
And then there’s the laundry. So.much.laundry.
Three Requirements for Safe Cleaners around Kids
There are three requirements that are crucial for the cleaners we use around our kids and on their stuff.
First, it’s got to be effective. It’s got to cut through all that grime and stains.
Second, because all these surfaces will be seen, touched, and tasted again, cleaners must be residue-free. Any residue on these surfaces will end up on our children.
Third, these cleaners must be fume-free. They must not emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the air which our children breathe. VOCs, which can come from fragrances as well as the cleaning compounds, are proving to be endocrine disruptors, asthmagens, allergens, and more. These enter the body through the lungs.
Products Marketed for Babies & Children Offer No Guarantee of Safety
Oh, I was a sucker for this one. Surely, I thought, if a product says it’s for babies and has such sweet imagery and soft scents, it must be the best thing for my children. Surely there’s some sort of framework for what can be marketed for kids.
There is no regulatory framework, no certification, no particular supervision of products marketed for children. The burden is on the consumer to look for and understand the ingredients in their products. Baby and kid products can, and often do, contain the same range of VOCs as general products as well as other ingredients linked to allergic contact dermatitis, endocrine disruption, sensitivities, and more. Many contain formaldehyde releasers, a known cause of allergic contact dermatitis, a strong sensitizer (which means it creates sensitivities over repeated exposure), and a known carcinogen. Then there’s fragrance. Commonly found on ingredient lists, “fragrance” is not actually an ingredient, but rather a category that can contain any of 3,000+ ingredients, and a cause of allergic contact dermatitis in 1 out of 10 individuals
How to Clean Kid Gear with Dr. Bronner’s Castile & Sal Suds
Which brings us to Dr. Bronner’s. Dr. Bronner’s offers two products that are all I use for whatever needs cleaning: The Pure-Castile Liquid Soap and the Sal Suds All-Purpose Cleaner. Both fit the bill with all three of the requirements above: effective, residue-free, and fume-free. Both can be used for all house and gear surfaces. There’s a lot of overlap between them. The difference is that Castile is a soap and Sal Suds is a mild detergent. I tend to reach for the Castile when I’m cleaning the bathroom because I already have it there since it’s what I’m using to clean my kids’ bodies and my own. It feels really counter-cultural to use a body soap to clean household surfaces, but this is such a simple, effective soap, it can clean anything.
I tend to reach for Sal Suds with laundry because it is exceptional on stains. Also, I have hard water and detergent is less reactive, leaving fabrics softer and shiny surfaces shinier.
Definitely I use the largest volume of Sal Suds and Castile on laundry. Clothing, bedding, blankets, car seat covers, carriers, diaper bags… They’ve all been either tossed in the washer or hand washed with Sal Suds.
First, do yourself a favor and buy a gallon bottle. Then look somewhere online for a pump. Dr. Bronner’s doesn’t sell them, but the bottle is a standard size. Search for “gallon bottle pump.” They dispense a 1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) amount.
HE*: 1- 1½ Tbsp. (15-22.5 mL)Tbsp. Sal Suds OR 3-4 Tbsp. Pure-Castile Soap
Most of the time, that’s it. I wash on cold most of the time, unless a load is particularly grubby. Then I boost the heat. If a load is stinky or needs whitening, I’ll toss in ¼ c. baking soda and ½ c. vinegar.
*Double all laundry amounts for non-HE washers.
It couldn’t be simpler.
Add ½ capful of Sal Suds, or a full capful of the Castile Soap, to a sink of water. Scrunch the item in the water and then let sit for at least 10 minutes. Scrunch the item some more, working the water through. Drain the sink, refill with clean water, and scrunch the water through again to rinse. Press in a towel and lay flat to dry.
Rinse any of the stain out that you can, or at least wet the fabric. Pour Sal Suds or Castile directly on the stain. (For really stubborn stains, go with the Sal Suds.) Soak the item in water for at least 20 minutes. If you are using a machine, you might be able to set it to a pre-soak. After this soak, you can agitate the fabric against itself to loosen the stain further. Then proceed with the machine or hand washing. Soaking is really the key.
Check out my article specifically on caring for cloth diapers: Washing Cloth Diapers with Sal Suds and Sunshine
“Should you choose to use cloth diapers, Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner will help you maintain clean, soft, absorbent, stain-free diapers. Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap is an option if you have soft water, but in hard water, the soap reacts with the minerals in the water, leaving a film that can make the diapers less absorbent. Sal Suds is fail-safe in all water types.”
A Word on fabric softeners:
Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are by defintion residues. They deposit a film on fabrics that makes hands and other fabrics glide smoothly over them. This is not best for the longevity of fabrics and exposes children to a number of problematic ingredients in the residues. Check out my deep dive into fabric softeners here. They are best left out of laundry routines.
Dishes, Bottles, and More
Nothing beats a sinkful of suds for doing a good washup. Fill the kitchen sink with warm water and add ½ tsp. Sal Suds. If you want an extra fluffy mound of bubbles, put the Sal Suds in first! Wash and rinse. In addition to the dishes and bottles, I’ve used my kitchen sink for cleaning breast pump parts, shoes, lunch boxes, backpacks.
Upholstery & Fabrics
For furniture, fabric-covered toys, or any fabric covered item including strollers and car seats that shouldn’t be immersed:
Fill a bowl with 2 quarts of water and either a couple drops of Sal Suds or a small squirt of Castile Soap. Dip in a washcloth and spot clean the fabrics. Dip a fresh cloth in clean water to rinse the fabric. Be careful not to saturate the surface. Press the area with a dry cloth to remove extra the moisture. Let air dry. Sometimes to restore the texture of the fabric, you need to lightly buff with a dry cloth after the surface is dry.
For larger upholstered items or the inevitably mysterious carpet spot, bring out a carpet cleaner with a hose attachment. Add 1 drop of Sal Suds with water in the cleaning compartment. Use per machine directions.
For furniture, small and big toys, gear of all sorts, I have four methods
All-Purpose Spray – Excellent for broad surfaces or single items. Counters, tabletops, high chair trays, doorknobs, stroller handles, etc. Spray and wipe with a damp cloth.
Sudsy bucket – Add ½ Tbsp. (7.5 mL) Sal Suds or 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) Castile Soap to a bucket of water. Dunk in a cloth and wipe down items.
A bathtub or a kiddie pool – Sometimes there are just so many things to wash or they’re large that it’s easier to use the tub or haul things out to the patio. Fill a kiddie pool with water and add 1 Tbsp. Sal Suds. Dunk in all the toys and wipe down. Rinse with clear water. This also works great for large items like strollers or portable cribs. Sometimes the high chair needs a whole body treatment.
GIY Housecleaning Wipes
A batch of these GIY (Green-It-Yourself) housecleaning wipes is super handy to have on hand. Make reusable ones with cut up t-shirts or cloths, or use these with paper towels.
1 ½ c. (360 mL) filtered, distilled, or boiled then cooled water.
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap or ½Tbsp. (7.5 mL) Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds
1/4 tsp. (20 drops) tea tree essential oil
Put the wipes in your container. Mix up the solution ingredients and pour it over the wipes. Let them sit for 20 minutes or so to soak up all the liquid.
While the floor is not technically a baby or kid item, let’s face it, kids spend a LOT of time on the floor. Crawling, learning to walk, creating block towers and racetracks, and building puzzles. Regardless of whether you use a mop and bucket, flathead mop, or spray mop, they need to get clean without leaving residue behind. Sal Suds and Castile Soap are safe and effective on wood, laminate, vinyl, all manner of stone, or some engineered material.
After vacuuming or sweeping, use one these mopping methods based on your preference and how much flooring you’re cleaning (which I know first-hand, may be based on how long your child(ren) naps!).
Feel free to double or triple this batch to fill your bucket as needed.
1 gallon (4L) water
2 ½ Tbsp. (37.5 mL) Pure-Castile Soap OR 1 tsp. (5 mL) Sal Sud
Optional: 20 drops of Tea Tree pure essential oil for some extra antibacterial power
Put the water in the bucket first so that when you add the soap, you don’t get an overflow of bubbles. Submerge the mophead, whether it’s a string or flathead, and wring out until damp. Mop.
Mopping dilution for a squirt or spray bottle:
For the squirt bottle, you can reuse a Dr. Bronner’s quart bottle, an athletic bottle with a push/pull lid, or you can refill the bottle that came with your spray mop. To remove the spray mop lid, first fill a small saucepan with 2-3” of water and bring it to a boil. Once it’s reached a boil, remove it from the burner. Carefully hold your empty spray mop bottle upside down in the water with the lid fully submerged for 90 seconds. Using a potholder, give the lid a firm but short twist and the lid will pop off. Clean out the bottle with hot water and a few drops of Sal Suds or Castile Soap. Rinse.
1 quart (1 L) of water in a squirt bottle
2 tsp. (10 mL) Castile Soap OR 1/8 tsp. (.6 mL) Sal Suds
Combine this solution in your squirt or spray bottle. Dampen your mop with plain water. Squirt or spray the floor and mop over with the mop.
With these dilutions, no rinsing should be necessary. However, if you see bubbles on the floor, go over it once again with plain water.
Other Articles I’ve Written on Baby & Kid Care
“Babies’ systems still have so far to develop long after they’ve left the more ideal environment of the womb. One way we can help them is by keeping baby care products simple so their tiny bodies have less to process. Pause a moment before you load up on the baby wash, shampoo, bubble bath, lotion, oil, powder, cream, and think of the sheer number of ingredients contained in that lot. Because the personal care industry, even in baby care, is largely unregulated, among those products with endless ingredients are often allergens, sensitizers, hormone disruptors, and even carcinogens.”
“Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Castile soap is awesome for babies’ sensitive skin. It does not contain any of the essential oils that the other soaps have and it has twice the concentration of saponified olive oil which makes it even more soothing.”
“I recently was putting together a gift basket for some friends who were anticipating their first baby, so I got to ask myself anew which Dr. Bronner’s products babies most need. Essentially I was asking myself which products I would have wanted 20 years ago when I was anticipating my first duckling. Some of our products weren’t around back then, much to my retroactive dismay, so giving them to friends now is a little bit of consolation.”