Saturday, 8 February 2014

What's Under Your Sink?

A plunger? Cleaning cloths? Bleach? Antibacterial spray? Febreeze?
'Poison' by Cavin on Flickr (license)

'Every week around 500 children under five [in the UK] are rushed to hospital because it's thought they have swallowed something poisonous.' (Source:

I remember this kind of incident in my own childhood (due to berries on a blackberrying trip not household substances.) Being taken off to hospital by worried parents. Orange juice with an emetic concealed inside. Staying in hospital overnight. The high bars of the hospital cot. Even if no ill effects unfold, the repercussions of possibly ingesting something poisonous are unpleasant for both parent and child.

I want to address a fundamental strangeness in the way we organise our kitchens. To be clear, it's the way I organise my kitchen too. We have cleaning products under the sink. Pretty much everyone does. My parents do and always have, as far as my memory goes. Almost every house I've been in, when I've had cause to look under the sink, shows the same arrangement. Bleach? Under the sink. Window cleaner? Under the sink. Dettol? Under the sink.

We don't keep a lot of chemicals at home (and when I say chemicals I mean cleaning fluids and the like. Of course everything is composed of chemicals, from the H2O in the taps to the O and CO2 in the air we breathe.) Most things come clean with water or water and a little washing up liquid (Ecover if the supermarket has it.) It's best for the environment and your personal health not to rely on too many nasty chemicals. But still, I don't want my boys indulging in their own form of speakeasy on the kitchen floor.

'Chemistry Bottles With Liquid Inside,' zhouxuan12345678, cropped. (License)
Do most children show an interest in swigging bleach from the bottle or rummaging in the medicine cabinet? None of mine ever have. They're very clear on 'that's medicine' (it's all under lock and key anyway), or 'that's a nasty chemical.' They know not to touch. But Ben, in particular, loves cleaning. It's one of those things I pray he won't grow out of. He's forever rummaging under the sink and coming out with cleaning spray so he can 'help' clean up.

So why do we keep our cleaning fluids under the sink? What's the point? Why spend time fitting child locks and desperately trying to barricade the cupboard? (In our previous residence we used a stick to 'lock' the doors.) I understand that you don't want to put certain things under the sink, but there are plenty of things that could be stored there. Tinned food. Food in plastic and glass containers. That could fill a whole cupboard, and meanwhile all your horrible bleaches and sprays could be up at adult eye level, well out of the reach of little hands and mouths.

So isn't it time for a fundamental reorganisation of our kitchens, and of our mindset regarding where things 'should' be kept? Do we have to keep our bleach under the sink because Mrs Jones next door does, and so does Mr Hughes the next door down, and so do your parents, and so do your friends? Educate your children about what's safe and what's not, but if you can, keep dangerous substances out of reach.

[A little post-script. It's not only cleaning products and medicines that can be harmful. When George was younger I invited him to smell some powered ginger. Instead of sniffing he blew, and the powder billowed up right into his eyes. On that occasion we rushed him straight to A&E where the doctor confirmed that ginger was one of the most painful things you could have in your eyes. He had to have anaesthetic eye drops for three or four days afterwards. And it's not just ginger. The more obvious one is nutmeg. The ingestion of 'five or more grams of nutmeg causes acute nutmeg poisoning.' (Source: Be careful with spices as well as the more conventionally 'dangerous' kitchen items! ]

No comments:

Post a Comment