To curious toddlers, household cleaning products can look like delectable treats, cool drinks or fascinating toys instead of poisons or caustic chemicals.
"The packaging is alluring — the color, the scent of the products. It can attract young children," said Lara B. McKenzie, a Columbus, Ohio, researcher who recently led a study on childhood injuries related to household cleaners.
Products such as bleach, drain cleaner and swimming pool chemicals landed 267,269 children age 5 and younger in U.S. emergency rooms from 1990 to 2006, according to the study in the September issue of Pediatrics.
But things are looking up: The number of injuries declined by nearly half during the study period, plummeting from more than 22,000 in 1990 to fewer than 12,000 in 2006, according to the review of cases in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database.
"We saw a big decrease over the 17-year period that we looked at — a 46 percent decrease," said McKenzie, a researcher with the Center for Injury Research and Policy, which is part of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus. "We're happy to see that there's a reduction, but we could still be doing better."
That includes making sure that risky products are locked away and that they're returned to a safe place immediately after use, so kids won't get hurt.
"Having a locked place is fantastic, and that's what we want people to do, but ... the locked place doesn't do any good if the stuff is sitting out on the counter," said McKenzie, an assistant professor in the pediatrics department at Ohio State University.
Most of the injuries noted in the study involved swallowing products. Other injuries included chemical burns and irritation of the skin or eyes.
Beware of bleach
Bleach was the No. 1 product associated with injuries. People often store bleach in kitchenware containers or food containers, which can lead to confusion, McKenzie said.
"When it's in a container like that that's not labeled, you don't know what it is, and certainly, a young child is not going to know what it is."
The American Cleaning Institute, formerly The Soap and Detergent Association, noted that numerous products have safety caps and other child-resistant packaging but that supervision and proper storage are still important.
McKenzie warns parents to be especially cautious with spray bottles, which are "really easy to trigger, even for young kids," she said. "About 40 percent of the cases came from spray bottles."
McKenzie also warns parents not to let their guard down with earth-friendly products. "We're talking about very young kids and kids that swallow stuff, put stuff in their mouth ... You don't want them to do that even with a 'green' product."