The New Rules for Cleaning With Kids

Plenty of parents struggle day in day out to keep their kids — and their kids’ surroundings — clean. Not a day goes by that we don’t see a commercial about keeping your countertops spotless and killing 99.9 percent of all bacteria on your household surfaces. Then there’s the constant need to take a washcloth to your kid’s face and hands — because, of course, bacteria lives there! Oh, and let’s not forget we need to make sure they eat clean too. Or do we?

The good news: No, we don’t. I’m not saying to abandon all modern hygiene. I’m suggesting that as a culture, we’ve become too clean.

Researchers in New Zealand found that the habit of sanitizing isn’t really helping kids stay healthy. In a study with two groups of students, one group was asked to add hand sanitizer to their routine and the other to stick to regular hand-washing. Results showed that hand sanitizing didn’t add any benefits to the kids, and the absentee rate was the same for both groups; they stayed home sick from school just as often. How about that?

Whether you identify as a lazy mom or not, read on to get a hack, tip or simply a new idea of how to help take care of your little ones when it comes to cleaning. Why not toss out the old “rules” for ones that not only make life easier, but might actually make it healthier too?

Clean hands

  • Old rule: Use hand sanitizer! Don’t leave home without it! Use it whenever you can’t wash your hands, or use it in addition to washing with soap and water.
  • New rule: Swap hand sanitizers with natural hand wipes. Yep, wipes aren’t just for sloppy meals you eat with your hands. Sanitizers are harsh and kill off the good bacteria on our skin, leaving it dry and stripped. Water-based wipes, on the other hand, are effective for a reason. The physical act of scrubbing helps remove the unwanted grime and pathogenic bacteria. Just make sure to choose non-antibacterial wipes, and you’re good to go.

Clean eating

  • Old rule: Stock up on prepackaged snacks and 100-calorie packs for easy lunch and snack prep.
  • New rule: Sure, prepackaged foods are super-convenient, but they’re also expensive and often unhealthy. Instead, offer kids homemade yogurt parfaits with fruit, nuts and honey, or add savory cheese cubes for a new spin. Love salty snacks? Swap out chips and swap in pickles: Lacto-fermenting your own cucumbers, carrots or green beans is easier than you might think. The recipes range from the ridiculously easy (just veggies, water and kosher salt) to the just plain easy (if you like a few more spices). Bottom line: If you can fill a jar with water, salt and veggies, then this may well be your new favorite thing. Your kids will get their bellies in good shape with all that good bacteria and keep their minds sharp by steering clear of sugary processed foods.

Clean home

  • Old rule: Disinfect everything! Use bleach to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria and germs!
  • New rule: With less time (or motivation) to clean, it’s easy to resort to using products with bleach, as it promises to get the job done by destroying everything in its path. But how do you feel when you breathe those fumes in? Not good, right? Scrap the harsh chemicals for more natural and less harmful solutions. White vinegar is super-cheap and effective at cleaning anything from your countertops to your floors and windows. Don’t like the smell? Whip up an easy batch of cleaner with distilled water, witch hazel and some of your favorite essential oil scents for a teeny fraction of the cost of the harsh chemical stuff. It’s nontoxic and sparkling clean.

Clean habits

  • Old rule: Come right home and hit the books!
  • New rule: Swap out mandatory after-school homework and/or chore time for mandatory outdoor time. Yes, really. With less recess time at school, it’s important now more than ever to get your kids out of the house. Playing sports, relaxing and reading in the fresh air or taking the dog for a walk — just spending time outside without interfacing with electronics is a way to help clear the mind and prep for a productive night of homework and unwinding for a good night’s sleep. Also, letting kids get a little dirty is a good thing. Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein explains in her book Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Happy Child that children who are exposed to less sterile environments — like, you know, the outdoors — actually have fewer infections. Children who grow up spending time in nature are even less likely to develop issues such as asthma and allergies. So let ‘em get good and dirty, and feel like a better parent for it.

Clean hygiene

  • Old rule: Make sure kids lather up head-to-toe every day!
  • New rule: You probably know that shampooing every day is out — but more and more people are opting to shorten and simplify bathing routines too. Not only do long, hot showers with soap dry out your skin and strip it of its natural oils, they’re a big waste of water (and time). The solution? Suggest kids take a quick rinse and/or just use soap on the areas that need it. (You’ll be surprised at how effective this is; plus, it keeps their skin microbiome thriving, and that’s a really good thing.) This means less time bathing and more fun time to… play outside some more!
So go ahead and swap out one, some or all of the above “rules” — old for new. It’s simply a new way to view what it means to be clean, but it may get you rethinking your entire routine (and even saving your family time and sick days in the process). You don’t have to be a lazy mom to realize that clean is overrated.
The lazy mom's guide to cleaning with kids: Mother Dirt
Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows