Your Health

Why You Should Wash Your Kid’s Hands Before Meals and Snacks (even if they don’t look dirty!)

It's a good habit to get into, plus it will reduce toxic chemicals

We know that balancing your baby over the sink or corralling your toddler onto the step stool to wash their hands is not an easy task. Sigh… is anything about parenting easy?

Even if it’s noon and you haven’t managed to leave the house, it’s still a good idea to wash your kiddo’s hands before they start eating. Of course it’s an especially good idea to prevent colds and for obvious dirt and grime from playing in the sand box. But it’s also a good idea because a common place people don’t often realize they are being exposed to contaminants and potential toxics is in their household dust. We know, gross!

But, since kids spend so much time on the floor crawling and playing, there might be dust on their hands that may not be obvious just from looking. That means, when they start stuffing Cheerios and blueberries into their mouths, they might accidentally ingest some dust particles. In fact, the EPA estimates that children eat about the equivalent of 1 tablet of adult aspirin in dust every 5 days. (1)

For some people, the possibility of eating dust is enough motivation to wrangle their kids to the sink. But, if you need more, common harmful chemicals found in household dust are flame retardants and lead. Flame retardants are one of the biggest culprits of ending up in household dust because of how they are added to products. They tend to be sprayed on or added at the end, as opposed to actually being integrated into a product, meaning they easily escape from the products.”Because [flame retardants] stick to our hands one of the main ways they get into our bodies is through accidental dust ingestion – since we all ingest a little bit of dust every day. This is true for everyone, and particularly true for young children who also do a lot of mouthing behaviors,” says Dr. Courtney Carignan, Assistant Professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition and Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University. As flame retardants accumulate in our bodies, they can cause problems like cancers, impacts on the immune system, disruption to the regulation and creation of hormones, and lower IQ and hyperactivity. Given that, it’s better to get them off your little one’s hands before they eat.

Another potential toxic in household dust is lead, which is tracked in from outdoors and is common in older houses (2). Lead has been shown to affect nearly everything in the body, especially of young children. There is no safe level for lead, as even really low levels have been shown to negatively affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement (3). There are lots of simple things you can do to limit your family’s lead exposure, including taking off your shoes inside and washing hands before eating.

So next time before you or your kids chow down, remember the dust, and wash your hands. You can pick up one of our recommended hand soaps to make it as pleasant as possible. Don’t forget that the CDC recommends lathering up for about 20 seconds, or about how long it takes to sing the ABC’s. Maybe this can even become a cute routine to do with your little one.


  1. U.S. EPA. Update for Chapter 5 of the Exposure Factors Handbook: Soil and Dust Ingestion. US EPA Office of Research and Development, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-17/384F, 2017