It's time to say farewell to winter and hello to spring ... cleaning, that is. If you're ready to throw open the windows and do some major renewal in preparation for the new season, it's important to do it safely, especially if you have young children. ¶ Before bringing out the cleaning supplies, consider where you are storing them. All household cleaners, disinfectants and solvents should be locked up and out of reach (and kept in a place other than the kitchen), as should other common items like nail polish, perfume, soap and deodorant.

More than half of the 2.4 million poisoning incidents that occur nationwide each year happen to kids under age 6, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

"Children can move pretty fast, and so do poisons," said Tara Roffler, health educator for the Ramsey County Department of Public Health. "Especially with very young kids, if they ingest something, they can't tell you how much."

When Roffler leads community workshops on reducing toxins in the home, she displays two containers filled with liquids of virtually identical yellow color. One is Mountain Dew; the other is Lysol. Since young children can't tell the difference in appearance, it is vital that kids do not have access to dangerous cleaning products, Roffler said.

The best bet is to use nontoxic cleaners -- either plant-based products or those made from common household items such as baking soda, white vinegar and water (a few drops of essential oils can be added to give the mixture a new scent, but the oils should be kept out of children's reach and not used by pregnant or nursing mothers).

"Some people don't like the smell of vinegar, but the odor really disappears after it dries," said Roffler. "This type of all-purpose nontoxic cleaning product will clean, but not disinfect. The kitchen sink and the toilet seat are the two places in the house with the most germs, so they are the only spots that really need disinfecting."

If you make your own cleaner, store it in a container that hasn't previously been used for commercial cleaners, as the toxicity can linger, Roffler said.

Make sure to secure the garage, too -- either safely dispose of or store motor oil, fertilizers, paint and other solvents well out of children's reach. Once warm weather hits, they'll likely be moving in and out of the garage looking for bikes and other toys.

Tackling the closets

Cleaning out closets is another common spring cleaning chore, but Audrey Thomas, owner of Organized Audrey, said this is a task that can actually be enjoyable (even with kids) as long as you set yourself up for success.

"Make sure to prepare your child ahead of time and choose a time of day when he or she has the most energy, which might not always be first thing Saturday morning," said Thomas, who adds that some kids might be more enthusiastic with incentives to get the work done, such as the promise of a lunch date with a parent or a trip to the movies with a friend.

Thomas recommends putting on music, but limiting distractions such as the family dog or more important, cell phones, to keep everyone focused.

Have your child identify his or her favorite clothes first and set those aside, then move on to the clothes never worn ("don't argue with them about those items -- "it's not worth the battle," Thomas said). Once the never-wears are in a donation pile, you're left with a "decision pile," which means the child will have to try things on to see what fits, what to keep or what to give to such sites as the Salvation Army, Arc's Value Village or Joseph's Coat in St. Paul.

"I think it works best when clothes are divided into categories -- school, sports/activities and church or special-event clothing," said Thomas.

When all the keepers have been identified, talk to your child about the best way to store them in the closet. Should they be in order of categories or should pants, shirts and sweaters be kept together?

"I think this really transfers the responsibility to the child about the best way for them to keep their clothes organized the way they want them," said Thomas.

Some kids might opt to have things put back on hangers while others would prefer folded piles. If that is their choice, consider buying an inexpensive bookshelf that can fit easily into the closet.

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.

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