Babyproofing your home
Babies love to discover the world around them! So it’s important to babyproof your home to keep your baby safe. Household injuries are one of the top reasons children younger than age 3 visit emergency rooms.
Babyproof before your newborn comes home. Look for dangers like sharp furniture edges or tiny objects, like coins, toy parts or uninflated balloons, that she can swallow or choke on. Check for new dangers as she grows — especially when she starts walking!
What safety products can you use to babyproof your home?
You can get safety products at hardware stores or stores that sell baby gear. Use them throughout your home:
Gates and locks
- Safety gates. Use gates to keep your baby out of rooms, like the kitchen and bathroom, that can be unsafe for your baby or to block the top and bottom of stairs. Top gates should screw into the wall.
- Doorknob covers and locks. These keep your baby from opening doors. Make sure you know how to use the locks so you can open doors quickly in an emergency.
- Safety latches or locks. Keep cabinets and drawers locked so your baby can’t get to dangers, like cleaning supplies.
Smoke, fire and electricity protection
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These alarms warn you if there’s a fire or a leak of carbon monoxide (a harmful gas). Install these alarms outside bedrooms. Make sure there’s a smoke detector on each floor of your home.
- Outlet covers and plugs. These prevent your baby from touching electric outlets and getting shocked.
Furniture and window protection
- Corner and edge bumpers. Attach these to sharp edges so your baby doesn’t get hurt if he falls against them.
- Anchors or brackets. Heavy objects, like bookcases or TVs, can fall on a baby. Anchor them to the floor or fasten them to a wall so they can’t tip over.
- Cordless window covers. Use blinds and window covers that don’t have cords. Babies can get strangled if they wrap the cord around their necks.
- Window guards and safety netting. These protect your baby from falling out of a window or off of a deck.
Babyproof any room in your home where your baby may be.
- Use a bassinet or crib that meets current safety standards. Visit U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) at cpsc.gov to learn more.
- Keep crib bumpers, loose bedding, toys and other soft objects out of the crib. They put babies in danger of getting trapped, strangled or suffocated.
- Use night lights that stay cool when turned on. If curtains or bedding touch a hot night light, they can catch on fire. Baby’s fingers can get burned, too. Check the package label.
- Lock things like cleaning products, pet foods and plastic bags in a cabinet out of baby’s reach. Bleach or other household cleaners can be harmful to your baby. Babies can choke on pet food or suffocate if they cover their faces with things like a plastic bag.
- Lock up sharp utensils and appliances. Keep knives and forks in a locked drawer. Keep appliances like food processors in a locked cabinet.
- Unplug and turn off appliances, like toasters and stoves, when you’re not using them. Stove knob covers keep your baby from turning the stove dials and burning himself.
- Use a rubber cover on the bathtub faucet. This softens a bump if your baby’s head hits the faucet.
- Fasten a toilet with a toilet lid lock. This way, your baby can’t open the lid and fall into the toilet water.
- Lock up cleaning products, medicine and electric appliances. Cleaning products and some medicines can harm your baby if he touches or swallows them. Keep all medicines in baby-proof containers so your baby can’t open them. Appliances like hair dryers can cause electric shock if they get wet.
Last reviewed October 2012
Most common questions
Are plastic baby bottles that use BPA & phthalates safe?
Scientists are debating whether BPA (bisphenol A) and phthalates pose a risk to children's health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expressed concerns about chemicals used in plastics. BPA is used to make plastics clear, strong and hard to break. Some baby bottles, dishes and toys contain this chemical. Some research has found that bisphenol A can affect the brain, behavior and prostate gland in infants and children.
If you're concerned, buy BPA-free plastic baby products. You can also use baby bottles made of glass, polypropylene or polyethylene. If you use plastics, avoid plastics numbered 7 (look for the number in a triangle typically found on the bottom of containers). Use plastics numbered 1, 2 and 4. If plastic baby bottles and infant cups contain BPA, discard them if they have scratches. Don't put boiling or very hot liquids, such as formula, into plastic bottles or containers that contain BPA.
Air pollution can cause coughing, burning eyes, and tightness in the chest. For children, problems are likely to be worse if they have asthma.
Air pollution is made up of gases, droplets and particles that reduce the quality of the air. Both the city and the country can have air pollution.
Some causes of air pollution are cars, buses, airplanes, factories, mines, power plants, construction, dust and smoke. In cities, air pollution increases when the air is still, the sun is bright, and the temperature is warm.
When local health agencies issue air pollution or smog alerts, keep your child indoors. If you must take your baby out on these days, do so early in the morning or after sunset.
If you know you live close to a source of air pollution or if your baby has a heart or lung problem (including asthma), ask your child’s health care provider how to protect him from air pollution.
Everything you buy has an effect on the environment. When you buy products that use less energy and last longer than others, you pollute the air less.
- Buy Energy Star products, including cars, appliances and houses. They are environmentally friendly and have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. For more information, visit the Energy Star Web site.
- Buy efficient cars and trucks that pollute as little as possible. The Environmental Protection Agency has a vehicle emissions guide.
- Recycle paper, plastic, glass, cardboard and aluminum. Use recycled products.
- Choose products that have less packaging and can be reused.
- Reuse paper bags and boxes.
- Use compact, energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs. When handling the bulbs, try not to break them since they contain mercury.
- Turn off appliances and lights when you leave a room.
- When you’re cooking small meals, use the microwave.
- Plant trees around your house. They provide shade in the summer. During the winter, after the leaves have fallen from the trees, more light can get into your house and help to keep it warm.
- Properly dispose of paints, pesticides and solvents. (Examples of solvents are turpentine, paint thinners and grease removers.) Your local health department or environmental agency can tell you how to do this. Store these products in airtight containers.
- Avoid using paint sprayers.
- Keep air conditioning units, heaters, furnaces, wood stoves and fireplaces in good working order.
- Use less heating and air conditioning. Turn the thermostat down in winter and up in summer.
- Insulate your home, water heater and pipes.
Local newspapers and TV news programs usually provide information about air quality.
Asbestos is a natural fiber. It is risky only if it breaks up and becomes crumbly. Asbestos can cause serious health problems when it is breathed into the lungs.
For many years, asbestos was used to fireproof, soundproof and insulate homes, schools and other buildings. It also was used in floor tiles, roofing material, car parts and other products.
You usually cannot tell by looking if something contains asbestos.
Some of the places where asbestos can be found are:
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Insulation of houses built between 1930 and 1950
- Vinyl tiles and flooring
- Oil and coal furnaces
- Hot water and steam pipes in older homes
- Textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints
- Artificial ashes and embers in gas-fired fireplaces
- Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves
- Do not let your child play near anything that might contain asbestos.
- Do not touch, remove, dust or sweep anything that might contain asbestos.
- Do not track dust that might contain asbestos through the house.
- If you think your home may contain asbestos, hire a professional inspector to check. Your local health department can give you a list of inspectors.
- If your home contains asbestos that is in good condition, it may be best to leave it alone. The inspector will advise you. If the asbestos must be removed, hire a licensed contractor to do the work. Do not do the work yourself. Your local health department can give you a list of contractors.
The website of the Environmental Protection Agency has more information.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that has no taste, color or odor. It is produced by appliances, heaters, cars and trucks.
If a person breathes in too much carbon monoxide, the blood has trouble transporting oxygen. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, fainting, lung damage, brain damage and even death. It is more dangerous for children than for adults.
In homes, carbon monoxide can be trapped if:
- Appliances, furnaces and stoves are not working properly.
- A charcoal grill is used in an enclosed space.
- A car is left idling in an attached garage.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home, especially near the bedrooms. Detectors are available at hardware and home-supply stores. Check the batteries regularly to be sure the detectors are working.
- Do not heat your house with a gas stove or oven.
- Do not use a charcoal grill or camping stove in the house or in any other enclosed space.
- Do not let your car or truck idle in an attached garage, even if the door is open.
- Be sure furnaces, woodstoves, gas-powered appliances, and fireplaces are inspected and maintained every year.
- Do not burn anything in an unvented stove or fireplace.
- If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and you or your child feels dizzy, light-headed or nauseous, leave the house and get medical care as soon as possible.
For most Americans, drinking water from the faucet is among the safest water in the world. The federal government regulates most drinking water in the United States. Problems are most likely to occur in private wells or small water systems that serve less than a thousand people. For their size, children drink much more water than adults. So it’s important that their water be as safe as possible.
- For children under 1 year old, have the water tested for nitrates. Nitrates can cause anemia in children. When children have anemia, their blood cannot carry enough oxygen for the cells in the body to work and grow well. Your local health department or environmental agency can tell you how to find an inspector.
- Use cold water for drinking, cooking, and preparing formula. Lead and other unsafe substances can build up in hot water heaters.
- If the water hasn’t been turned on for six or more hours, let it run for a minute or more before you make formula or other kinds of food for your baby. This will help prevent exposure to lead and other pollutants that may be in the water or the pipes.
- At least once a year, test any drinking water that is not regulated. Example: a private well.
- To learn more about the quality of your drinking water, contact your local health department or environmental agency. Or call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at the Environmental Protection Agency, (800) 426-4791.
To learn about lead in water pipes, read Protecting Your Baby from Lead.
In the United States, more people are drinking bottled water than ever before. But many brands simply take water from the faucet and repackage it as bottled water. The federal government regulates bottled water.
Bottled water sometimes tastes better than tap water, but it usually costs more. Unless you know that your water supply is contaminated, bottled water usually offers no health benefits over tap water.
Fluoride is usually not added to bottled water. Fluoride promotes strong teeth and prevents tooth decay. For this reason, many public systems add fluoride to water. So if you are giving your children bottled water, be sure to tell their doctor or dentist.
Some families use a water filtering system in their house. These systems can improve the way water tastes and looks.
Some filters attach to the faucet and treat the water as it comes through the tap. Other filters are placed inside special water containers.
Water purified by these systems costs less than bottled water. But homeowners need to carefully maintain the filters. Without proper care, bacteria or other contaminants can build up in them.
Plastics are made from certain chemicals. Two of those chemicals are phthalates (THA-laytz) and bisphenol A (BIZ-fee-nawl ay).
- Phthalates make plastic soft and flexible. They are used in toys, rattles, teethers, and medical devices such as tubing.
- Bisphenol A makes plastics clear, strong, and hard to break. It is used in baby bottles, food containers and water bottles.
Scientists are debating whether these chemicals pose a risk to children’s health. For instance, some research has found that bisphenol A can affect the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children.
Various scientific groups have reviewed the research and have come to different conclusions about these chemicals. The research is unclear. More studies are needed to find answers. The American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged further research.
Since research is still being done on phthalates and bisphenol A, some parents have chosen to be cautious. Here are some of the things they are doing:
- Breastfeeding their babies so they don’t have to use baby bottles
- Giving their babies toys made of fabric or unpainted wood
- Using baby bottles made of glass, polypropylene, or polyethylene
- Using baby products with labels that say they don’t contain BPA or phthalates
- Avoiding plastics numbered 7 (look for the number in a triangle typically found on the bottom of containers).
- Choosing plastics numbered 1, 2 and 4.
During the first two or three years of life, children love to put things other than food into their mouths. They munch on toys, sample the sand at the beach, taste the dog food, and on and on. Your job is to keep poisons and sharp objects out of reach.
Lead is a very strong poison that can seriously damage children’s brains. It can cause learning and behavior problems, stomach troubles, loss of appetite, headaches, constipation, hearing loss and anemia. (When children have anemia, their blood cannot carry enough oxygen for the cells in the body to work and grow well.) Lead is much more dangerous to children than adults.
The more lead taken into the body, the greater the risk of serious problems. The younger the child, the greater the risk. About 1 out of every 20 children in preschool has high blood levels of lead.
Lead poisoning is usually caused by:
- Eating lead contained in dust, dirt, or old paint.
- Breathing lead in the air.
- Drinking water from pipes that contain lead. Contact your local health department to find out if this is a problem in your community.
- Coming into contact with lead in other ways. Examples: toys that contain lead, some miniblinds, some imported dishes, materials used for hobbies and crafts (such as jewelry making).
Lead poisoning cannot be caused by chewing on a pencil or by being stuck with a pencil point. Pencil “lead” isn’t lead at all; it’s graphite. The paint on the outside of pencils doesn’t contain lead.
Old toys and toys made in other countries may contain lead. It can be in the paint or in the plastics used to make the toys. A child may be exposed to lead when he puts these toys—or fingers that have touched the toys—into his mouth.
Before 1978, lead was commonly used in paint. Some of that paint still exists in older homes and buildings—on walls, doors, windows, cabinets. As the paint gets older, it may chip and come off. Babies may pick up small pieces of paint and put them in their mouths. Or the dust from old paint may get on their hands and in their food.
Your home, especially if it was built before 1960, might have dangerous levels of lead.
- Think about having your home inspected for lead. Your local health department can help you find an inspector. If the inspector finds lead in your home, get advice about how to remove it from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), (800) RID-LEAD, or the National Lead Information Center (800) 424-5323.
- Look for peeling or chipping paint. Clean it up with water. To reduce lead in dust, regularly clean floors, porches, windows, window sills, and other flat surfaces.
- Children are often exposed to lead when a home is being renovated. Repairs (such as sanding or scraping paint) can stir up lead dust. Hire workers who have been trained how to work safely in homes that contain lead. You and your children may need to move out while the work is being done. Your local health department can advise you.
- If you are renting a home and are concerned about lead, contact your local health department for advice. Your landlord is responsible for making repairs safely.
Be sure both you and your children wash your hands before eating.
- If you think a toy might contain lead, throw it out.
- Check the Web site of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to find out if toys have been recalled for containing lead. Or call (800) 638-2772.
- Let tap water run for a minute before drinking it or cooking with it.
- Avoid canned goods from foreign countries.
- Check the labels of children’s paint sets and art supplies. Be sure they don’t contain lead.
- National Lead Information Center, (800) 424-5323
- The March of Dimes article on drinking water
Mold is everywhere and has been on the earth for millions of years. It can enter your home through doors, windows, vents, heating systems, and air conditioners. Mold in the outside air may attach itself to clothing, shoes and bags. Pets can carry mold. Mold grows where there is moisture. Examples: a damp cabinet under the sink, around a leaky window, wet clothing that has been sitting in a washing machine, the walls of a bathroom that isn’t well ventilated, a basement that has been flooded.
Mold growth often looks like spots. It can be many different colors, including green and grey, and it can smell musty. If you can see or smell mold, there may be a health risk to you and your children.
Some people are bothered more by mold than others. A baby who is sensitive to mold may have:
- A runny nose
- A scratchy throat
- Red or itchy eyes
- A skin rash
Sometimes reactions can be more serious. Mold can cause asthma attacks. Babies who have serious lung problems are at greater risk than other babies.
Inside your home, be sure to:
- Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months and in damp spaces, like basements.
- Fix leaks in the roof, walls and pipes. If leaks are repaired, mold does not have moisture to grow.
- Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
- Make sure the ground slopes away from your home’s foundation. Water should not enter or collect around the foundation.
- Clean bathrooms with products designed to kill mold.
- Be sure your home is well ventilated, especially bathrooms, showers, laundry areas, and cooking areas. In the kitchen and bathroom, use exhaust fans or open a window. Be sure the clothes dryer vents outside the house.
- If you see moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes, dry it quickly. This can be a sign of high humidity. Do what you can to reduce the moisture (for instance, open a window in the room).
- Before painting or caulking, clean and dry moldy areas. Paint applied to moldy surfaces may peel.
- Insulate cold water pipes.
- Avoid touching moldy areas with your bare hands. Wear plastic gloves when cleaning moldy areas.
- Don’t put carpets in places that may have a lot of moisture. Examples: bathrooms, basements.
- Add products that reduce the growth of mold to paints.
- Clean and dry your home within 24 to 48 hours after flooding.
- Remove and replace carpets, fabrics and upholstery that have been soaked and cannot be dried quickly.
If the moldy area is small (less than a patch 3 feet by 3 feet), you can probably clean it up yourself. Be sure to also fix the water problem. If you don’t fix the water problem, the mold will probably come back. If the moldy area is larger, you may want to hire an experienced contractor to clean it.
To clean mold from hard surfaces (like walls and window frames), you can use any of these:
- Soap and water.
- A bleach solution. To make a bleach solution, add no more than 1 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water. Do not mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners.
- Cleaning products that kill mold. You can buy these at hardware and grocery stores.
You don’t need to know the type of mold before you clean it. If you can see or smell mold, clean it.
Since mold affects people differently, sampling and testing cannot estimate the health risk for you and your children. Also, testing can be expensive. The best thing to do is clean mold and prevent future growth.
If you do decide to test or sample, be sure to use experienced professionals who are skilled in interpreting the results.
Pesticides are used in many places: on farms, in our homes, and in our yards. Some farmers spray vegetables and fruits to protect them against insects. And most of our homes, at one time or another, have pests such as roaches, mice, ants or weeds. While pesticides can be useful, they also can be dangerous. Examples of pesticides in the home are bug sprays, roach traps, ant traps, and mouse and rat bait. To protect your children and yourself, use these products carefully and store them properly.
Some pesticides are poisonous when people eat or drink them. If you think your child has eaten or drunk a pesticide, call 911 or the Poison Control Center (800) 222-1222.
More research is needed about how pesticides affect our health. For instance, some studies have found links between childhood cancers and some pesticides. But other studies have not found these links.
- Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables with water before your child eats them.
- Give your child fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. They are less likely to have been heavily sprayed.
- When possible, avoid giving your children foods that have been treated with chemical pesticides.
- Remove food and water that might attract pests. Leaky water pipes can attract pests.
- Destroy places where pests can live and breed. Examples: litter, plant debris.
- If you decide to use a pesticide, read the label first. Follow the directions exactly. Pay special attention to warnings, cautions and restrictions.
- Whenever you can, use non-chemical pesticides. But remember, even natural ingredients can sometimes be poisonous. Always read the label.
- Use only the amount recommended. Don’t think that twice the amount will do twice the job.
- If the label says so, wear plastic gloves, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when using a pesticide.
- Cover all food before using a pesticide indoors.
- Keep children, their toys and pets away from the area where a pesticide is being used. Wait until it has dried or until the label says it’s safe for them to come back.
- Don’t spray outside on a windy or rainy day.
- When using a pesticide outside, be sure it doesn’t blow or run into the swimming pool, the vegetable garden, the sandbox, or the neighbor’s yard.
- Don’t buy more than you need. If you have leftover pesticides, check with your local government. Some communities have special programs to collect and dispose of hazardous products.
- If you use a pest-control service, ask them for information about the risks and safety precautions for their products.
- Put the phone number of the Poison Control Center near your phone: (800) 222-1222.
- Store pesticides out of children’s reach. Use a locked cabinet or garden shed. Child-proof safety latches are also a good idea. You can buy them at a hardware or home-supply store.
- Never put a pesticide in a container that children might think is food or drink. For instance, a jar or bottle with a liquid pesticide might looks like something to drink.
- Never place ant, roach, mice or rat bait where small children can get to them.
- Teach your children that pesticides are poison and that they shouldn’t touch them.
- Tell baby-sitters and grandparents about the dangers of pesticides.
The Environmental Protection Agency has more information about how to prevent poisonings in your home.
Radon is a gas that is found in rock, dirt, water, natural gas and building materials. You can’t see or smell it. Radon is radioactive. This means it produces energy that can harm health and even lead to death. As radon decays, it can damage the lungs and even cause lung cancer. In the United States, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths. (Cigarette smoking is responsible for 9 out of 10 deaths from lung cancer in the U.S.)
Radon is not a problem outdoors, but it can be a problem indoors. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that radon testing be done for:
- All schools
- All homes below the third floor
- Ask your child’s health care provider or the local health department if radon levels are high in your community.
- Test your home for radon, using a low-cost radon kit. Hardware and home-supply stores sell these kits. Look for the words “Meets EPA Requirements.” If you prefer, you can hire a trained contractor to test your home for radon.
- If radon levels are high in your house, call the Radon Hotline (800) 767-7236 for advice and information.
- If you need to, repair your home to reduce radon. Use a contractor certified by the National Radon Safety Board or the National Environmental Health Association.
About 1 out of every 3 children lives in a home where someone smokes regularly. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ear infections, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, severe asthma, headaches, sore throats, dizziness, nausea, lack of energy, and fussiness. The younger the child, the greater the risk is.
Secondhand smoke is made up of two things:
- The smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar
- The smoke exhaled by the smoker
Secondhand smoke is also called passive or involuntary smoking. It contains over 250 harmful chemicals; about 50 of these can cause cancer.
- If you or someone in your house smokes, stop! Talk to your employer or health care provider; they can refer you to a low-cost program. Visit the Web site smokefree.gov.
- If you smoke and plan to breastfeed your baby, stop smoking. Breast milk from women who smoke contains chemicals that are dangerous to babies.
- Don’t let anyone smoke in your home or your car, especially when children are present.
- Remove ashtrays from your house. They can encourage people to light up.
- Store matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
- When choosing a baby-sitter or child care worker, be sure he or she does not smoke around your child.
- When you’re in public with your baby, ask others not to smoke around you and your child.
- Don't go to restaurants that allow smoking.
For more information, read "How can secondhand smoke harm my child?" from the American Academy of Pediatrics.