Making safer choices while back-to-school shopping

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We know families are in the midst of getting ready to go back to school – and some have already begun! There’s lots to plan for – getting caught up on vaccinations (this webpage is in English only), figuring out new routines, and making sure you have the right supplies.

School supplies can have an impact on the health and safety of students in the classroom. Some common supplies have chemicals that can trigger asthma and other allergies. With that in mind, here are our recommendations for safer choices.

(These recommendations come from the Washington State Department of Health’s (DOH) Supply List Guidance for Healthy Classrooms (this webpage is in English only). Some schools or districts have established policies that prohibit some items. Be sure to check their lists and policies as well.)

General guidelines to follow:

  • Avoid scented items. These often have chemicals that trigger allergies.
  • Always check the label of cleaning products. Avoid products with the words “Danger” or “Poison.” This includes many household cleaners. For more information, visit the Hazardous Waste Management Program’s safer products webpage.
  • When in doubt, fresh air and washing hands with soap and water are better than chemical air fresheners/cleaners.
  • If you’re buying products listed as grease-, stain-, or water-resistant, try to buy products labeled ‘PFAS-free.’ PFAS are a kind of chemical that can have adverse health effects. They’re commonly used to water- or stain-proof items.

Recommendations for pens and markers

  • Use water-based, fragrance-free pens and markers.
  • Avoid permanent markers or scented felt pens.

Safer cleaning products

  • Use unscented baby wipes, alcohol wipes, paper towels with soap and water, or micro-fiber cloths.
  • Wash hands with plain soap and water. If you need to use hand sanitizer, make sure it’s dye- and fragrance-free, and at least 60% alcohol.
  • Don’t use standard household cleaners, as these often have harsh chemicals.
  • Only adults should use disinfectant wipes. These have chemicals that can trigger asthma and cause other health effects.

More resources

Originally posted 8/29/2023