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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Car Seats 101 - by Hiedi Earwood - PART TWO: harness and cleaning

Part two in our Car Seats 101 series on the blog. Thank you to Hiedi Earwood for her expert advice about how to care for the car seats - some things I was surprised to learn! Also, proper harnessing, how to ensure your child is safely in her car seat - important information.

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Images shared from Hiedi Earwood

When your child is riding in a 5 pt harness system, it is important that that system be used correctly in order to do its job. The whole point of the 5 pts is to hold your child in place securely and the distribute the forces of a crash more evenly over the body. There are a few key steps to making sure your kiddo is harnessed correctly.
-Strap Placement - remember, the straps must come from below or right AT the shoulders for rear facing, and above or right AT the shoulders for forward facing.
-Chest Clip Placement - the chest clip is named accordingly…it belongs on the chest. It should be placed where the top is aligned with the nipples or armpit area. The purpose of this is to place it over the sternum - so that in a crash the strongest part of the chest takes the force, not the soft tissue and organs of the belly!
-Crotch Buckle Placement - generally speaking, the crotch buckle needs to in the slot nearest the child, without angling backward toward the child. So, sometimes the child will be sitting on part of the webbing and that is ok - they just can’t be sitting on the buckle. Sometimes it will be slightly in front of the child, and that is ok as long as it’s not leaning back toward the child enough to allow extra room in the harness. This is especially an issue with newborns and infants, as extra room at the crotch buckle would allow babies to slouch down in the seat. This can make the shoulder straps now come from above their shoulders, and it could also put them in a position where their airway is not positioned safely. *NOTE* READ YOUR MANUAL. Some seats have crotch buckle slots that are designated for either rear facing use only or forward facing use only.
-Harness Tightness - We used to teach that the harness should be tight enough that you couldn’t fit more than one finger or two fingers beneath the harness comfortably. The problem with that is…people have different sized fingers! The most universal test now is the “Pinch Test”. You want to make sure that you can’t pinch any excess webbing (straps) at the shoulder area. there may still be a slight gap at the belly area depending on the seat and the size of the child because they harnesses are not all spaced the same in the seats. So you want to buckle them in properly and tighten how you think it should be, then check the shoulder area for excess. You may need to push the chest clip down and shoulder pads if the seat comes with them, in order to tell if there is excess.

Our children are going to be in a car seat of some sort from the time they are born until they are age ten or more, so it’s important to treat them correctly so they will last for their full useable life! 

Car seats go through incredibly stringent safety testing and are legally required to meet the standards set out in FMVSS 213. From the infant seat all the way up to the backless booster seat, there are very specific rules on how to use each seat and how to care for them. If these rules are not followed, there is NO GUARANTEE that these life saving devices will perform as tested in a crash. I’m sure no parent wants to knowingly take that risk with their precious cargo!
Here are some guidelines for how to care for your seats, but as always, READ THE MANUAL for specific rules for your particular seat!
DO NOT wash your car seat cover in a washing machine with an agitator! The best way to wash would be hand washing. If that isn’t possible, a front loader or washer without an agitator on the gentle cycle in cold water should be used. NEVER machine dry.
DO NOT use anything other than a very mild detergent (laundry soap, baby soap, dawn dish soap are all safe options) to wash your car seat, all fabrics, and straps (taking care not to submerge or soak the straps!). That means NO essential oils (the oils can break down the fibers of the harness straps causing them to fail in a crash, and they can interfere with the flame retardancy that the cover is required by law to have). NO vinegar (a strong acid) or Baking Soda (a strong base and very corrosive). Blue Dawn dish soap (without all the added moisturizers and fragrances) is my favorite to use, as it basically pH balanced and totally safe on the fabrics and straps! It’s also easy to find and inexpensive!
DO NOT submerge the harness straps in water. DO NOT soak them. DO NOT hand wash or machine wash them. You CAN wipe them down with a damp rag (damp with warm soapy water!) repeatedly and then allow to air dry. I like to use a white cloth so that I can see the dirt dissipating and keep cleaning until no more dirt shows up on the cloth.
DO NOT store your unused car seats in a basement, garage, attic or shed if you can avoid it. Often times the moisture and humidity in these environments will cause mold to form, and any cleaner that is strong enough to kill mold cannot safely be used on the car seat fabrics, straps, or plastic shell. It will result in a total loss of the car seat. If you MUST store car seats here, the way to avoid this mold issue is to freshly wash and COMPLETELY dry the seat cover. Wipe down all the straps and buckles and let them dry 100%. Then use a space saving vacuum bag to remove all extra air from the cloth/straps and seal them. store the plastic shell separately. Another issue with these storage areas is the presence of insects and vermin. They can chew through the fabrics and even the plastic on some, and also leave behind diseases that would be harmful to your kiddos.
DO NOT place your car seats on the top of shopping carts!!! Every manual will warn against this, and most shopping carts do as well. This is EXTREMELY important. Babies have died and been seriously injured this way. This makes the cart off balance and it can easily tip over. The car seat is also not attached to the cart (even if it seems like it “clicks” in) and can easily tip off the top of the cart. Don’t risk it! Babywear or place the car seat down in the basket of the cart. Attaching the car seat to the top of the cart can also damage the locking mechanism on the bottom of the seat, which means it may not click into the base properly when you put it back in the car. That would be a HUGE risk in a crash.
DO NOT ADD AFTERMARKET PRODUCTS THAT DIDN’T COME WITH YOUR CARSEAT! As I stated earlier, there are very strict regulations for all aspects of your child’s car seat. Down to the exact cm, exact fabric content allowances, exact temperature/environment in which these products can be produced, etc. Aftermarket products do NOT have the same safety standards are ARE NOT crash tested with these car seats. This means that using them on your child’s car seat is unsafe. There is no guarantee that they won’t effect the way the rest of the components are designed to perform. For example, those plush animal themed strap covers that everyone thinks their infant needs….those are often too bulky to allow the chest clip to sit as far up as it needs to, which means the clip is too low and the baby could be ejected from their seat in a crash. That’s just one example. Aftermarket car seat covers - those cute covers everyone and their mother is selling on etsy….NO. They can alter the geometry of the harness, and they do not meet the flammability requirements. The infant padding, pillows, snuzzlers, bundleme, etc….NO. They add extra bulk beneath the harness and can also alter the geometry of the harness, once again posing an ejection risk. THIS INCLUDES BULKY COATS AND SNOWSUITS! Vehicle seat mats….NO. Most of the time. They are usually too bulky and unyielding, causing there to be too much movement when you think your car seat is installed tightly. Some brands will allow a very thin mat to be used underneath. Graco is one of those brands. Many brands expressly forbid ANYTHING underneath their car seats, like Chicco. 
IF IT DIDN’T COME WITH YOUR SEAT, do not use it unless your car seat manufacturer allows it! Anything that can interfere with the installation of your car seat, or with the way the seat functions in any way should not be used.

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