How *NOT* to Clean Your Car Seat

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Kids can be pretty gross!  There are times when being a parent feels like you’re living in a frat house.–Your roommates wake you up at all hours of the night, often by screaming; they lack the ability to make sound decisions and they barf in the most inconvenient places you can imagine, often without any warning at all.  It’s no wonder with all the puke (and let’s not forget poop!) that you often feel as though a hazmat suit would be real handy to have around.  But instead, we’re lucky if we have a pair of dish gloves handy.

As luck would have it, sometimes the inconvenient place where something explodes is in their car seat.  GROSS!  That’s obviously something that’s gotta be cleaned up!

So quick!  What do you do?!   Your inner-Clean Freak is screaming for you to kill all the germs!  Sanitize the seat!  Make it sparkly clean again!  But with what?

Bleach on seat

Stain Remover?! Bleach? NO!!!

Good ol' reliable Baking Soda paste?! NO!!!

Good ol’ reliable Baking Soda paste?!
NO!!!

Oooh! Vinegar! That's gentle, right? NO!!!

Oooh! Vinegar! That’s gentle, right?
NO!!!

Flame torch?! What?! ARE YOU CRAZY?!

Flame torch?
What?! ARE YOU CRAZY?!

No.  And in case we weren’t clear–N-O.  No!  You may not use ANY of these methods to clean the harness of your car seat.  They may work wonders on your counter tops, laundry or garage, but this is a life-saving device we’re talking about here!  It needs to be treated with care!  Why, you ask?  Because all of these things can cause irreparable damage to your harness (the same goes for your seat belts, by the way!).

No bueno

No bueno

Car seat harness webbing and seat belts are typically made out of nylon or polyester.  These materials aren’t as indestructible as you might think.  All of these products (along with tea tree oil and other essential oils, harsh soaps or detergents, Lysol,  Fabreeze, the washing machine, garden hose, steam cleaner, pressure washer and many other products) can cause warping and/or deterioration of the webbing and/or overall integrity of the car seat.  The damage can be so bad (even though it will likely not be visible) that the car seat could fail to protect your child in a crash.

Now before your inner-Clean Freak totally loses it, take a deep breath.  There ARE safe and effective ways to clean a car seat.

Yes, folks. It's just that simple. Baby wipes &/or a small amount mild dish soap on a damp (not soaking wet!) sponge or washcloth are safe to use on a harness or seat belt.

Yes, folks. It’s just that simple.
Baby wipes &/or a small amount mild soap on a damp (not soaking wet!) sponge or washcloth are safe to use on a harness, car seat shell or seat belt.  

A small amount of mild soap on a damp sponge/washcloth is approved by most manufacturers.

A small amount of mild soap (such as original blue Dawn or baby shampoo) on a damp sponge/washcloth is approved by most manufacturers.

Baby wipes are also safe to use according to most manufacturers. (We find that H*ggies or P*ampers usually work well.)

Baby wipes are also safe to use according to most manufacturers. (We find that Huggies or Pampers usually work well.)

And of course, there’s always Mother Nature’s incredibly safe and effective bacteria-killer…

The sun! Yes! The sun. Seriously. Try it.

The sun!
Yes! The sun. Seriously. Try it.

Now what if you’ve already soaked your harness in bleach or ran it through the washing machine?  Well, we’d advise you to stop using the seat immediately and contact your car seat’s manufacturer.  They may be able to send you a replacement harness.  Unfortunately, not all harnesses are replaceable, so we regret to inform you that these are mistakes which may end up costing you a new seat.  (Incidentally, this is another reason why we strongly discourage people from using a rented, borrowed or used car seat.)

Should you need a new seat and you think you’ve come up with the brilliant solution of preventing messes and stains before they even happen by using a stain-preventing spray such as Scotchguard…

You guessed it. NO!!! These are highly flammable and corrosive. You don't want it anywhere near your car seat.

You guessed it. NO!!!
These are highly flammable and corrosive. You don’t want them anywhere near your car seat.

Above all else, we can’t stress this enough.–Check your manual!  If you lost it or tossed it, download a new one or contact the manufacturer and ask for specific cleaning instructions!  A good rule-of-thumb though, is that if it’s not something that you’d clean your own child’s face with, you probably shouldn’t be cleaning their car seat with it either.

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Harness Heights: Finding the Right Fit


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Kids sure have a way of sprouting up overnight at times, don’t they?  Sometimes it can happen so quickly that we don’t even realize how much they’ve grown until we happen to catch a glimpse of them a certain way.  Just like clothing sizes need to be adjusted as a child grows, a child’s car seat also needs to be adjusted in various ways to accommodate their growth. 

Every car seat is different, and each one has different rules when it comes to adjusting the harness, the buckle, removing inserts, etc so it’s critical to review your manual periodically.  This article will specifically address how and when to adjust the height of the harness.

The vast majority of car seat harnesses will adjust for height in one of two ways.—They’ll either have a “traditional rethread” harness, or they’ll have a “no rethread harness”.  Again, please review your manual for your specific seat.

Traditional Rethread Harness: Car seats with this style harness will have various slots in the shell (frame) of the car seat which the harness is threaded through, and a metal piece called a splitter plate to which the harness is secured.  The splitter plate is attached to one end of the harness adjuster “tail”, which comes through the bottom, front of the car seat and is what is pulled on to tighten the child’s harness. 

Splitter Plate watermarked

On car seats with a “traditional rethread harness”, the harness must be attached to the Splitter Plate, shown here.


To decipher where the harness should be, one needs to look at where the child’s shoulders are in reference to the harness slots, and take into account whether the child is rear facing or forward facing.  (Remember: Any time that a child is rear facing, the harness must be level with, or below the child’s shoulders; when they’re forward facing, the harness needs to be level with or above the child’s shoulders.  Additionally, some car seats have restrictions on which harness slots may be used for each direction so again, it’s critical that you refer to the owner’s manual for the seat.) 
Often the easiest way to adjust the height of the harness is to uninstall the car seat, loosen the harness a bit, and turn the car seat over so that you’re looking at the back of it.  Slide one side of the harness off of the splitter plate and pull the strap through the front of the car seat.  Ensure that there are no twists in the strap and then route the harness strap through the appropriate slot, taking care to place it through the same layer of fabric/padding as the shell of the car seat.   Fully re-attach the harness strap to the splitter plate as specified in the manual.  Repeat for the other strap, ensuring that both straps are at the same height.  After the seat is re-installed, double check that the harness is now at the appropriate height for the child.  If you’re unsure if it’s at the correct height, a helpful tip is to place a butter knife or popsicle stick on the child’s shoulders and see where the tip is in relation to the harness slots.

Proper harness height rf vs ff

Using the correct harness height is key factor in the proper use of your child’s safety seat.

Pro Tip: The harness should always be at the closest slot to the child’s shoulders which is also appropriate for the direction in which they face. 

No Rethread Harness: Car seats with this type of harness often adjust by squeezing a handle at the top of the head rest, and pulling the headrest up/pushing the head rest down.  As the head rest height changes, so does the harness height.  Frequently, this type of harness can be adjusted without having to uninstall the car seat. 

No Rethread Harness watermarked

Car seats which have a “no rethread harness” often adjust by squeezing a handle at the top of a head rest.


Sometimes it can be difficult to gauge exactly where the harness is in relation to the child’s shoulders.  Since this style car seat doesn’t have harness slots, the “popsicle stick test” described above isn’t as useful.  Instead, what I often advise caregivers to look for is how the harness looks on the shoulders themselves.—Is the harness curving over/around the shoulders (which is what we’d look for when a child is rear facing), or is it angling upward by the child’s shoulders (which is what we’d look for when a child is forward facing)? 
After the harness is adjusted to the appropriate height, the caregiver should ensure that the head rest is locked into place so that it’s not “between” adjustment settings. 

These are only two examples out of many.  The car seat which you have may adjust in a different way altogether.  The car seat manual will always explain how and when to make adjustments.  If further clarification is needed, caregivers can contact the car seat manufacturer directly.  Meeting with a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician is the best way to ensure that your child’s seat is not only adjusted correctly, but installed correctly as well.  You can schedule an appointment with Super Car Seat Geek via Facebook, email, or the “Contact Us” portion of the website.

Tricks of the Trade: How to get a Tight Car Seat Installation with Ease


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One of the most common complaints that I hear from caregivers is how much they struggle to get a tight car seat installation.  Many caregivers feel as though they’re physically unable to do it, despite not necessarily having any physical limitations.  This genuinely can be a tricky task to accomplish!  However, contrary to popular belief, getting the car seat installed correctly has very little to do with brute strength, and almost everything to do with leverage.  While every car seat and vehicle are different, and have their own subtle nuances, I’m going to share one of my favorite tricks which works well for most configurations. 

Since leverage is one of your biggest allies, you want to take full advantage of it.  Most of the time, that will mean that you want to pull the slack both toward you, and parallel to the belt path of the car seat. 

For example, if you’re installing a car seat using lower anchors (LATCH), you’ll want to look to see where the adjustment piece is on the lower anchor strap.  It will be on the same side of the strap where the “tail” of the strap is located.  Most of the time, I find that caregivers will grab a hold of the tail on the outside of the seat and try to tighten it by pulling it away from the car seat.  While this seems perfectly logical, this does not utilize the available leverage very effectively.  Instead, if possible, you’ll want to position yourself on the opposite side of the car seat that the adjuster piece is located on so that you can pull that “tail” toward you, over the belt path of the car seat itself.  For even better leverage, try pulling the strap inside of the car seat’s belt path and pulling from there.  Many times this can be accomplished by pulling the cover of the car seat back at the belt path, and pulling the tail inside of the belt path.  After the seat is installed tightly, simply replace and re-secure the cover. 

Installing a car seat with a seat belt is very similar.  You can often utilize the same method, but instead of pulling on the lower anchor strap’s “tail”, you’ll be pulling the vehicle shoulder belt toward you, over the car seat’s belt path, to better remove all of the slack from the lap belt portion of the seat belt.  (Don’t forget to check your manuals for instructions on how to lock the seat belt.)

Remember to only check for movement directly at the applicable belt path on the car seat, and only by using about the same amount of force which you’d use to give somebody a firm handshake.  If the car seat is moving 1 inch or less directly at the appropriate belt path, then the car seat is installed tightly.  If it’s moving more than that, then repeat these steps.  As always, please be sure to consult your child safety seat’s owners manual for seat-specific installation instructions, as well as your vehicle owners manual for vehicle-specific installation instructions.  And of course, don’t forget to have your car seat inspected by a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. 

Five Quick Tips to Keep Your Precious Cargo Safe in the Car

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The responsibilities that come with parenthood can be overwhelming at times.  There are so many different things to learn and frequently, when you feel like you’ve finally mastered one thing, something changes, and you need to re-learn it.

Protecting your child in the car is one of the many things that we parents must learn how to do.  Most of us get in and out of the car multiple times a day.  It is a mundane task, so we take it for granted, forgetting that there are inherent risks in and around the car.  Parents today have busy lives and countless things to do and remember.  We are usually running around, trying desperately to get from Point A to Point B safely and on time.  It’s easy to forget the many risks we face each time we climb into the car.  The fact however, remains that car crashes are the leading cause of death for children in the U.S.  Most parents feel like their child is in the correct car seat and that their car seat is installed and used correctly, but one study has shown a misuse rate of as high as 92%¹.

While I certainly can’t cover everything there is to know about child passenger safety in one brief article, I’m going to share some basic tips which  are easy to implement right now.  Please contact me if you have further questions or would like to schedule an appointment to have your child’s car seat or booster checked.

1) Harness Placement

When a child is rear facing, the harness (car seat straps) should be coming out of the car seat directly at, or below the child’s shoulders. (Remember, a child should be rear facing until they are at least two years old.)

When a child is forward facing, the harness should be coming from at or above a child’s shoulders. (Remember, a child should be harnessed until they are at least five years old.)

2) Pinch Test

Ensure that the harness is flat and straight, with no twists , and then remove all of the slack .  Pay special attention to ensure that there’s no slack “hiding” down by the child’s hips.  The harness will be snug enough when it passes “the pinch test,” meaning that you’re unable to pinch a fold in the harness at the child’s shoulders/collarbone.  

3) Chest Clip Placement

The harness retainer clip (more commonly referred to as the chest clip) should always be directly on top of the child’s sternum (breast bone).  The top of it should be aligned with the child’s armpits.

4) Inch Test

The proper way check that the car seat is installed tightly, is is to grab the seat directly, and only at the belt path, and give it a wiggle with about the same force as you’d use in a firm handshake.  The car seat should not move more than 1” in any direction at the belt path. (If the seat is installed rear facing, the belt path will be under the child’s feet/lower legs.  If the car seat is installed forward facing, the belt path will be behind the child’s back.)  Remember—if the car seat is forward facing, you’ll also want to secure the tether strap to the designated tether anchor for that seating position, and remove all of the slack from the tether strap.

5) Read Your Manuals

Your child’s safety seat can’t do its job if it’s not used correctly.  Every car seat will have different rules for how and when to make adjustments to the harness, buckle, padding, etc.  The manual will tell you precisely how to install the safety seat depending on the vehicle, the location in the vehicle the weight of the child.   It is critical to read the manual for your child’s seat as well as the child safety seat section in your vehicle’s manual. I strongly recommend re-reading your manual periodically, especially when you need to uninstall, clean, make adjustments or reinstall the seat.  If you’re confused about something, you can reach out to a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) such as myself for clarification, or to the car seat manufacturer.

While there are many things to be aware of and to learn, my job as a CPST is to help you keep your child safe.  Nothing makes me happier than helping caregivers feel empowered in their abilities to do that.  I offer a variety of services to assist in every aspect of this journey.  Super Car Seat Geek’s exclusive Concierge Service will help pair you with the very best car seat options for your particular child, vehicle and budget.  Since the right seat is only a fraction of the equation, a private Car Seat Check will ensure that you understand how to install and use your child’s seat correctly every time they get buckled up.  

If you have questions or would like to set up a Concierge Service session, or a private Seat Check, please contact me at facebook.com/SuperCarSeatGeek or email me at SuperCarSeatGeek@gmail.com

¹https://aap.confex.com/aap/2014/webprogrampreliminary/Paper25919.html

FAQ

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Q: When do you host seat check events?
A: All of my seat checks are set up privately, by appointment.  Not only does this allow for us to meet at mutually convenient times and locations, but it allows for me to have ample time with my clients to ensure that they leave the appointment feeling empowered, prepared & confident.

  • Q: We’re expecting a baby.  How soon should we schedule our car seat check?
    A: I typically recommend having your seat checked by 36-38 weeks.  I often book up several weeks in advance during busy times and/or my most requested time frames, so I recommend that you take that into consideration as well.  If you plan to contact me around the 33-34 weeks mark, you’ll have more choices available to you.
  • Q: What is a ‘Concierge Service’? 
    A: My exclusive Concierge Service is a fabulous way to ensure that you’re spending your hard-earned money as wisely as possible.  Did you know that as many as 80% of children are riding in the wrong safety seat?!  Selecting a car seat or booster seat can be a stressful, time consuming, and overall daunting task.
    By using this service, I will assist you in selecting the very best seat for your particular child, vehicle and budget.–Whether that’s a rear facing only seat (infant carrier), a convertible seat, a combination seat, a booster seat or a multimode seat.  I tailor my recommendations for each of my clients based on their individual needs.  By meeting at a store, we can go through each of those options in detail–their pros, cons, quirks, etc and even have the opportunity (when available) to try them out in your car to ensure that they’ll work well!
    The Concierge Service will save you valuable money, time and unnecessary frustration!  If you’re not local to the Lehigh Valley, PA area or your schedule isn’t conducive to meeting in-store, we also offer a Virtual Concierge Service!
  • Q: Our child is starting to get close to the limits of their current seat.  When should we schedule a Concierge Service session to get your assistance in selecting the next seat for them?
    A: Again, I can book up several weeks in advance depending on the time of year, day of the week and time of day you’d like to meet.  I recommend that you plan ahead whenever possible.  Since different seats are outgrown at different times, I’m happy to discuss with you when I think it would be most ideal to set something up so that you’re not rushed.
  • Q: How much do you charge for car seat checks?
    A: While similar services start at around $200, I do not charge a flat fee for seat checks at this time.  I understand that every family has different financial situations and a fee which would be extremely reasonable for one family would be extremely cost-prohibitive for another family.  For these reasons, (unless I’m traveling outside of the immediate area) I allow the caregivers to determine what they feel is fair and comfortable as far as compensation goes.  If caregivers are unable to provide any sort of compensation I am still more than happy to help! I simply ask that you come to me so that I can conserve my resources as I am not compensated for my time, gas, milage or materials by anyone other than my clients.
  • Q: What forms of payment do you currently accept?
    A: I gratefully accept cash, checks, major credit cards and PayPal at this time.  My PayPal link is: paypal.me/AbbieCPST
  • Q: How should I prepare for my seat check?  
    A: Seat Check Prep meme.jpg

Bulky Costumes Don’t Belong in the Seat!

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Boo!  Sure your kids costumes are adorable but bulky padding or frilly dresses can add a surprising amount of dangerous slack into the harness in the event of a crash.  Keep your little superhero (or princess) safe this Halloween by removing their costumes prior to hopping in the car!  Happy Haunting!

Boo!
Sure your kids costumes are adorable but bulky padding or frilly dresses can add a surprising amount of dangerous slack into the harness in the event of a crash.
Keep your little superhero (or princess) safe this Halloween by removing their costumes prior to hopping in the car!
Happy Haunting!

Age 2 is a Minimum to Keep Kids RF to, Not a Maximum

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Did you know that the recommendation of "rear facing to age 2" is a minimum recommendation, not a maximum? Rear facing offers enormous safety differences and children over the age of 2 continue to benefit from those safety differences. We strongly encourage you to keep your child rear facing until the upper height or weight limit of their seat is met.

Did you know that the recommendation of “rear facing to age 2” is a minimum recommendation, not a maximum? Rear facing offers enormous safety differences and children over the age of 2 continue to benefit from those safety differences. We strongly encourage you to keep your child rear facing until the upper height or weight limit of their seat is met.