Potting soil, otherwise called miracle soil or potting mix, is a type of substrate for growing plants, vegetables, and herbs in containers.
Many parents like to get their children involved in planting and gardening and often want to know if playing in potting soil is safe.
So, is potting soil safe to play in?
The short answer is probably, yes. Though potting soil can carry harmful fungi and bacteria, the risk of harm is very low. There are safer things your child could play in like child-friendly sand.
Table of Contents
Playing in Potting Soil – and Eating It
For households that have any amount of outdoor space, it’s common to find potting soil.
And, for families, it’s surprisingly common to have children who like to play in it.
Many parents have experienced a situation where they’re gardening or playing in the garden with their little ones when suddenly a handful of potting soil goes into a toddler’s mouth.
If this happens, should you worry?
Obviously, eating potting soil isn’t recommended. However, it is unlikely to cause harm to the child.
If, however, a lot of potting soil has been consumed, you might want to talk to your child’s doctor to make sure no harm will come of it.
What could happen if you eat potting soil?
If there are any adverse effects of eating potting soil, it will most likely be in the form of sickness and diarrhea.
If you happen to notice your child eating potting soil, keep an eye on them and make sure they drink lots of fluids.
If they do have an upset stomach, look after them as you normally would but if symptoms worsen or persist, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice.
It’s surprisingly common for toddlers to put potting soil (or sand and dirt) into their mouths. From babyhood, children learn a lot about the world from putting things into their mouths.
Most of the time, when it tastes unpleasant, they will spit it out straight away.
If the potting soil is fresh and you know there is no contamination from animal feces for example, simply rinse the child’s mouth out.
Heads Up! If you believe the potting soil contains contaminants or could have bacteria or other parasites in it, speak to a medical professional.
Are there any benefits to eating dirt?
The majority of parents, quite rightly, do all they can to prevent their children from playing in and eating dirt.
However, many people believe that there are benefits to playing in potting soil and dirt.
Soil contains microbes, which are believed to strengthen the immune system.
It is believed that being exposed to these regularly means you are less likely to develop asthma or allergies.
This could be because being exposed to dirt helps the immune system become more robust in its response to pathogens.
It’s also believed that children who are exposed to dirt have fewer gastrointestinal problems.
Of Course: This doesn’t mean you should encourage your children to eat potting soil. Rather, there is less to worry about than you might think!
The problems of over-sanitizing
Some people were being overly cautious with sanitizing hands even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since 2020, though, hand sanitizer is used much more frequently and, while it’s been a good thing for the pandemic, when over-used, it can cause problems.
Having sanitized hands and a germ-free life will prevent children from developing their immunity to disease.
After playing in potting soil, you should encourage your child to wash their hands with soap and water but using hand sanitizer is not a requirement.
What are the downsides of playing in potting soil (and eating it)?
Toddlers are curious.
You might be ok for them to play in potting soil but you probably don’t want them eating it.
If they do consume a small amount, you don’t need to worry but there are potential risks if a large amount is consumed.
The primary concern is the chance they could contract stomach infections, lead poisoning, or a foodborne illness.
Potting soil can contain viruses, parasites, and bacteria.
Though most soil is pretty harmless, some soils can contain high levels of toxic substances like mercury or lead.
Also, consuming potting soil in large quantities can cause intestinal blockage or constipation.
Children that crave dirt
Some children love playing in potting soil and never think to put it in their mouths.
Others seem to crave dirt. For the latter, it might not mean that they like the taste, it could actually be a texture issue.
Young children have no idea about bacteria and pathogens; they live very much in the moment and will act spontaneously.
It’s quite natural that they explore everything they can get their hands on – and that includes dirt.
Does eating dirt willfully mean anything?
As mentioned above, children often act spontaneously, and eating potting soil is just something they don’t even consider a thing they shouldn’t do.
Some children are more likely to do this than others. Children are all different – some love getting their hands dirty while others hate anything sticky on their fingers.
Usually, a desire to play in potting soil or eat it is completely normal and is just a phase that the child will eventually grow out of. For some, however, it could signal a nutritional deficiency.
This also happens to women during pregnancy who crave soil or other non-food items!
If you believe your child is trying to consume potting soil for this reason (i.e., if they’re seeking it out regularly), it’s a good idea to get their blood levels checked.
Also, providing a multivitamin daily will help deficiency or not.
How to discourage your child from eating potting soil
There are several things that you can try to discourage children from eating potting soil or dirt:
- Depending on their age, talk to them about why they are eating it and that they shouldn’t do so.
- Redirect them to another activity and provide lots of safe and engaging activities for them.
- Ensure they’re consuming enough nutrients and consider providing a daily multivitamin.
- Monitor your child when playing. If they seem more drawn to eating potting soil than you’d consider normal, speak to their pediatrician.
Is potting soil harmful to babies?
These ingredients aren’t considered harmful, but you should make sure that the potting soil doesn’t have additives like pesticides or other harmful chemicals that could be poisonous to babies.
Final thoughts on playing in potting soil
Potting soil is very unlikely to cause health effects to children who play in it.
Even if a child eats potting soil, they will probably not have any ill effects.
Of course, if a large amount is consumed or you think the potting soil contains harmful additives, you should seek medical advice from a doctor.