By Laura Moore
Shortly after posting this entry, one of my readers sent me the email addresses of eight high-level executives at Newell Rubbermaid (Graco's parent company).
I contacted them about my concerns and within minutes of sending the email, I got a response from the Chief Marketing & Insights Officer who said he wanted to rectify the situation "to my satisfaction as quickly as possible." From there, I received several more emails and phone calls over the next day and a half, and since the straps were not available to purchase, they offered to send me a brand new car seat.
Even more important than their willingness to send me a new seat is the fact that they passed my concerns on to their marketing team who is going to revisit the way they communicate the risk of washing the straps in the manual. They've also asked me to send my car seat back to them, so they can put it through further testing.
I am beyond thrilled with the response from Newell Rubbermaid executives, and I am hopeful my words have and will continue to inspire change, both from a communication stand point and from a user-awareness stand point. Thank you for reading.
We buy carseats to keep our kids safe.
Over the days and months before we give birth, many of us devote hours to sifting through reviews, asking our friends for recommendations, pouring over specs, attempting to unearth those telling little details that will undoubtedly reveal which car seat we should buy for our little ones.
And then, once we choose--once we buy our perfect seat--we breathe a sigh of relief. We learn to ignore the cries as we gently bend our little one's arms to fit beneath the straps. We develop our own sweet-soothing phrases to calm our child as we adjust the harness, untwist the turns, and yank the strings as tight as we can before shutting the door and positioning ourselves behind the wheel.
We do our best to make an unsafe world as safe as it can possibly be, and so when we learn that the seat we purchased is actually unsafe, panic, anger and frustration comes flooding right in.
At least it did for me.
See, despite reading through my manual for installation instructions and adjustment instructions, I failed to notice a cleaning bullet typed on the second to last page. I failed to notice it, because when my son was covered in spit up or vomit or other bodily fluids, I did not think to pull out my manual and find out how Graco suggested I might clean it.
Bleary-eyed and absorbed in the medical implications of excessive spit up, I scrubbed the straps with a burp cloth and then a baby wipe. Once I got our son down for a nap, I unthreaded them and tossed them into the dishwasher.
I have no idea how many times I did this before I learned it was wrong, and so I fear how unsafe those straps are by now. I cringe just thinking about the ways I put our son in harm's way each time I got behind the wheel. I am nauseated by my over-sight, wondering why--despite all of the advice I heard from countless people--the warning to avoid water was not included on any list.
But it wasn't.
I learned of this danger by accident. In my search for convertible car seat reviews, I incidentally came across a comment about cleaning and saw the warning:
DO NOT IMMERSE YOUR STRAPS in water.
The directive appeared over and over, site after site. In fact, I did not see a single online writer, group or organization that questioned its validity or dismissed it as just a legal line printed to prevent lawsuits. Everywhere I looked, I read the same warning: soaking the straps causes the fibers to break down, and once they break down, they do not have the strength to hold a child in place during an accident. Some sites even suggested that soap and other abrasives actually remove fire retardant materials as well.
Panicked, I promptly visited the Gracobaby website. I entered the model number and year into the appropriate boxes and I scrolled through the replacement part section. Unfortunately though, no matter how many times I scrolled, the straps were not listed as an option.
Convinced I was missing something, I called Graco to ask for help. The woman who answered advised me to purchase the chest harness because that would come with the straps. I questioned her because it didn't list the straps anywhere, but she assured me this was the way to go, and so I filled out the details and awaited the delivery.
When the package arrived, all I got was a clip, and I could feel heat filling my face. Frustrated, I dialed Graco again.
"I called last week and the woman I spoke to assured me that the straps would come, but all I got was a clip," I told the man who answered the phone. "I don't need a clip; I need the straps."
"But it looks like we don't sell straps for that model," he said matter-of-factly, as if he were informing me that a pizza place ran out of anchovies or a shoe store ran out of pink shoelaces.
"But my car seat is unsafe," I reiterated. "Yes, I made an error. Yes, I soaked the straps in water, but I didn't see the tiny warning, printed on page 45 of your manual until someone tipped me off and inspired me to look.
"Are you telling me there is nothing I can do to fix my mistake? Babies make messes, that's what they do. I know I am not the only person who has washed the straps. How can you not sell replacements? This car seat cost over $200 and it doesn't expire for years. There has to be another option," I told him with a shaky voice now on the verge of tears. "We can put our son in a convertible car seat right now, but I don't want to buy a new seat if we have another baby. This is absurd."
"I'm sorry," he said flatly, "but we don't sell them. There is nothing I can do."
I asked to speak to a manager and he told me that he'd be happy to fill out a form so a supervisor could call within 24 hours; however, he was quick to tell me that the manager wouldn't be able to do anything.
"We don't sell the straps," he repeated once more, as if saying it again would somehow make it okay.
But it wasn't okay. Nothing about it was okay.
Babies throw up....some of them, like mine, throw up a lot. They make messes. Straps get dirty. No one wants to leave their child soaking in vomit, so tired parents--who do not have time to consult a manual for every little seemingly intuitive thing--follow their instincts and wipe up messes. And then, when they finally get a few minutes of down time, they unthread the straps and make an effort to disinfect the space. They soak away germs. They wash away the smell. They prepare a nice, clean area for their child to sit.
But in so doing, they unknowingly make the car seat unsafe.
They unknowingly put their child at a greater risk.
They unknowing misplace their trust in a product that isn't strong enough to fulfill its purpose.
They unknowingly do all of this, because the warning not to is buried in the back of a manual.
If improper cleaning will render a product unsafe--and ultimately unusable--this is something manufacturers should tell people on page one. Slipping it into the back is--in my opinion--irresponsible at best, and unethical at worst. And, to provide no options for parents to remedy a perfectly understandable--and probably fairly common--mistake is, in every way, inexcusable.
Graco prides itself on safety, on being the brand parents can trust. We have a Graco Pack'n'Play, bassinet, crib, stroller and countless other goods. But if they do not find a way to make this right, I will never buy anything from Graco again and I will do my best to ensure every person I meet knows what kind of company they really are. I am not asking for a tiny, insignificant piece to an outdated toy. I am not even asking for anything for free. I am asking Graco to sell a part that will keep my child safe in one of the most important products they offer.
But today, I was told this isn't possible.
Today, I was told there was nothing they could do.
And today, I don't accept the answer.
Graco can fix this problem if they want to, and while I await their solution, I plan to inform the public of my experience. I plan to spread the message about car seat cleaning safety, and I plan to inform parents about the risk they take in purchasing Graco products. Hopefully my words will help you avoid a very costly mistake in every sense of the word.
To learn more about cleaning car seats, check out the two blogs that helped me. One from Car Seats for the Littles and one from Mama Bree.