No smart and caring parent would spend a small fortune to end up harming her child. But that’s just what we do every time we enter a supermarket and come out with an armful of products intended to spiff up our homes.
We buy air fresheners, toilet cleaners, drain uncloggers, laundry fluffers, bug killers, countertop degreasers, bacteria-slaying soaps, silver shiners… and much more. In sum, an average of 23 different boxes, cartons, jars and bottles of house cleaning products, each with its distinct mission, crowd our cupboard shelves. Our typical expenditure is $15 a week. Household cleaning products have grown into a major industry, costing consumers $13.5 billion a year.
What’s in these products is a mystery. Manufacturers are not required by law or regulation to tell us the ingredients. Attempts in Congress to require full disclosure labeling are opposed by the companies, which prefer limited and voluntary listings, perhaps on a website.
When you discover the ingredients lurking in these products, you understand why the manufacturers hide them behind the veil of “trade secrets.” Of course, just because many of the ingredients are tongue-twisters that might bring back unpleasant memories from high school chemistry class, that doesn’t mean they are dangerous. But scientific research has proven that these man-made chemicals concocted on a base of petroleum can reduce fertility, trigger cancer, and intensify asthma. The most disturbing news is that a pregnant woman’s exposure may harm her fetus, affecting the child’s brain and behavior as well as his body (though, to be accurate, science now agrees that mind-body are one).
Chemicals In Household Products – A Few Examples
The chemicals in mothballs can cause liver and kidney damage, as well as cancer.
Glycol ethers, one of the chemicals commonly found in various household cleaners, are industrial solvents—used, for example, to clean gunk off machinery and computer chips. If a pregnant woman is exposed, even at low levels, her baby may suffer birth defects or damage to his developing testicles or central nervous system.
Even the commonly-used Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser releases 143 air contaminants. Seven (including chloroform, benzene and formaldehyde) can cause cancer; others are linked to asthma and allergies as well as harm to our reproductive and nervous systems. This discovery comes courtesy of independent lab tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization.
Air fresheners turn out to be among the most toxic products in our homes. The chemical analysis of one of the leading sellers, sporting the scent of a “Hawaiian breeze,” found this aerosol released 89 air contaminants. Its label disclosed only three. Of all the products tested, this “freshener” came in third place for polluting the air with ingredients linked to cancer, allergies, and reproductive harm; and if the exposed woman is pregnant, the ingredients could do damage to the fetal brain and nervous system. The plug-in variety contains “the most highly volatile chemical in the average home.” Even air fresheners labeled “natural” contain harmful ingredients. “Natural” is a term without any standards behind it.
Dryer sheets, another winner of the most-toxic-substance award, coat fabric with a thin film of artificial perfumes whose chemical components are linked to liver damage and cancer.
The anti-bacterial chemical named triclosan, incorporated into household cleaners as well as plastic shoes, toothpaste and underwear disrupts hormone systems, in adults and children. When combined with chlorinated water, triclosan can transmute into the deadly chemical dioxin. (It’s worth noting that triclosan is outlawed in many countries, including China.)
Switching from Chemical Cleaners to Natural Cleaners
We grab these cleaning products off the store shelves, convinced they work. Years of advertising have told us so. With our overworked schedules, we need to make it easy to get that sparkly clean.
The good news is, we don’t need these toxic commercial products. Non-toxic picture of cleaning bottles products are available in natural food stores and online, but it’s also easy to make a few basic products ourselves which work as well, if not better. Every ingredient you need is right there on the drug store or supermarket shelves. It’s actually fun to concoct these cleaning alternatives, and rewarding to see the results. And there’s so much less to worry about when it comes to long-term exposures or if a toddler comes across one of these products.
Next revelation: Contrary to what marketers would have you believe, we don’t need a dedicated product for each separate component of our house, from shower tiles to floors to underwear. Think of the storage space that will be freed up by slimming down from 23 individual cleaners to just 8 basic ingredients, all very safe. Who couldn’t use more storage space? Who can’t think of a good use for the money saved?
Natural Cleaner Ingredients and Solutions (RECIPES)
Basic ingredients to have on hand:
* washing soda * borax * vegetable-based liquid castile soap (found in the laundry aisle) * hydrogen peroxide (drug store) * distilled white vinegar * lemons * olive oil (buy cheap variety) * baking soda (from your grocery store)
Buy a couple of spray bottles at the hardware or drug store (or re-use the ones the commercial products came in).
Here are some household products and the toxic chemicals in them. Natural green-cleaning alternatives are listed in the rightmost column.
Toxic vs. Natural Cleaning Products
|Air freshener, candle||Acetaldehyde, ethylacetate, BHT 1, propylene glycol, 1,3-dichloro-2-propanol, phthalates||Simmer cloves or cinnamon stick or vanilla in water for 5 minutes|
|Air freshener, plug-in||Formaldehyde, methylene chloride, benzene, propane||Ditto, or set out a bowl of dried flower petals|
|All purpose cleaning powder||Formaldehyde, toluene, acetaldehyde, chloroform, benzene, and lots more chemicals||Make a paste of equal parts baking soda or borax and warm water or white vinegar|
|Dryer sheets||Alpha-terpineol, benzyl- and ethyl-acetate, pentane, phthalates, chloroform, and lots more||Dryer ball, reusable; fabric softener alternatives|
|Furniture polish||Nitrobenzene, morpholine||1/4 c olive oil, 1/4 c white vinegar, 2 t lemon juice|
|Glass/window cleaner||Ammonia, butyl cellosolve, d-Limonene, glycol ethers, isobutane, triclosan, monoethanolamene||1/4 cup white vinegar in 1 qt warm water, add a squirt of lemon for scent|
|Laundry detergent||Phthalates, monoethanolamene, alkyl- and nonyl-phenol ethoxylates, aluminum hydroxide||Add 1/2 c borax or 1/2 cup baking soda to phosphate-free liquid. Soak clothes in hydrogen peroxide for 1/2 hour to whiten.|
|Mothballs||Naphthalene, para-dichlorobenzene||Wet clean (uses no perchloroethylene), then store|
|Shower scrubbing bubbles||Glycol ethers, sodium lauryl sulfates||Borax and water, applied with a scrubbing pad|
|Tile and grout cleaner||Glycol ethers, monoethanolamine, sulfuric and hydrochloric acids||Mix one part borax, one part baking soda, one part vinegar to make a paste|
|Toilet bowl cleaner||Fragrance/phthalates, sulfuric acid, lye, ammonia, naphthalene, muriatic acid, lye||Borax; or baking soda and vinegar; or flat cola; let sit for 1 hr|
P.S. My own favorite recipe for my least favorite task, cleaning oven racks: Put them in your bathtub, cover with water plus 1/2 cup dishwasher detergent, soak a few hours or overnight. Amazing.
Resources and Ideas
1. Host a Green Cleaning Party — Buy a green cleaning party kit and hold a house party with your friends. This is lots more fun than ‘tupperware’ parties used to be, and a great deal better for your family and the environment. The kit is made and sold by Women’s Voices for the Earth.
3. See Ratings for Brand-Name Natural Cleaning Products
* The Green Guide
4. Get Information on Ingredients in Other Products in Your Home
* HealthyStuff.org — a searchable database of 900 consumer goods, from cars, pet products to children’s car seats, back-to-school items, and women’s handbags. * Cosmetics Database — an eye-opening database of ingredients in cosmetics and other personal care products * HealthyToys.org — helps consumers make better choices when purchasing toys and other children’s products