When we buy household cleaning products, we tend to focus on how well the product cleans. With that in mind, we buy products that promise to disinfect, scrub, foam and polish. We buy cleaners specifically intended to keep our bathrooms, dishes, and countertops immaculate and free of germs. But some of those products we use to keep us safe from germs are toxic, poisonous, or dangerous to the environment. When you get out the sponges and sprays and start scrubbing, you may actually be exposing yourself to all kinds of dangerous toxins. Household cleaning substances are the second most common reason for pediatric exposure to poison. Scientists now regard household cleaning products as a threat to human health, as well as a source of indoor pollution. The EPA says the indoor air is far more polluted than the outdoor air, primarily because of household cleaners and pesticides. Perhaps it is time to rethink what you are using to clean your house. Let's look at some of the risks associated with many commercial cleaning products.
Risks of using harsh chemicals daily.
The chemical agents in cleaning supplies pose different kinds of health hazards. Some may cause immediate problems, such as respiratory distress, chemical burns, or skin or eye problems. According to environmental groups, some substances impair neurological functions. Others may have the more long-range or chronic effects such as various types of cancer. To complicate matters, most people use multiple cleaning products in each area. You probably have one product for the toilet, one for the shower, the tile, the mirrors and more. Constant exposure to all the chemicals in all these products can be a toxic brew. Here are a few examples:
- Furniture polish may contain nerve-damaging petroleum distillates. Some contain formaldehyde. It is easy to inhale these substances when using aerosol spray polish.
- Many window cleaners contain ammonia, which may cause respiratory irritation. Others contain nerve-damaging butyl cellosolve.
- Drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acidic toilet bowl cleaners are often dangerous because of the corrosive substances they contain, such as chlorine bleach and ammonia. Some toilet bowl cleaners contain sulfates, which sometimes causes asthma attacks. These chemicals can also react with each other or with other chemicals, creating gases that damage the lungs.
- Some detergents and cleaners contain alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which mimic the hormone estrogen. Other chemicals found in cleaning products are known as "hormone disruptors," interfering with the body's natural chemical messages.
- Parabens are used as a preservative. They are also an antifungal agent and antimicrobial. They are absorbed through the skin and have been linked to breast cancer.
- Phthalates are widely used in synthetic fragrances, in everything from laundry detergent to deodorizing products. They are hormone-disrupting chemicals, linked to early puberty in girls and breast cancer.
- Phosphates, common ingredient in detergent, makes its way into the water supply and damages rivers and other bodies of water. Although banned in many states, phosphates are still found in some automatic dishwasher detergents.
Goals in using all-natural cleaners.
- Improve your air quality. Eliminate the harsh chemical odors in your home by replacing them with green cleaning products made with natural essential oils.
- Use fewer antibacterials. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), antibacterial soap is not any better than ordinary soap. In addition, the American Medical Association (AMA) has declared that the use of antibacterial ingredients may lead to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. One substance commonly found in antibacterial soaps, Triclosan, affects the thyroid and hormonal systems.
- Know your products. It is important to know that manufacturers of these products are not required to list their ingredients, although some do so voluntarily (approximately 7 percent of cleaning products list their ingredients.) The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit group which studies public health and environmental issues, set out to discover what was in household cleaning products. They spent 14 months studying labels, company websites and technical information. They found that 53 percent of reviewed cleaning products contained potentially harmful ingredients, including formaldehyde and chloroform, were found in several cleaners. You may not want to go to that extreme, but you can learn more about the ingredients in your products.
- Even if the ingredients are not listed, it helps to read the label, which may give you some idea of the product's toxicity. A product labeled "Danger" or "Poison" are clearly hazardous. "Warning" labels signal a moderately hazardous product and a "Caution" label means it is somewhat toxic. Also look for descriptions such as "harmful vapors" or "may cause burns."
- Don't believe "organic" ingredients in cleaning and other chemical products are any safer than other substances. The word "organic" on food labels means that the food was grown without synthetic pesticides. In chemical terms, however, it refers to carbon-based chemicals, including some volatile organic compounds that release harmful fumes.
- Whenever possible, use products made with plant-based ingredients, rather than petroleum based. Focus on the specifics, such as "no solvents or phosphates," rather than "ecologically-friendly" or "all natural." The latter terms do not have a clear definition and may have nothing to do with the safety of the product. Also, watch out for misleading labels. Aerosol spray cans which indicate they contain no chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), for example, sound very ecologically friendly. Actually, CFCs were banned in 1978.
- Avoid detergents containing phosphates, which may cause algal blooms, and are harmful to aquatic life.
You may wonder why these harmful chemicals are in our cleaning products. In most cases, they were added to improve the performance of the product and thereby increase sales. Most people want to kill germs, disinfect their bathrooms and make their homes clean and safe for their families. So they buy products which they believe are effective, convenient, and contain the latest scientific formula for cleaning. But we must take a step back and decide if these products are safe for our families, our pets and ourselves. Use fewer products and use them less often. When choosing cleaning products, be aware of what you are buying and of any potential harmful effects. Look for products and companies you trust, such as RMR Solution's Organic All-Natural cleaner. Using organic cleaning products in your home is good for your health, the health of your family, and of the planet.