Cleaning is a big part of everyday living. It’s an important task because it rids the home of germs, dirt, mold, and mildew to keep a healthy environment. Many people approach cleaning by using common and/or brand name cleaners. When people use these to clean their homes, they do so with good intentions. However, what they often don’t realize is these cleaners are full of toxic chemicals and are anything but “clean” living.
One study found more than 200 chemicals in newborn umbilical cord blood. If these findings are any indicator, it means people are constantly exposed to unhealthy substances. While their living space smells nice and looks shiny, they are inadvertently releasing unhealthy pollutants into their homes. This negates living a truly clean lifestyle.
Dangers of Toxic Cleaners
Flashy ads often make claims to consumers their products help them to live cleaner lives, giving them the expectation these scents, bleaching agents, detergents, polishes, sprays, and specialized cleaners will improve their quality of life. What they don’t tell consumers about is the dangers associated with many of the ingredients they include in their products. Even those pretty scented products are chemically made odors, not naturally sourced. Exposure to the chemicals in cleaners through touch or inhalation can lead to:
- Eye, throat, or respiratory irritations
- Skin inflammation and irritations
- Occasional or chronic headaches
- Allergic reactions
- Chemical burns
- Hormone disruption
- Other chronic and/or long-term health problems
One study even found using household cleaners can be as unhealthy as smoking a full pack of cigarettes a day. Additionally, many products release dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which have been affirmatively linked to many negative health effects, some quite serious.
Common Household Products that Can Cause Health Problems
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, many household products contain ingredients that can harm consumers. These include, but are not limited to aerosol products, air fresheners, rug and upholstery cleaners, wood polish, oven cleaners, dishwashing/dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, chlorine bleach, and dry cleaning chemicals.
While some progress has been made to ensure companies don’t sell dangerous chemical products to consumers without full disclosure, there is more work needing to be done. For instance, the main chemical-safety law in the U.S., the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was originally passed in 1976 and was written with flaws because it didn’t provide the level of protection it could have. The law was recently revised in 2016 but there are still problems with it.
Tips to Minimize Dangerous Chemical Exposure
Companies often aren’t required to list all ingredients in their products because they are allowed to protect their proprietary recipes, in other words, trade secrets. Some manufacturers will voluntarily disclose ingredients while others won’t. In that case, consumers should always look for notations that signal them of any hazardous risks associated with cleaning products. Words to look for include “warning”, “caution”, “danger”, “poison”, “corrosive”, “flammable”, “may cause burns”, or “vapors harmful”.
To minimize household exposure to dangerous chemicals, all consumers should:
- Get familiarized with the different toxic ingredients frequently used in cleaning products.
- Beware of products advertised as “green”, “eco-friendly”, or “natural” because they can still contain ingredients that lead to health problems.
- Always read labels and warnings on all cleaning products. Choose products that eliminate, or at least minimize, VOCs, irritants, fragrances, and flammable ingredients.
- Follow directions precisely on any chemical product used, not doing so can result in sickness or injury.
- During times cleaners with toxins must be used, be sure to open windows and thoroughly ventilate the home to allow any toxins to disperse.
- Always wear gloves when using cleaners that contain toxins.
- Never mix two different cleaners together, the chemicals could produce poisonous gases.
- Choose products that are plant-based as opposed to petroleum-based.
- Avoid purchasing products containing ammonia, chlorine, and phosphates.
It’s also important to know when the word “organic” is used on the packaging of food products, it is specific and needs to meet stringent criteria to be permitted to use that label. However, the same cannot be said for cleaning products. Beware of cleaners that use the “organic” claim on labels and always be sure to verify all ingredients where possible. If ingredients are unable to be identified, chances are the product contains ones that are hazardous to health.
Using Alternate and Truly Natural Cleaners
There are more than 80,000 registered chemicals, but only 10 percent known health and environmental effects. This gives pause to wonder just how many other dangerous effects aren’t yet known, making people sick every day. To avoid the known and unknown hazards associated with toxic chemical cleaners, many consumers have decided to go truly natural.
Generally, using good old-fashioned soap and water is highly effective. However, you can make a variety of cleaners, along with naturally based pleasant scents, using ingredients such as essential oils, baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice, to name a few. For instance, if you mix 1 1/2 cups of vinegar and with 1/2 cup of purified or distilled water, you can create an effective glass or mirror cleaner. If you want a pleasant smell, try adding six to eight drops of any citrus essential oil (lemon, orange, lime, or grapefruit all work great!) to your mix.
Aside from citrus oils, other great essential oils used for cleaning purposes include tea tree (also known as Melaleuca), peppermint, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and thyme.
Cleaning with homemade or truly natural cleaners may take a little more elbow grease than their chemical counterparts, however, the health benefits far outweigh any drawbacks. As a bonus, homemade cleaners are also good for the pocketbook too since most of the ingredients are inexpensive ones people use around the house for other purposes anyway.
While you’ll need to put a little more effort into using household cleaners that are truly natural, you can avoid the sicknesses and injuries associated with toxins. In the end, you can be satisfied you’ll truly be living a clean lifestyle, not just living in the appearance of one.