The dangers of chemical cleaning products:
- First off, contrary to popular opinion, extremely dangerous products are allowed on the market. The government doesn't regulate the ingredients companies are using in household products- these companies are not required to tell anyone exactly what is being used in their products. This goes for personal care products as well, but for today I'll focus on home care.
- The "secret formulas" of most conventional products, which as I mentioned before companies are not required to divulge, often contain respiratory irritants, carcinogens, hormone disruptors and neurotoxins associated with both short and long term effects. At best they are known to cause chronic wheezing and asthma in children. The rate of childhood asthma has gone up 200 percent since 1980.
- When harmful chemicals are washed down the drain, rivers and lakes are polluted by them- harming fish and wildlife. The negative effects are not limited to the homes where these products are being used.
- 10 percent of all calls to poison control involve toxic exposure to household cleaners, and two-thirds of those concern children. We lock the bottles away so hopefully our kids won't get to them, and yet we wipe the same chemicals all over our homes our children live in.
- Ammonia, commonly used in bathroom and kitchen cleaners, is a volatile organic compound (VOC), which becomes a vapor, enters our airways, and can cause respiratory problems or worse.
- Chlorine (think bleach) is the number one household chemical involved in poisoning. On its own it is bad enough, but when mixed with many other substances the chemical reaction can form even more dangerous poisons.
- Phosphates- in many states these water softeners have been banned from laundry detergents for their damaging effects on water systems and natural ecosystems, , but they are still found in some dishwasher and cleaning formulas.
- Lye- used in drain and oven cleaners, detergent, pool cleaners, metal polishers and soap, irritates skin and eyes and the fumes corrodes respiratory passages.
- Synthetic fragrances, used to mask chemical odors in cleaners, and also used in "air fresheners" and nearly anything scented that isn't natural, can contain up to hundreds of chems, are very common triggers for allergic reaction and respiratory distress.
- I mentioned VOCs in regards to ammonia, but the compounds are also found in plastic and polyurethane, paints, varnishes and cleaning products. If you smell something (whether it be a 'pleasant' "pine fresh" scent or a bad chemical smell, it is likely a VOC. These compounds have been linked to neurological and organ damage, cancer, and asthma.
While this information can be found in countless places and I have read extensively on the subject in the past, I organized this list while reading Healthy Child, Healthy World by Christopher Gavigan, published by the national non-profit by the same name. www.healthychild.org
So obviously typical cleaning products are worse than awful, but we are then faced with the big question of what to use instead. Our culture is full of brand loyalty- some people will only clean with Lysol or bleach everything because they're convinced that it's the only way to kill germs. In fact, over-sanitizing can lead to more problems than ever, weakening our bodies' defenses and creating "super-germs" that are even more harmful and more difficult to get rid of- this is the same effect of overuse of antibiotics and anti-bacterial products. Commercials are meant to sell you a product, not to give you real information about health ar science. We need to first let go of the idea that chemicals are needed to clean our home environments- in fact, let go of the mindset that putting chemicals on a surface actually cleans it at all. A little bit of grime is much less dangerous than most of the poisons.
I understand though, we want our homes to be clean. Luckily there is an abundance of readily-available alternatives these days, and more all the time as people become aware of the toxicity of common products for our families and the earth. Brands such as Seventh Generation, Ecover, Biokleen, Method and Shaklee are creating some wonderful toxin-free products that truly work. But we can really take a lesson from our grandmothers here- vinegar, baking soda, lemons, hydrogen peroxide and castile soap make wonderful (and wonderfully inexpensive!) cleaners for most areas in the home, and they are of course totally harmless to us, our kids, pets and the planet. I personally use a combination of branded natural products and home-made ones: Seventh Generation for the dishwasher and toilet, Shaklee dish liquid and all-purpose cleaner, Dr. Bronner's liquid castile on the floors, baking soda and vinegar for tub and sinks, peroxide or lemon in place of bleach, vinegar to make metal fixtures shiny. Shaklee or Allen's for laundry, and vinegar can be used as a natural softener (doesn't make the clothes smell I promise!). Baking soda can remove odor from nearly anything (sprinkle on carpet before vacuuming, and I plan on using it in the diaper pail once our little one is here).
For those who love fragrance- I am definitely one of them, and used to love buying scented anything- essential oils are your best friend. I'm kind of a lavender addict lately. I have had the same tiny (0.5 oz) bottle of lavender essential oil for well over a year because it is so potent. You can add oils to home-made cleaners, burn them in a diffuser, add them to water in a spray bottle to mist onto linens and into the air... some, like tea tree and eucalyptus, even have powerful antibacterial properties and can aid in cleaning (add tea tree to floor cleaning water). What's more, the same oils have healing and therapeutic properties. Lavender is calming and relaxing and good for burns and sunburn, tea tree is an antiseptic and great for first aid, acne, bug bites and many other things, sandalwood is good for sore throats, frankincense for infection. I am gradually building a collection of essential of oils to use in our home, for both cleaning and health.
I began using natural cleaning products before I even knew exactly how harmful the conventional kind are. Pregnancy has brought many things like this to my awareness because I want to much to create a safe and healthy home for my son (which starts with what he is exposed to before birth as well). I have now phased out every chemical cleaner from my home, and I am confident that it is a much healthier place now than it was before. Whether you have young children or not, I encourage you to be aware of how each and every item you buy and use had direct impact on your health and that of the environment. Be a conscious consumer.