Greener Cleaning: the “whys” and the “how-tos”

I have been using “green” household cleaning products for a couple of years now. This was a gradual process of replacing previously used products as and when they ran out and in the meantime searching for reasonably priced products that were kinder to the environment but also to my pocket!

To be honest I’ve only tried a few brands including Ecover, Ecozone, Bio-D and various supermarket-own “eco” brands but have settled on Ecover for pretty much everything household related for the simple fact that it is affordable and easily accessible to me in local shops (supermarkets and health food shops) and online (I use, in the UK, Natural Collection and Amazon, both of which often have great deals on bulk buys); so any brand you decide to use will obviously depend on similar factors which will be personal to you.

When I decided to change to using eco-friendly products I didn’t spend hours researching facts and figures, I simply made a conscious decision that it would be better for us as a family to use non-toxic cleaning products which would be both kinder to us and to the environment. As I mentioned in my About Me section, since having children I definitely have been giving more thought to wanting to protect my children, to look after them, their skin, their bodies as well as possible, not polluting them with products laden with toxic chemicals when kinder alternatives exist and also wanting to look after the environment that my children would be living in long after I am gone.

In an article I came across by Diana Bocco, it was said that on a basic level green/eco-friendly products create healthier surroundings as they don’t contain the harsh chemicals that regular cleaning products do. Users thus have less chance of developing allergies, skin rashes or burns, respiratory problems and gastrointestinal ailments. Green products are less likely to be poisonous or cause lasting damage, so they’re safer to keep around children and pets. A study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that more than 150 of the ingredients found in household products can cause a number of health problems, from allergies to cancer to psychological abnormalities.

According to EnviroMaid, more than 32 million pounds of cleaning products are discarded down the drain every day. The toxic chemicals present in household cleaning products can end up in lakes or streams and poison fish and wildlife. They also can accumulate in algae and other marine life, which can be deadly. As plant life dies, the amount of oxygen in the water decreases, affecting other species.

Some facts on the toxicity of everyday household products

1. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution may be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors and your choice of cleaning products has a part to play in this.

2. A 15 year study in Oregon, comparing women who didn’t work outside the home with women who did, found a 54% higher death rate from cancer in the women who stayed at home. The study suggested that chronic exposure to cleaning products played a role. (The Seventh Generation Guide to a Toxin Free Home)

3. Approximately 85,000 chemicals are in use today. According to the Breast Cancer Fund, complete toxicological screening data is available for only 7% of these chemicals, and more than 90% have never been tested for their effects on human health. (Breast Cancer Fund)

4. Household cleaning products rank among the most toxic everyday substances to which people are exposed and most chemical brands are not safe. Some especially toxic household cleaners include ammonia, chlorine bleach, aerosol propellants, detergents, petroleum distillates and toluene. Many of these substances not only harm the skin; they also give off toxic fumes that affect the person using the product and everyone else. Symptoms from ‘the flu’ to headaches have been associated with products we use to clean our furniture, bathrooms and clothes, as well as air fresheners to keep our bathrooms smelling pleasant (Raymond Francis, M.Sc., Never Be Sick Again).

There is A LOT of information available on the harmful effects of conventional cleaning products, far too much for me to list here, so the information above is just an introduction.

Some tips on making your home safer for your family

1) Open the windows in your house whenever possible (even at times during the winter) to encourage the healthy circulation of fresh air.

2) Have house-plants in your home to help clean the air.

3) Use naturally-based non-toxic cleaners to avoid polluting your home with nasty toxic chemicals.

4) If you DO buy conventional cleaners at least do a little research and be mindful of what you are buying. Read the labels on the products you buy and try to avoid chemicals such as:

Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) – commonly found in laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, and stain removers, these break down into hormone-disrupting chemicals.

Ammonia – often contained in all-purpose cleaners, this is a strong irritant that has been linked to liver and kidney damage.

Butyl cellosolve – found in glass cleaners, floor cleaners, and oven cleaners, this can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and liver and be absorbed by the skin from the air.

Chlorine bleach – sold by itself and as an ingredient in many household cleaners, chlorine bleach is irritating to the lungs and eyes and responsible for numerous poisoning incidents every year. Once in a wastewater treatment system, it reacts with other chemicals, potentially forming even more-harmful substances.

Monoethanolamine (MEA) – A surfactant found in detergents, all-purpose cleaners, and floor cleaners, MEA may induce asthma attacks.

Fragrance – skip that “mountain fresh” scent created by synthetic fragrances. Many air fresheners contain hormone-disrupting phthalates.

Phosphates – largely phased out of most laundry detergents, phosphates are still found in dishwashing detergents. The nutrients they add to our water systems can result in increased growth of algae and plants, as well as an increase in the bacteria that feed on the algae and plants when they die. These bacteria rob the water of its dissolved oxygen, killing fish and other aquatic organisms.

Sodium lauryl sulfate – present in foaming cleaners, at certain concentrations this is considered to be an eye and skin irritant.

This list is by no means exhaustive and I can’t claim to personally know all about these chemicals and their negative side-effects (all the information contained here has been researched from a variety of sources on the internet), but from my perspective, instead of spending all that time reading the labels of every product you buy, only to discover that most of them contain either one or several of the toxic chemicals listed above (or others) and then constantly having to worry about the exposure of your family and pets to these potentially harmful products, I find it easier just to choose “green” and let someone else do the hard work of keeping the chemicals at bay for me!

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6 thoughts on “Greener Cleaning: the “whys” and the “how-tos”

  1. I try to keep my cleaning as natural as possible. Plain soda (sold in the supermarkets in green packets by Dri-pak) is good for grease, also put it in with the washing to soften water and cut down on detergent. There is a range called aqualox which Lakeland sold for a while and I really like. You can still get stuff direct from their website http://www.aqualox.com/. Lakeland also do a really good natural kettle descaler. For most cleaning though I just use a spray bottle with a bit of washing up liquid mixed with water and one of my range of microfibre cloths.

    • That’s wonderful Sue, thanks so much for your comment. Exploring “home-made” options is my next plan :-) I’ve been doing a little research and saving up my empty Ecover spray bottles with the intention of filling them with home-made cleaners. I have a book on about a million uses for bicarbonate of soda and vinegar and I also know lemons are good for lots of things too as well as many other products we have in our cupboards. I will check out the website- thanks for the tips!!

  2. Pingback: The one place where you can exercise some control over your environment is inside your home or apartment. « Family Survival Protocol

  3. Pingback: Small Changes, Big Difference for Organic September | Greener mums

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