Sometimes it’s difficult deciding how to categorize posts – is the article primarily about “Healthy Families”, is it about “Healthy Homes”, or is it about creating a “Healthy Planet”? This post is certainly no exception: the decision to substitute eco friendly products for ordinary household cleaners is not only good for the home, but it also carries fringe benefits for the health of the family and the health of our planet. Green cleaning, in other words, is a big deal!
Cleaners and Cancer
A recent study warns of a possible link between household cleaners and breast cancer: Environmental Health. This news is alarming in part because the reason we clean is to eliminate bad stuff, not to add bad stuff to our homes! According to the study authors, the worst offenders are air fresheners and mould/mildew cleaners that may contain any or all of the following ingredients:
- Synthetic musks: these chemicals are suspected endocrine disruptors, and are widely used in detergents, fabric softeners and air fresheners.
- 1,4-dichlorobenzene: found in air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners and other household cleaning products, 1,4-dichlorobenzene is linked to lung damage, and is known to cause organ system toxicity.
- Terpenes: commonly used in household cleaners with pine, lemon or orange scents, terpenes interact with ozone in the air to produce toxic substances.
- Benzene: commonly found in cleaning agents, benzene is a known human carcinogen linked to organ system toxicity and increased risk of leukemia and other blood diseases.
- Styrene: this chemical is found in many household cleaning products, and is linked to cancer, birth and developmental defects, organ system toxicity, and infertility.
- Phthalates: these chemicals are commonly found in household cleaners and air fresheners as well as cosmetics and fragrances. Some phthalates are used to soften plastics, and are often found in infant’s and children’s toys. Animal studies have linked phthalates with reproductive and developmental harm, organ damage, immune suppression, endocrine disruption, and cancer. Because phthalates have been linked with adverse health effects in children, the government of Canada recently imposed a ban on the use of six types of phthalates in children’s products.
Here are a few more particularly nasty chemicals that may be lurking inside your cupboard:
- Phenol: this toxic chemical is found in cleaning products such as Lysol, Pine-Sol and Spic-n-Span, and it’s also found in mouthwash. Studies have linked phenols to circulatory system damage, heart damage, respiratory problems, and damage to the liver, kidneys and eyes
- Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs): this ingredient commonly found in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners is banned in Europe and known to be a potent endocrine disrupter. It is also suspected of causing male fish to transform into females in waterways throughout the world.
- Formaldehyde: this suspected carcinogen is found in spray and wick deodorizers.
- Petroleum solvents: found in many floor cleaners, these solvents may damage mucous membranes.
- Butyl cellosolve: found in many all-purpose and window cleaners, may damage your kidneys, bone marrow, liver and nervous system.
- Triclosan: the active ingredient in most antibacterial products, triclosan not only kills bacteria, it has been shown to kill human cells.
Natural Cleaning Products
The Good News: it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to make your own natural cleaning products, and you likely already have at your disposal the most important tools in your green cleaning arsenal:
- Vinegar: this non-toxic liquid can be used to clean almost anything in your home. Mix vinegar with liquid castile soap (available at health food stores), essential oils and water to clean floors, windows, bathrooms and kitchens. For an effective, non-toxic fabric softener, simply add 1 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle.
- Hydrogen Peroxide: this liquid is safer than chlorine bleach for disinfecting and whitening.
- Vodka: not only is vodka a great disinfectant, but it can also be used to remove red wine stains and to kill wasps. To refresh upholstery, put vodka in a spray bottle and lightly spritz pungent fabric.
- Drain Cleaner: baking soda mixed with apple cider vinegar can be used to clean drains and bathtubs.
- Dishwasher Detergent: combine equal parts baking soda and borax, then use 2 tbsp. of the mixture per load. For an effective, non-toxic rinse agent, add 1 tbsp. of vinegar to your rinse dispenser.
- Cleaning Scrub: baking soda mixed with a few drops of lavender oil or tea tree oil (both of which have antibacterial qualities) makes a simple scrub for your bathroom or kitchen.
- All-Purpose Cleaner: 3% hydrogen peroxide and vinegar make a great all-purpose cleanser for kitchen counters, cutting boards and bathrooms. On its own, vinegar is not a disinfectant, but when used with hydrogen peroxide, it kills bacteria more effectively than chlorine or any commercial cleaner. For best results, keep each liquid in a separate spray bottle. Spritz item or area to be disinfected with vinegar, then spritz with hydrogen peroxide, then rinse with water. Tests conducted by Susan Sumner, a food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPI), found that the two sprays when used together kill virtually all salmonella, shigella, and e. coli bacteria on heavily contaminated surfaces: Source: E. Mindell, Dr. Earl Mindell’s amazing apple cider vinegar, 2002 at 84-85. Ordinarily there is no lingering taste of vinegar or hydrogen peroxide; any remaining reside will be non-toxic. This combination works exceptionally well for sanitizing counters and other food preparation surfaces, including wooden cutting boards.
Liquid Laundry Soap
- 1/2 c. Borax
- 1/2 c. Washing Soda*
- 1 c. Soap Flakes (or grated bar soap)
- 2 gallons Water
- 20 drops Essential Oil (optional)
Combine borax, washing soda, and most of the water.
Boil soap flakes in remaining water, then add to first mixture.
Use approx. 1/2 c. per load – works in cold water!
*Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate) is a highly alkaline chemical compound that acts as a solvent and can be used to remove stubborn stains from laundry. Although closely related, baking soda should not be confused with (or substituted for) washing soda.
Powdered Laundry Soap
- 1 c. Soap Flakes (or grated bar soap)
- 1/2 c. Borax
- 1/2 c. Washing Soda
Use 1 tbsp. for light loads, and 2 tbsp. for heavier loads.
1. Oil + Lemon Juice:
- 1 c. Olive Oil
- 1/2 c. Lemon Juice
Combine in spray bottle, spritz furniture, and use cloth to polish. Alternatively…
2. Oil + Vinegar:
- 2 tbsp. Olive Oil
- 1 tbsp. White Vinegar
- 4 c. Warm Water
Combine in spray bottle; rub on furniture with cloth.
When it comes to cleaning, rather than asking: “how much harm is acceptable”, we should focus on preventing harm and making decisions today that we will not regret in 50 years. Invest in some borax, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda, and avoid chemicals like triclosan and 1,4-dichlorobenzene. The surrounding air, soil and water are, unfortunately, already very toxic, so why not minimize the risks that you can actually control inside your home? Do it not just for yourself, but also for your children, your pets, and your guests.