I grew up in a home where the smell of bleach and disinfectant meant: clean! There was a good variety of cleaning products from glass cleaners, oven cleaners, polishes, softeners, disinfectants, shower cleaners and many more. This of course was normal and when I moved out and started living by my own, I continued using exactly the same selection of products.
Several years ago in my personal journey, questioning many things in my life that were “normal”, I gained special interest in natural living, I started reading articles, books, stories and one of the first things I tacked was personal and cleaning products. At that point in time I was focused mainly on health but I hadn’t even seen the impact on the planet.
My aim with this post is to raise some issues about these cleaning habits and maybe invite some of you to revisit what’s in you cabinets. Next week I’ll focus on some alternatives I use these days to clean my house.
Ingredients and health
Are they really safe?
We live in a soup of chemicals (natural and synthetic) but conventional cleaning products are full of man-made chemicals, not one or two but many of them. I am sure many have been tested and are safe but can all these companies be 100% sure that these products not only isolated but used regularly in combination with other cleaning products pose no risk to our health?
For instance, bleach (chlorine) mixed with other products like ammonia and acids is very harmful for our bodies, but even when we don’t actually mix them there are so many synthetic chemicals in the cleaning products these days. And most people don’t use only one multi-purpose cleaner, they use several on regular basis, one after the other, how could anyone guarantee that the over time exposure of all these products together is safe?
Maybe let’s call Tom Cruise for another round of Mission Impossible!
Take a gamble
Let’s see the example of anti-bacterial agents. According to wikipedia these type of home cleaning products started to be used in the 90s, so for several decades people around the world have been using these products assuming they were fine (otherwise why would they sell it?).
You probably read the news not long ago about anti-bacterial soaps posing a health risk due to ingredients such as triclosan, concerns they could be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs and also not offering any real benefit compared to regular soap and water.
There are still many question marks about these anti-bacterial products and regulators keep reviewing its safety and possible harmful effects, but really sometimes it feels a like a gamble – use it now and we’ll see what the future holds. We hope that all these products are safe and we pray that in the near future they don’t discover the opposite.
Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)
VOC are chemical compounds that easily become gases and vapours released into the air which then we inhale and can damage our health. According to the Australia Estate of the Environment 2016:
“Many common household materials and products, such as paints and cleaning products, give off VOCs. Common VOCs include acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, toluene and xylene.
Different VOCs have different health effects, and range from those that are highly toxic to those with no known health effect. Breathing low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase some people’s risk of health problems”
The following video, shows how the levels of VOC in the air increased drastically after cleaning indoors with some products (including more natural brands) for just half an hour:
So it is amazing how we can buy these products and we don’t even know the effects that some of those chemicals can have in our health. Read more info about VOC’s here.
That “fresh” and “clean” smell might not be as great after all.
Resource: Check this article from FreshHome.com: “The 10 Most Common VOCs: Are They in Your Home?“, you’ll probably be surprise to find out how common these substances are.
Maybe too clean?
Have you watched an TV commercial about cleaning products recently? “Kill 99.99999999999% of germs”, “protect your house”…they tend to use scary words about germs, bacteria, common viruses and they put particular emphasis on kids. The strategy seems to be based on fear, so that if you don’t use these products germs are going to make the whole family sick and of course you don’t want that!
Well I don’t know if you have heard, but actually there are now studies suggesting that environments these days are so clean that kids during their first year don’t manage to build up their immune system against common allergens and they are more prone to asthma and other allergies which are getting quite common. You can read more here.
Resource: If you want to check the safety of your cleaning products, you can check the Environmental Working Group website. They are based on USA, but you can still find many common brands around the world:
Those issues described above only consider our health, but what about the planet’s health?
Almost all of these products come in plastic. And although some of these bottles can be recycled, I personally thing it is not a real solution, the levels of plastic we currently use and dispose is unprecedented.
Let’s say I use bleach, disinfectant, windows cleaners, liquid dishwasher, shower cleaner, toilet cleaner. Those are 6 products, let’s say I replace them every 3 months, those would be 24 plastic bottles in a year. As usual, looking at the big picture, if I multiply that number for millions of people doing exactly the same thing year after year. We can easily see a problem here.
Water and Air Pollution
When we clean, one way or another most of these chemicals are washed down the drains – some just a bit others are directly flushed down toilets in bigger amounts.
Many of these pollutants are removed by waste treatment facilities but in many cases it seems not all of them and some can end up in our waterways, having an impact on aquatic life. According to Green Choices:
“They may pollute streams and rivers and may take a long time to degrade into harmless products. Some may not break down at all but may persist in the environment. These may enter the food chain, being eaten by aquatic creatures and perhaps eventually by us.”
Also I don’t know if you have heard about algal blooms. Nutrients like phosphates and nitrogen present in some laundry and detergents can trigger growth of harmful algal. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, these blooms kills animals, produce dead zones and cause air pollution.
VOC’s also contribute to air pollution problems (like smog) and although cleaning products is not the major source of emissions, every bit counts.
Resources contributing to our emmissions
Last but not least, if you think about it, most of these man-made chemicals come from fossil fuels and many use hidden ingredients like palm oil which are causing so many environmental issues.
If we keep using them on regular basis, this will only increase the demand on these resources, causing more damage to the planet and contributing to climate change.
“We love our planet Earth. We should – it is our home, and there’s no place like home. There can’t ever be a better place than Earth” – Dimitar Sasselov
That’s it for today, stay tuned, next week I’ll explore other healthier alternatives to clean our homes. I hope you have found some useful information. Please share this with family and friends and let me know in the comments below, What products do you use to clean your house? Did you know about all these issues listed above?
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Thanks for reading,