Cleaning products are seen as a necessity when keeping a clean house. However the types of cleaners that you use to clean your house could be causing health issues in you and your family. Many cleaning products contain chemicals that are harmful to our health – irritants to your eyes, skin or respiratory system, cancer causing, asthma inducing, or affects the reproductive system – causing infertility, low sperm counts, or menstrual changes.
Unlike foods, manufacturers of cleaning products and cosmetics do not have to list all the ingredients that they use. The manufacturers use words such as ‘Natural’, ‘Non-toxic’, ‘Environmentally-Friendly’ to convey a sense of safety with their products. However the meanings of these words do not hold the same meaning as in the ‘natural health’ world.
I am astounded every time when I look at labels of cleaning products, even the ones that are supposed to be natural. As an exercise, take a look at the back of a cleaning product (for example a dishwashing detergent product) to where a warning section is. Many times the product has a warning or a caution about how the product should not come in contact with skin or should not be ingested. I immediately wonder what other side-effects this product could have, especially when the product is a cleaner for dishes. Imagine the residue left on your dishes and how your foods can mop up the chemical residue which you then ingest.
Not only do we need to think about how the cleaning products can affect us adults but they can affect children. Children are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of cleaners because their organs and systems are not fully developed. Some of the chemicals found in household cleaners can interfere with the development of their delicate neurological, endocrine and immune systems.
There is another concern – we have no idea of the long term health effects from continual exposure to household cleaners. The impact will be revealed in years to come but then it will be too late for us and our families. Many people also use a combination of cleaners and it is unknown as to the effect of combining cleaning products. For instance combining ammonia and chlorine bleach results in the release of poisonous gases.
Let’s look at some specific ingredients and products that you need to be aware of. This list is by no means exhaustive. To cover all the possible ingredients would take up a book. This list is just to get you thinking and looking at your products and their ingredient lists.
Antibacterial Products: eg hand washes, hand lotions, mouthwash, garbage bags and disinfectant cleaners. These products are driven by a scare campaign that there is loads of disease causing bacteria everywhere that can only be destroyed by these products. However what these products are doing is creating ‘Super bugs’ – bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. In reality these products are no more effective than soap, water and paper towels at removing the bacteria from our hands and surfaces. Natural substances like vinegar are excellent at killing bacteria on food surfaces without the toxic residue. The alcohol in hand sanitisers is absorbed through our skin, especially in children. This alcohol has the same effects as drinking alcohol.
Alternative disinfectant that is safe yet effective uses borax. This is a natural disinfectant and deodoriser. Use 2 tablespoons of Borax and mix with ¼ cup vinegar and 2 cups of hot water in a spray bottle. Use this as you would any commercial cleaner that also inhibits mould. If you are particularly worried about coming into contact with pathogenic bacteria then have a solution of 200ml white vinegar with ¼ tsp of lavender in a spritz bottle and spray your hands lightly.
Oven Cleaners: These are the most toxic. You inhale the fumes from the cleaner which is an irritant to your lungs. Then the residue that is left after cleaning intensifies when you turn on the oven and can enter your foods. A better alternative to commercial oven cleaners is to sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over your oven. Then spray with water using a spray bottle to dampen it down. Allow this to sit for a couple of hours or overnight and then wipe out the debris with a warm damp cloth.
Laundry Products: Contain a myriad of chemicals that include: phosphorus, ammonia, naphthalene, phenols, sodium nitioltriacetate and many more. The residue that is left on the clothes or bed linen can cause rashes, allergies, and sinus problems. If you use laundry products then add an extra rinse cycle to your washing machine cycle to reduce the residue. Alternatively add 2 tbsp of bicarbonate soda to your final rinse to help remove the residue.
A natural fabric softener can be made using 1tbsp of white vinegar, 1 tbsp bicarbonate soda, and 2 tbsp of water. This can be added to your final rinse cycle of your wash. You can make larger batches and store in a labelled container for use when needed. I find it just as easy to make it up each time. Instead of the many disinfectant products that you add to your wash try adding a couple of drops of tea tree oil. This will act as a disinfectant and leave your clothes smelling fresh.
Air fresheners: and aerosol products such as carpet deodorisers are derived from petrochemicals and can contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and artificial fragrances. These compounds can cause headaches, diarrhoea, earaches, vomiting, nose and throat irritation, dizziness and asthma.
Phthalates: This compound is found in air fresheners, fragranced detergents and surfactants, as well as many body lotions, nail polishes, shampoos, hair mousse and fragrances. This compound has been linked to asthma, birth defects and reproductive changes in children (such as sperm damage and early puberty). This compound mimics oestrogen and so can cause infertility.
Make your own air freshener by mixing essential oils eg eucalyptus, lemon and thyme with white vinegar in a 250ml spritz bottle and spray using a fine mist nozzle.
Amine containing ingredients: such as Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) and Monoethaolamine (MEA) are some chemicals that are sometimes found in your skin and body products (eg. Shampoo, Conditioner, body lotion, soaps and hair care products) as well as cleaning products. This group includes any chemicals that ends in ‘–amine’. This family of compounds are irritants to the skin, eyes and lungs. They can also produce cancer causing compounds, called nitrosamines, when they combine with other chemicals in the same product.
Ammonia: burns the skin when it comes into contact and is an irritant to the respiratory system. This is one chemical to be aware of when it is combined with chlorine bleach (aka sodium hypochlorite), as it releases a poisonous gas. You will find ammonia in bathroom, tile and glass cleaning products.
Nonylphenol: (NPE’s) disrupt our hormonal system and can cause menstrual irregularities, and infertility. They are found is some detergents, stain removers, citrus cleaners and disinfectants).
This is just a short list of possible contaminants in your household cleaning products. I recommend that everyone should read the labels of their cleaning products and become aware of the chemicals used in the manufacture of these products. Remember that manufacturers do not have to list all the ingredients on their label. However you can go to their website for a list of the ingredients. My recommendation is to use products that list all the ingredients on their products as they have nothing to hide. The products that I use (apart from bicarbonate soda, vinegar, borax and essential oils) are Seventh Generation and Ecover.