Choosing environmentally friendly cleaning products — and removing toxic ones — goes a long way towards ensuring a home with fresh, clean air. Clean air renews and rejuvenates; it doesn’t pollute our lives or the environment. Living in a less toxic home, removed from neurotoxic chemicals, improves sleep and concentration, makes babies less fussy, and gives a sense of well-being. Your household’s toxic burden on the environment will be significantly reduced by following these steps, and this too can bring peace of mind.
Commercial, chemically based cleaning products can be costly, can be un-healthy for you and your family and are environmental pollutants both from manufacturing and disposal. Small amounts of the poisons drift from, and leak out of bottles and spray bottles, which then waft around the kitchen. Household poisonings are one of the highest threats to the health of children.
There are a many non-toxic home cleaning products available that are healthier and environmentally responsible, however because manufacturers are not required to list all of their ingredients, unless they are active disinfectants or known to be potentially hazardous, it can be a challenge to find the least-toxic formulations.
In this post you will find out how to spot the bad ingredients in your household products, what to look for and why you want to avoid some of these chemicals.
Go Green recommendations
Carefully read and understand the label warnings on cleaning products.
All household cleaners that contain known hazardous chemicals must carry a warning label that spells out potential risks, along with precautionary steps and first-aid instructions.
Here are key words on labels and what they represent.
1. “Danger” refers to products that are corrosive, extremely flammable, highly toxic, or poisonous. Commercial toilet-bowl, oven, and drain cleaners often bear this label.
2. “Caution” or “Warning” are catchall terms for many other hazards, so scan for specifics, such as “Vapor harmful,” “Causes burns,” or “May be fatal or cause blindness if swallowed.”
3. “Irritants” refer to substances that cause injury or inflammation on contact.
4. “Corrosives” refer to chemicals that destroy tissue.
5. “Sensitizers” are ingredients that can cause allergic reactions and chronic adverse health effects that become evident only after continuing exposures.
6. “Chronic Health Hazards” may include effects ranging from sterility and birth defects to cancer.
Not Everything you read is true – be aware of false and mis-leading claims
In many cases, manufacturers can make claims that are neither independently verified nor regulated. A proposed FTC green marketing guide aimed at putting an end to Green Washing, if approved, will require companies to disclose evidence to back up their claims. Among the most common claims found on cleaning products are the following:
- Non-toxic. This implies that the product will cause no harm to the consumer or environment. However, there is currently no standard definition for the term “non-toxic“, and unless otherwise specified, there is no organization independently verifying the claim.
- Natural. Though widely found on commercial cleaning products, the term “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean much. There’s no standard definition for this claim in industry, so manufacturers can use it as they please. What’s more, just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s less toxic, or non-irritating. Even cleaners that are safe enough to eat, like lemon juice, can be irritating to the eyes or skin.
- Environmentally friendly. While this label implies that the product or packaging has some kind of environmental benefit or that it causes no harm to the environment, there is currently no standard definition for term “Environmentally friendly“. Unless otherwise specified, there is also no organization independently verifying this claim.
- Biodegradable. This term is somewhat meaningful, but it can be misleading. “Biodegradable“, which implies that a product or its packaging will break down in nature in a reasonably short period of time, has been only loosely defined by the federal government.
To learn more about other common environmental and health claims found on household cleaning products, visit Consumer Reports Greener Choices Eco-labels section.
To further minimize the risk of health and environmental risks – avoid the ingredients listed below.
- Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). When they’re released into the environment, these chemicals can break down into toxic substances that can act as hormone disrupters, potentially threatening the reproductive capacity of fish, birds, and mammals. Found in many cleaning products, especially detergents, stain removers, citrus cleaners, and disinfectants.
- Antibacterials. Some antibacterial ingredients may cause skin and eye irritation, and certain types, such as triclosan, now found widely in the environment, may cause environmental harm by contributing to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Many experts say, it’s not the type of cleaner that matters in combating germs, but the frequency and thoroughness of cleaning; plain soap and hot water are generally enough to do the job. Found in a variety of household cleaners
- Ammonia. Poisonous when swallowed, extremely irritating to respiratory passages when inhaled; can burn skin on contact. (Note: Never mix ammonia-containing products with chlorine bleach. That produces a poisonous gas.) Found in floor, bathroom, tile, and glass cleaners.
- Butyl cellosolve (also known as butyl glycol, ethylene glycol, monobutyl). Poisonous when swallowed and a lung tissue irritant. Found in glass cleaners and all-purpose cleaners.
- Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite). Extremely irritating to the lungs and eyes. (Note: Never mix chlorine bleach products with ammonia. That produces a poisonous gas.) Sold by itself and found in a variety of household cleaners.
- d-limonene. Can irritate the skin. Found in air fresheners.
- Diethanolamine (DEA) & triethanolamine (TEA). These ingredients can produce carcinogenic compounds, which can penetrate the skin when combined with nitrosomes, an often-undisclosed preservative or contaminant. Found in sudsing products, including detergents and cleaners.
- Disinfectants. This is a catchall term for a variety of active ingredients, including chlorine bleach, alcohol, quaternary compounds, and pine oil and ethyl alcohol. Found in a variety of household cleaners
- Fragrances. May cause water eyes and respiratory tract irriation. Found in a variety of cleaners and air fresheners.
- Hydrochloric acid. Can severely burn skin, irritate eyes and respiratory tract. Found in toilet bowl cleaners.
- Naptha. Can cause headaches, nausea, and central-nervous-system symptoms with overexposure. Found in furniture and floor polish and glass cleaners.
- Phosphates. Can reach waterways and contribute to the overgrowth of algae and aquatic weeds, which can kill off fish populations and other aquatic life. Found in automatic dishwasher detergents and some laundry detergents.
- Sodium hydroxide (lye). Corrosive and extremely irritating to eyes, nose, and throat and can burn those tissues on contact. Found in drain, metal, and oven cleaners
If you’re concerned about specific ingredients in a product, call the company.The manufacturer’s name and address must be listed on all cleaning products so that consumers can contact them with questions, comments, or problems. While manufacturers are not required to disclose all of their ingredients, unless they’re active disinfectants or known to be potentially hazardous, you can try to request a material safety data sheet (MSDS), which contains information on the more-toxic ingredients or formulations used. You can search for safety information on brand-specific products and their ingredients by visiting the National Library of Medicine’s Household Products Database.
Play it safe.
Whether you’re using commercial or homemade cleaners, it’s important to follow safety precautions. Avoid splashing household cleaners on your skin or in your face and check labels to see if respiratory masks, rubber gloves, goggles, or other protective measures are recommended.
Remember these tips:
Homemade cleaners often cost less. Mixing your own cleaners at home will almost always save you money, since you won’t be paying for the advertising, marketing, and other costs that go into a commercial cleaning product’s price.
Using fewer cleaners can save money. Whether you buy or make them yourself, try to find one or two cleaners that will be used to clean multiple surfaces. Save “Green, save space and cut down on packaging waste.
Buying larger sizes tends to be cheaper in the long run. Do the math, larger sizes are usually, but not always, less expensive, ounce for ounce. Choosing large sizes can also mean buying less often, helping to reduce packaging waste.
If you can prevent stains from setting in or avoid stains all together, you’ll reduce the need for tough specialty cleaners, which are more often than not, expensive, more toxic, and harmful to surfaces.
some simple ways to avoid the use of some of these products -
- prevent oven stains – put a layer of aluminum foil in the bottom of the oven and replace it periodically.
- prevent drain clogs – put fitted screens over drains and pour kitchen grease into empty containers that can be disposed of in the trash.
- prevent bathroom mildew - wipe down the shower curtain and walls after showering.
- prevent use of carpet cleaners - take off shoes at the door.
Hazardous materials shouldn’t be poured down the drain or thrown away in the trash as they can cause serious pollution problems in the waste stream. Call your local recycling center, town or city hall. Most communities have at least one Household Hazardous Waste Pickup Day a year. You can also visit Earth911.com and put your zip code into the search to find drop off locations in your area.
Next week I will give you a list of products which can be used alone or in combination to create all of your household cleaners, a list of Green Cleaners available to purchase and more tips on a cleaner, healthier more envir0nmentally conscious “Green Home”.
I will follow that with weekly DIY recipes for an abundance of different Go Green household cleaners that you can make at home.
Until then “Think Green, Live Green and Go Green America”
If you have a company that produces or sells Green Cleaning products, please contact me to be included in upcoming posts
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Category: Go Green Home
About the Author (Author Profile)
Creator/Host of Go Green America TV
Jeff (Jf) Davis aka The Go Green Guy is from Maine
Moved to LA to follow his passion as an actor
these days he is still acting, lives in LA with his wife and two boys
an writes about Green Living for his website Go Green America TV
that will soon be a TV show!!