7 Toxic Cleaning Products to Avoid During Your Spring Cleaning Routine
Ah, Springtime. Time to open the windows, let the fresh air in, and reach for our cleansers to wipe away the winter grime. Every year March sets off an automatic trigger to rid your home of the dirt and dust that has clung to your curtains, floor and in every other nook and cranny since you hunkered down late last fall. In most households it’s a time for an annual ritual full of cleansing traditions.
Have you ever ask yourself why this ritual exists? Aside from the religious notions surrounding the act (many cultures require a thorough house cleaning in preparation for significant religious events), there are some very practical reasons as to why spring cleaning in a hot topic in March. According to Wikipedia, the “spring cleaning” custom in North America was created during the 19th century, prior to the invention of the vacuum cleaner. Back in the day, March was often the best time for dusting because it was warm enough to open the windows and windy enough for the dust to just blow away on its own. Somehow I don’t see my mother approving of this age ol’ cleaning technique. While today we have different techniques for a complete cleaning overhaul, the reasons are still the same. Get rid of the winter grime and freshen up for a new spring season.
More than ever before, Americans are aware about the potential harm cleaning products can cause to our health and the environment. Yet, some of us still don’t realize the full extent of the hazards and the harm that can be done. And, what’s worse, others ignore what is known for cost and convenience. To further cloud the issues, re-branding and re-labeling campaigns by companies in question makes us believe that packaging and formulas have been changed for the better. While some may be better, others are just different. Regardless of what your current position may be, here is a list of toxic cleaning agents you should avoid during your spring cleaning routine.
7 Cleaning Agents that Can Cause More Harm Than Good
Ammonia is one of the most commonly produced industrial chemicals in the United States. You may find up to 5 or 10% present in your household cleaners. When mixed with bleach, ammonia can release toxic chlorine gas which can be deadly. Ammonia is so toxic the NYS Department of Health issued a Fact Sheet on Ammonia under the Emergency Preparedness and Response due to it’s heavy use in chemical terrorism. Need I say more? Our suggestion, avoid it completely.
Ah bleach, the choice of so many Americans as the go-to-tool for cleaning. Especially for older generations. I can’t remember any spring cleaning moments with my mother where bleach wasn’t center stage. But that was years ago and today people are savvier to the toxicity of the 100-year-old cleaning agent. Right?
Recently, in an initiative to regain lost market share, Clorox launched a “Bleach it Away Campaign” geared directly towards younger audiences to help increase sales. Their PR company, Ketchum launched a massive ad campaign targeting young moms who need to clean up the poop, pee and puke on a daily basis. During the 13-week program Clorox saw a significant sales increase among new users including Gen X/Y users.
Does this mean that Clorox is making a comeback? We hope not. Clorox bleach is made from Chlorine. Which at high concentrations is extremely dangerous and poisonous for all living organisms. It’s so dangerous, Wikipedia tells us it was first gaseous chemical warfare agent used in World War 1.
No one is debating the cleaning power of bleach. The debate always has been and always will be, is it safe. The a href=”http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/126/3/509″>American Academy of Pediatrics reported that an estimated 267,000 children under the age of five years of age were treated in US emergency departments for household cleaning product-related injuries between 1990-2006 (the latest data available). The product most-commonly associated with injury was bleach (37.1%). That equates to just over 6,000 cases a year.
There are better ways to get the job done. Mixing combinations of natural products like baking soda, Borax, soap powder, vinegar, lemon and hot water work just as well without coating your home in toxins to clean it.
3. Mold and Mildew Cleaners
The last thing you want is an issue with mold. If not properly treated, mold can cause some especially hazardous health risks such as respiratory issues and allergic reactions. Mold is a type of fungus that grows in moist, dark indoor and outdoor areas. While it may be impossible to keep mold spores out of your home completely, regular cleaning can often prevent severe problems.
The EPA tells us that if the mold issue is less than 10 sq feet, it’s ok for us to clean it up ourselves. There are many mold and mildew products on the market, with most or all containing some form of bleach or ammonia. A more natural way to fight the spores is to create your own scrubbing solution. Hydrogen Peroxide, vinegar, baking soda and Borax are widely known for their ability to combat black mold spores. Essential oils also have natural anti-fungal properties, with tea tree oil being the most widely known as a mold cleaner.
4. Antibacterial Cleaners
This is the year you may find your favorite antibacterial products flying off the shelves. But not for the reason you may suspect. In 2013 the FDA announced that companies using the chemical triclosan and other sanitizing agents found in household and personal care cleaning products would have to prove they are both safe and effective. The Big Story reports “The government’s preliminary ruling lends new support to outside researchers who have long argued that the chemicals are, at best, ineffective and at worst, a threat to public health.” Big brands like Ajax, Dial and Dawn have until 2016 to prove their antibacterial claims, relabel their products or better yet, pull them from the shelves if found potentially harmful to the public.
Because in these recent years there has been so much awareness made towards the ill effects of synthetic chemicals, essential oils have been garnering more attention in the scientific community and has been undergoing testing for it antibacterials and antimicrobial properties. In a test published on NCBI, essential oils of spices and herbs (thyme, origanum, mint, cinnamon, salvia and clove) were found to possess the strongest antimicrobial properties among many tested.
Mothballs are the tiny little toxic balls of carcinogen chemicals that our grandmothers placed in every closet, storage container and vacuum cleaner. While we (thankfully) don’t see too many mothballs around these days, the premise of why they were used is still a good one. When packing away your winter gear, toss in a few homemade essential oil balls for a fresh scent and to keep the critters at bay. A few drops of Eucalyptus, Lavender, Citronella or Sandalwood on a cotton ball will do the trick. These essential oils have been known to naturally repel insects and will leave a fresh scent on items that are tucked away for a season or two.
6. Fabric and Upholstery Cleaners
Many of the big brands are keen to the fact that most people are aware that parabens are bad, so they have replaced them with other not so well known but still potentially threatening chemicals. Many products still contain ingredients that may cause developmental, endocrine, reproductive, acute aquatic toxicity and respiratory issues. Fabric and upholstery cleaners are no exception.
After months of being curled up on the couch, a good cleaning should be on your spring cleaning attack list. Dust, stains and even critters (yuck) could have made their way deep in between your couch cushions. Your first step should be to vacuum aways any surface dirt, dander and pet hair. Then make a homemade solution of ¼ cup all-natural dish detergent (not laundry), 1 cup of water and a few drops of lemon essential oil for scent and additional antibacterial properties. Use a mixer to blend them together into a thick foam. Then use a soft brush to apply the foam to your fabrics and scrub away. Be sure to use the foam sparingly. You don’t want to soak the fabric, only wet it enough to help remove the dirt. And ALWAYS test the foam on a hidden part of the upholstery to ensure it doesn’t damage or change the color of the material.
7. Air Fresheners
There’s a reason why air fresheners always make it to every list of the top household toxins. Everything you breathe ends up in your blood stream. Plug in scents, sprays and scented candles have been documented by the Natural Resources Defense Council to contain phthalates and formaldehyde, which can causes an array of respiratory, hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems. Synthetic air fresheners can trigger allergy symptoms, aggravate existing allergies and worsen asthma. Stanley Fineman, MD, ACAAI President(American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology) states “About 20 percent of the population and 34 percent of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners.”
If you want to end your cleaning ritual with the wispy smell of spring in the air, turn to essential oils rather than synthetic versions of what nature offers. You can choose to diffuse, which will lightly fill the room with the all natural aroma, or better yet use an air purifier. You will not only fill the room with the fresh scents of spring, you get the added bonus of the purifier capturing and removing all the air-borne dust and dirt particles created from your cleaning spree.
Buyer Beware: Greenwashed Cleaning Products
With green cleaning on the rise, some big brands are forced into changing their formulas for a more natural one. Some products are greener, but others are just different. Replacing one well known toxic chemical such a paraben with a less toxic and not known chemical such as Methylisothiazolinone (a preservative found in cleaning products and cosmetics) is no better.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created the Guide To Healthy Cleaning, a database rating of over 2000 cleaning products. Products can receive an A-F grade on how well they disclose ingredients, what the actual ingredients are and if there is a low, moderate or high concern for any issues associated with the ingredients such as: asthma/respiratory, skin, reproductive, cancer and/or environmental issues. Thanks to organizations like EWG we have full transparency on the ingredients used in cleaning products. Now everyone can go through your entire spring cleaning tool kit and find out what to use, replace or toss.
If after reading this post you decide you want to try a water-based air purifiers and/or essential oils (ours are non-synthetic all-natural water based blends) you can buy some right here at purefromnature.com.