Wednesday, August 28, 2019

GREEN LIVING :: The Dirt on Cleaning Products

I grew up hearing my grandmother talk about how to clean "the right way".  It involved lots of bleach and cleaners with ammonia.  That's how you got "the clean mell".  If it did not smell clean, then it wasn't so.  

I carried her teachings to college and beyond as I started to take care of my own cleaning.  In the store, I would look for the strong cleaners and never thought about what was in them.  This changed one day when I sprayed the counter to wipe it down and I developed a rash on my skin.  I must have gotten some product on me by accident and I reacted to it.  This was the first sign that I needed to take a closer look at how I was cleaning.  Right around this time, I noticed that I would start coughing when I was scrubbing the bathroom.  Interestingly, I did not make the connection with the coughing until I got the rash on my hand.  

I realized it was time to look more into the products that I was using and my findings were nothing but surprising at first.  I learned that cleaning products can pose both health and environmental concerns.  Just as we see in the beauty industry, regulation is lacking and chemicals are not necessarily tested for safety before they are used in a cleaning product formula. To make things worse, companies do not always disclose ingredients on the product label or the website.  A lot of times, it involves a treasure hunt of sorts and sometimes there's no time to take part in it.  

It's important to "green your clean" for several reasons.  It will reduce your exposure to chemicals in cleaning products that are hazardous to your health.  You may or may not react to them in your lifetime, but why take the chance?  A lot of the cleaning compounds on the store shelf contain compounds that vaporize easily when used.  This adversely affects the air quality in your house, the air you breathe.  Some cleaners also contain chemicals that can ultimately affect water quality when they are released into the environment too.

How can you make sure that you are buying a safe product?

1.  Pay attention to terms like "Eco safe" or "environmentally friendly" on the label.  A lot of times these are forms of "green washing" and direct red flags to me.  

2.  Check for a green seal or Eco logo instead.  This means that the product has been tested by a certification program that includes strict screening standards based on evidence we have from scientific research.  It's your best bet right now.  If you need to purchase a sanitizing cleaning product, make sure it's certified by the Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment program.

3.  Avoid cleaning products with ammonia or bleach.  The "clean smell" is not good for your health.

4.  Avoid toilet cleaners with hydrochloric acid, sodium or potassium hydroxide or ethanolamines.  These chemicals are very harsh and can cause skin burns, blindness and lung irritation.  Is a squeaky clean toilet worth it?

5.  Avoid air fresheners and cleaners with fragrance.  The latter is just as sneaky in cleaning products as it is in skincare and beauty products.  Read the small print on the label and check the manufacturer's website.  Fragrance is sometimes very subtle but it does expose you to a lot of chemicals.  I just learned that a favorite brand of mine has fragrance in all the cleaning products.  

6.  Avoid products with triclosan.  This is an antimicrobial that got very popular back in the 90s.  It has been shown to have harmful side effects on the body such as disruption of thyroid function.

7.  Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate.  Make a habit of opening your windows every day, even in the dead of winter.  My husband always complains about this in the winter but it does help maintain air quality in your home.  

I hope this gives you some guidelines to help you select safe cleaning products at the store.  Did you find that you also had to transition to safer cleaning products because you started to react to your regular ones?  Let me know in the comments below!

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