That time of year is here again for cleaning our nests. Will you safeguard your family’s health or reach for the toxic cleaner? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates an average of over 400 toxic exposures daily in the average household. And cleaners comprise a high number of those exposures. Small, chronic everyday exposures can easily add up to health problems.
Chemicals in household products can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled into the lungs or ingested into the stomach. Exposure is greatest during the actual use of the product and continues as residues linger. Chlorinated hydrocarbons, often contained in cleaning products, are produced from the Earth’s petroleum. Among the health effects of chlorinated hydrocarbons are cancer, hormonal disruption, developmental and reproductive disorders and other serious conditions.
Health impacts are not only to the personal environment of you and your family but also to our larger environment. Consider the consequences of toxic products entering our streams and water supply regionally. Bioregional land health depends in part upon the choices of each individual, with small actions adding up to the protection of Mother Earth.
Now might be the time for looking closely at your cleaning products to determine potential health impacts—while saving money as well!
Chemicals in Your Cupboard
Of the thousands of synthetic chemicals used by the cleaning products industry, here are a few common examples that many cleaners use.
All-purpose cleaners—contain alkanol amines, carcinogen precursors
Deodorizers, disinfectants and germicides—contain formaldehyde, a carcinogen
Laundry detergents—contain alkyl phenoxy ethanols, which are hormone disruptors
Furniture polishes—contain amyl acetate, a neurotoxin
Window cleaners—contain butyl cellosolve, a liver/kidney neurotoxin
Dish and laundry liquids—often contain dioxane, an immune-suppressant and carcinogen
Toilet and carpet cleaners—contain naphthalene, a kidney toxin, cataract trigger and carcinogen.
Body burden, or toxic load, is the accumulation of toxins stored in the body. A large number of these chemicals are fat-soluble, meaning that they are easily absorbed by fats and oils. According to an EPA study of human fatty tissue samples, Americans carry at least 700 pollutants in the body. Meanwhile, the number of new cleaning products increases dramatically every year due to the ever-expanding demand resulting from corporate media promotion. The better news is the simplicity of the biodegradable alternatives.
Sixty years ago most of these synthetic chemical products did not exist. You may be pleasantly surprised at how well the basic ingredients in homemade cleaning products work—and for pennies in cost! Vinegar and baking soda work well for most cleaning tasks and are biodegradable. The least expensive white vinegar works well.
All Purpose Cleaner: Mix ½ cup of vinegar and 2 tablespoons of baking soda in a spray bottle. Fill the bottle with water and shake to mix.
Window Cleaner: Mix 1 cup vinegar with 2 cups of water. Pour into a spray bottle. For stubborn jobs, use 1 part vinegar to 1 part water.
Natural Drain Cleaner: Mix ½ cup of baking soda with 1 cup vinegar in a large container (this foams up). Pour down drain and let work for about 10 minutes. Then pour 1 to 2 quarts of boiling water into the drain. Let it work before using the drain.
Oven Cleaner: Sprinkle baking soda on stubborn areas. Then, spray lightly with vinegar—the mix will bubble. Let the mixture work overnight. Wipe clean with a cloth.
If you prefer to buy commercially made cleaning products, here’s a guide: Shop at locally owned natural food stores. Some good brands are Seventh Generation, Ecover, Biokleen, Better Life, Ecos and Earth Friendly Products.
A Safer Year
If the price of less toxic cleaners seems excessive, consider this: The more products you buy, the more you spend while also using plastic products in the containers. Two or three products on hand will suffice for almost any job. For example, granulated dishwasher detergent is fabulous for cleaning sinks, counters, and tubs. No need for all those specialized cleaners and expense.
Remember, if your cleaner or deodorizer has a scent, chances are very high that it contains formaldehyde to preserve the scent. Maintaining personal and family health depends upon protecting yourself in a toxic world. In this new era, individuals taking responsibility for environmental protection will be key.
Small steps by individuals add up to big results. More recipes can be found online at Women’s Voices for the Earth (www.womensvoice.org) and the resource www.naturalcleaningguide.com. Have fun with it! Avoid the serious health hazards in synthetic chemical cleaners. Just don’t buy them.
Susan Guyette, Ph.D., is of Métis heritage (Micmac Indian/Acadian French) and a planner specializing in cultural tourism, cultural centers, museums and native foods. Her passion is supporting the cultural retention of time-honored traditions. She is the author of Sustainable Cultural Tourism: Small-Scale Solutions; Planning for Balanced Development; and co-author of Zen Birding: Connect in Nature. email@example.com.