Saturdays were “house cleaning” days when I was growing up. We would haul out the bathroom scrubbing bubbles, streak-free window cleaner, disinfectant spray, furniture polish and other assorted cleaning products and get busy removing dust, dirt and germs. By the time we were finished, the house would be spotless and smell wonderfully fresh. Even today nothing takes me back to my childhood like a whiff of lemon-scented Pledge.
All of our efforts were done to achieve a clean home but the scary truth is that the vast majority of the products we associate with cleanliness and fresh smells are often loaded with harsh toxic chemicals that can seriously damage our health. Just because a house has the aroma of mountain air or spring daisy air freshener doesn’t necessarily mean that its clean. But most of us have been brainwashed into equating the smell of our cleaning products with their efficacy and not only is that a false assumption, it is also putting us directly in harm’s way.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, “Canadians spend more than $275 million on household cleaning products in a year.” The familiar labels on so many of these products warn of immediate dangers like “poison”, “corrosive” and “irritant” but “there is no requirement in Canada for manufacturers to warn consumers about the health and environmental hazards associated with chronic, or long-term, exposure to chemical ingredients in household cleaning products. Most of us are exposed to cleaning products and their residues at low levels on a daily basis.”
Due to the artificial fragrances in the vast majority of cleaners, the very scents that we find so pleasing can lead to allergic reactions, rashes and asthma. And even more troubling are the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) that are in chemically-derived household products.
The list of VOCs commonly used in cleaners and air fresheners is shockingly long but a few of the most frightening ones include propane, butane, ethanol, and phthalates. “Propane is a suspected neurotoxin and respiratory toxicant. Butane is a neurotoxicant. Ethanol has been reported to be a carcinogen as well as an endocrine toxicant, liver toxicant, neurotoxicant, and reproductive toxicant. And phthalates are suspected endocrine disrupters associated with reproductive effects, including reduced sperm count in men.” Seriously scary stuff!
How do these nasty toxins get into our bodies? Well, when we scrub and spray our homes the chemicals linger in the air and we breathe them in. They can also enter our bodies directly through our largest organ – our skin- when we touch or rub up against the “sanitized and disinfected” surfaces and through our mouths if we swallow residues left behind on dishes. And these poisons have been shown to have a cumulative effect in our bodies and are extremely difficult to eliminate.
When switching to nontoxic cleaning products, it may take you a while to get used to not having that pine forest or lemon smell that has signaled “clean” for, oh, your whole life! But trust me – odorless (or naturally scented) is much healthier.
1. Research: Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning – they have done exhaustive research on over 2000 products and provide ratings and toxicity levels. My own personal favourites are: Benefect Disinfectant & All-purpose Cleaner, Cleanwell Hand Santizer, Vaportek Odor Control Products, The Honest Company and Seventh Generation cleaners and detergents. They are all safe and effective products that I feel comfortable using in my home around my 3 young children.
2. Make your own – There are loads of websites and books available for whipping up your own natural and effective “homemade” supplies. Often a simple mixture of food-grade essential oils from Living Libations (lemon and tangerine are my favs) and pure water can clean and freshen up floors and surfaces. Wellness Mama and Keeper of the Home are great blogs to find recipes.
3. Kick it Old School – Real food author and activist Michael Pollan wisely advised us in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” The same can be said for our cleaning products. Our ancestors used things like vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, soap, hot water, scrub brushes and rags to keep their living spaces sparkling clean – and they still work just as well today!
My husband and his best friend have worked in the all-natural cleaning and disinfection industry for over 15 years – long before “green” cleaning was on anyone’s radar. And I’ll admit it always rubs me the wrong way when one of their customers complains about the “smell” of their products – all of which are scented exclusively with pure essential oils (ironically it’s often these same people who freely spray toxic chemical disinfectants or rave about the wonders of an alcohol hand sanitizer from the drug store). C’mon people – – it’s time to retrain our noses to transition to more natural and safer scents. Let’s use our buying power to support products that prioritize the health and safety of their consumers over the mass-produced chemical brands that are ultimately poisoning our homes and our bodies.