Challenge #46 ~ Household Cleaners

Read the blog post on the January Theme – GREEN CHEMISTRY

Image by Monfocus from Pixabay

Buying products like household cleaners should be easy and straightforward. Yet, as we have learned over the past weeks and months, we may want to check the ingredient lists to keep toxic chemicals out of our lives and manufacturers accountable.  

Unless you already clean your home with baking soda, lemon juice, and vinegar, this week’s challenge is for anyone who cares for their own and their family’s health as we scrutinize ingredients in common household cleaners in more detail and help provide tools to identify household cleaners free of hidden chemical additives and toxins.

If you think ingredients in our food are difficult to pronounce, try the list of ingredients in our household cleaners! Understanding the subtleties of chemicals and the impact of exposure to our health is the first empowering step for action. We have and make choices. Which are the least scary?

Did you know that when buying regular consumer products like household cleaners we have a choice of ingredients between “chemicals of concern,” “chemicals of high concern” or “priority chemicals” – or perhaps all of the above? Yes, it’s a toxic soup of chemicals that are classified by risk and hazardous criteria. In our daily-use products! 

Let’s break it down

  • Chemicals of concern are carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or endocrine disruptors 
  • Chemicals of high concern are even more problematic because not only are these carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or endocrine disruptors, they are also: 
    • found in human blood, breast milk, urine, or tissue;
    • present in a home environment (for instance in dust, indoor air, drinking water); 
    • added to or present in consumer products used in the home. 
  • Priority Chemicals include all chemicals of high concern, including Arsenic, Cadmium, and Mercury, that are poisonous depending on factors such as concentrations, rates of use and exposure, and presence in the environment, and so are prioritized for further examination and research.

Sound scary? Lucky for us, there is outrage! The push for healthy organic food, driven in large part by consumer demand, the agricultural industry has undergone a transformation to eliminate toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers from our food. As a result, consumer awareness is expanding to other industries and possible sources of toxins in our lives. Many people have also already become aware about green chemistry in the form of bio-based personal care and household products and actively look for and demand product alternatives. 

Get started with these tips

  • Learn the top toxic chemicals to avoid in cleaning products, including 
    • Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is sometimes used as a preservative or may be released by other preservatives in cleaning products. It may form when terpenes, found in citrus and pine oil cleaners and in some essential oils used as scents, react with ozone in the air.
    • The chemical 1,4-dioxane, a suspected human carcinogen, is a common contaminant of widely-used detergent chemicals.
    • Chloroform, a suspected human carcinogen, sometimes escapes in fumes released by products containing chlorine bleach. 
    • Quaternary ammonium compounds (“quats”) like benzalkonium chloride, found in antibacterial spray cleaners and fabric softeners, can cause asthma.
    • Sodium borate, also known as borax, and boric acid are added to many products as cleaning agents, enzyme stabilizers or for other functions. They can disrupt the hormone system.
  • Choose “green” brands, and do so with caution. Beware when products do not disclose ingredients adequately.  When marketed as environmentally conscious, brands need to back up their claims transparently.
  • Know the labels. Read the labels! Choose brands without the most toxic chemicals to avoid exposure.
  • Avoid household cleaners that are toxic and unnecessary, including
    • Air fresheners contain secret fragrance mixtures that can trigger allergies and asthma. Open windows or use fans.
    • Antibacterial products can spur development of drug-resistant superbugs.
    • Fabric softener and dryer sheet ingredients can cause allergies or asthma and can irritate the lungs. Try a little vinegar in the rinse cycle. 
    • Caustic drain cleaners and oven cleaners can burn eyes and skin. Use a drain snake or plunger in drains. Try a do-it-yourself paste of baking soda and water in the oven
  • Make home-made all-purpose household cleaners. Follow the recipes for household cleaners in Challenge #40 Healthy Kitchens.

Learn more

A great number of organizations and government initiatives work on policies and ingredients lists to protect consumers and provide healthy consumer products like household cleaners. The focus is on finding alternatives at the source – phasing out toxins instead of just controlling the thousands of synthetic chemicals used to make everything from clothing, cosmetics, household products, electronic devices and even children’s toys. 

The US EPA Safer Choice Program provides searchable full product lists and Safer Chemical Ingredients List based on Functional Uses. 

The US Green Building Council has raised awareness about sustainability in the building and construction industries as early as the 1990s and drawn a connection between the impact of building materials and cleaning products on indoor air quality, and consequently on occupants’ health and productivity. 

The International Future Living Institute is taking things even further with the Living Building Challenge, which is the world’s most rigorous green building standard in pursuit of carbon neutral regenerative buildings. A sub-program includes the Living Product Challenge, which developed a green framework for building products, consumer goods, textiles, electronics, food, personal care and cleaning products in a 21st-century world. 

The European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) addresses the production and use of chemical substances, and their potential impacts on both human health and the environment and regulates the registering all chemicals, developing rich chemical information profiles and requiring authorization for substances of very high concern.

The European Union’s Product Directives are restricting hazardous chemicals in products whereas the Stockholm, Rotterdam, Basil Conventions and Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) sets global policies on the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and their safe disposal.

Making the commitment to switch to non-toxic household cleaners is complex. Like with a new language, learning the new vocabulary takes time before we reach fluency. When we break things down into manageable tasks, simply remembering what to look for to avoid, we will succeed and feel better in our safe healthy homes. 

By eliminating toxic chemicals from our household cleaners, we also reduce carbon emissions from manufacturing, addressing SDGs #3 Good Health and Wellbeing; #6 Clean Water and Sanitation; #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth; #9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; #12 Responsible Consumption and Production and #13 Climate Action

Yes, you, too, can make a difference in the world, one person at a time.