Sometimes, when we think we are cleaning something up, we are actually making a much bigger mess. The same cleaning products you use to disinfect your kitchen countertops or scrub your bathroom may actually be harming both your body and the environment around you.
Currently, over 80,000 chemicals go unregulated by the federal government. Chemicals that damage our nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems are common ingredients found in household cleaning supplies. Some of the most prevalent include Ammonia, Chlorine, MEA (monoethanalomine), DEA (diethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine), synthetic fragrances, and phosphates. These substances may irritate the skin, eyes, throat, and lungs, damage our kidneys and livers, and act as carcinogens in our bodies. Furthermore, certain fragrances are suspected as being endocrine disruptors that harm our reproductive systems.
In addition to damaging our bodies, the chemicals used in household cleaning products also cause a lot of harm to the environment. Cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds, which are the main component of smog. When flushed down the toilet, cleaning products can seriously impact aquatic ecosystems. DBP, a fragrance chemical, is classifies by the European Union as “very toxic” to aquatic organisms, and phosphates promote harmful algal blooms in water which causes oxygen levels to decline and can potentially kill fish. Chemicals in household cleaning products accumulate in the environment, compromising soil, water, and air quality.
Many cleaning supplies bottles have phrases such as “corrosive,” “irritants,” or “combustible” that can be confusing. The following lists names and defines some of these terms to clear up any confusion you may experience when looking at labels:
Active Ingredients: hazardous chemicals that are usually antimicrobial pesticides to kill viruses, bacteria, or molds
Chlorine Free: Products that do not contain chlorine bleach but may contain oxygen bleach which is also irritating and corrosive (although it does not release harmful chlorine gas)
Combustible– A substance that is easily ignited and can burn quickly
Corrosive– A substance that can cause serious chemical burns to the skins, eyes, or lungs
Enzymes– Proteins that help break down and remove soils and stains; can cause asthma and respiratory problems among factory workers but there is no evidence that consumers are at risk (approach them with caution)
Essential Oils– Chemicals that come from plants but can irritate skin and trigger allergic reactions
Irritant– May cause temporary inflammation, redness, and often itching of the skin, eyes or lungs
Natural– There is no federal definition or guidelines regulating use of the word “natural;” it could literally mean anything
Sensitizing– May cause a dramatic immune system response such as hives or an asthma attack
Surfactant– Chemicals that loosen dirt and cleaning. Some are safer than others.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)– air contanimants that cause smog; are linked to severe health effects; Look for and use no or low-VOC cleaning products
As consumers, the power to change companies’ policies is in our hands. To purchase more eco-friendly and safe cleaning products, consider these alternative brands:
– Whole Foods 365 Brand
– Green Shield
– Molly’s Suds
– The Honest Co.
– Mrs. Meyer’s
– Seventh Generation