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Cleaning the House Part I – Cleaning Products Are Safe…Aren’t They?

I’m not the best house cleaner, and when I say that I’m still overstating my skills. I love a clean house, and I’m a bit of a germ freak. You should see me when one of the kids gets a stomach virus; I wipe off handles, bathroom surfaces, everything, thinking I have a chance to keep it from spreading. I clean as often as I can—meaning, I’m too embarrassed to tell you how I do, because no matter what I say, there will be tons of people who clean more than that, and will therefore be disgusted with me.  I used strong bathroom & kitchen cleaners because they kill germs. The chemicals have been tested by the companies and have been given some stamp of approval by some government agency that says they’re safe for my health and the environment…right? Unfortunately, that’s a myth.

Lack of Safeguards for Consumer Products

The Toxic Substances Control Act didn’t require manufacturers to provide new data on toxicity and exposure, products weren’t being adequately checked for safety to us, our kids, and the environment. In 2009, President Obama asked Congress to pass tougher legislation. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson admitted "Chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment and our bodies. "Some chemicals may be risk free ... but the public is understandably anxious and confused. They're looking to the government for assurance that these chemicals have been assessed using the best available science. Current law doesn't allow us to give those assurances." 1

Some Chemicals on the Market that are Toxic

Currently the EPA is going to study and eliminate six chemicals used widely in consumer products, including phthalates. Phthalates, which add flexibility and durability, are used in adhesives, detergents, flooring, and paints and coatings. It gets worse when you list personal care products with phthalates: deodorant, fragrances, hand lotion, insect repellent, shampoo, and soap.

So if they’re going to study them and then eliminate them, you can go ahead and eliminate them yourself. The tricky part is finding them on labels (remember, they don’t have to list this stuff on the label). I’ll give you some ideas on green products in a minute. I’m not done yet—I haven’t gotten to glycol ether and phosphates yet.

Ethylene glycol butyl ether or EGBE, is on California's list of toxic air contaminants. Some animal studies indicate that it produces reproductive problems, such as testicular damage, reduced fertility, death of embryos and birth defects.2 This chemical is in a lot of products, like window cleaners (Windex) and all-purpose cleaners (Formula 409). Even Simple Green has a little.

Phosphates are found in most soaps and laundry detergents. From Janice Hughes - Share Guide Publisher,3  “High phosphate levels can kill life in rivers, streams and oceans by causing ‘algae blooms.’ Algae slimes dense enough to suffocate marine life have been swelling around the world, especially in coastal bays. They are largely caused by fertilizing pollutants called "nutrients" in human sewage and farm runoff. Some marine experts call this type of ocean pollution a silent, global epidemic that if unabated could destroy American's most scenic and commercially valuable waters.”

Use Natural Cleaners as a Safer Alternative

White vinegar and baking soda are excellent household cleaners. My mom mixes vinegar and baking soda to handle clogged drains. Here’s a recipe I found4 for a bathtub and shower cleaner (the trick is to let it sit before wiping it off).

•1 part vinegar

•1 part water

Mix ingredients in a spray bottle. Spray the shower wall and tub. Let it sit for at least 1/2 hour. Rinse it off. If there are rust stains in your tub, mix a bit of cream of tartar with water until the consistency is like toothpaste. Put a little on the stains and use a sponge to wash off.

I also found several trial size green cleaners, because I prefer to try something as important as this before I buy a big jug of it:

grabgreen® Laundry Detergent (Free of phosphates, chlorine, and fragrance)

grabgreen® automatic dishwashing detergent (Free of phosphates & chlorine)

Citra-Solv Citrus Cleaner/Degreaser, 2 oz - dilute it with water to handle most of your household cleaning. Use it on cooking grease, carpet cleaning, and as a laundry stain remover.

My Next blog: Cleaning the House Part II – How to Clean Up Faster


1. For a short article on the past few years of legislation (or lack of) see http://toxics-health.com/

2. Jane Kay, San Francisco Chronicle, Hazards found in household cleaners, July 2007

3. http://www.shareguide.com/hazard.html


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