Do our cleaning products affect indoor air quality?
We live in a less than pure world. And despite our best efforts, it’s nearly impossible to keep our kids from exposures to things like pesticides, car exhaust, second-hand smoke and mold.
The good news – We do have control over what the EPA has deemed should be our top concern: the quality of the air in our homes.
Up to ten times more toxic than outdoors, the space inside our four walls could be slowly chipping away at our family’s health. And, ironically, the main culprits may be the very things we use to keep our homes free of dirt, germs, and bugs.
When it comes to indoor air quality, even green cleaning alternatives and non-toxic methods can grant us a false sense of security when it comes to providing a truly healthy home for our families.
Let’s look at some areas where even the greenest among us may be able to improve our skills at cleaning for a healthy home:
“I use all green, natural cleaners!”
Ahh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could judge a cleaning product by its label? The reality is that claims like “non-toxic” and “all-natural” are unregulated, often used for marketing purposes only. Also, because manufacturers of household cleaners aren’t required to disclose the ingredients, it’s almost impossible for us to know if they’re really safe.
So what if we broke our long-entrenched cleaning habits and got back to basics? From laundry to floors, kitchen to bathroom, virtually every cleaning job can be tackled with pure soap, baking soda, water, and a microfiber cloth.
Look for quality soap concentrates like Dr. Bronner’s and Branch Basics that can be diluted for home and body uses. Beyond lowering the toxins in our homes, this change could save on time and money wasted by purchasing several products.
“We use sanitizers, but they’re eco-friendly and alcohol-free!”
You’re probably familiar with the antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” the harsh ingredient Triclosan can lead to, as well as its ability to destroy crucial good bacteria in the gut.
But did you know that in order for ANY product to say “sanitizes”, “antimicrobial” or “kills germs” on its label, it must contain either an EPA-registered pesticide and/or at least 62% alcohol? Even in small doses, neither of these active ingredients is safe, with the exception of high quality “thymus vulgaris oil”, which is derived from Thyme.
Again, pure soap is your best bet. Under neither the EPA or FDA jurisdiction, “soap” is in a category all on its own and has been used for eons to keep our hands free of bacteria, viruses, mold, and the like with no negative side effects.
“We’re fragrance-free around here!”
The one ingredient “fragrance” or “parfum” can actually be a complex mixture of dozens of chemicals, so striving to use unscented products is usually a safe bet. But this area is also a bit hazy due to the addition of masking agents used to “cover” the offensive smell with yet more chemicals.
And if a fragrance is desired, simply add a few drops of your favorite, organic essential oil. If a product has a smell, be sure you can trace it back to a naturally-derived oil on its ingredient list.
“The toxic stuff is safely stored away, for use only if really needed.”
Imagine walking down the cleaning aisle of a grocery store. Pretty strong smell, right? Even with tightly sealed, never-opened lids, chemicals are seeping out. While your home may only contain a few conventional products, you can bet noxious odors are leaching out in the parts-per-million level, creating a low-level chemical soup over time. The truth is, you don’t really need them.
Since they contain ammonia and chlorine, standard cleaners are harmful to our lungs and many of them contain ingredients that are caustic and flammable. Regular use can contaminate indoor air and have the potential to cause long-term health complications.
A great way to involve your family is to make your own cleaners! Vinegar has high acidity levels that make it just as effective as standard cleaners. By combining the right amounts of baking soda and vinegar, your home will sparkle, without any of the risks that come with harmful chemicals. You can even use newspaper instead of paper towels to wipe down dirty windows.
Pure soap mixed with a natural scouring agent like baking soda or Bon Ami will effectively clean the tougher items like ovens, tubs, tiles and toilets. Soap also contains natural anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-mold properties. Even the EPA recommends ridding bacteria on surfaces by “washing with soapy water”.
Remember to recycle!
Genuinely green cleaners should be packaged in recycled materials, or at the very least, bottles that can be recycled.
“We use safe pest control.”
As research connects pesticides to adverse health effects on the unborn fetus and developing children, eco-friendly pest control companies have gained attention. They tout their use of organic pesticides; however, according to research at Clemson University, some organic pesticides are as toxic, or even more toxic, than many synthetic chemical pesticides.
Others are advertised as plant-derived, when they are actually synthetic derivatives of the real thing. Pyrethroids, for instance, originate from the chrysanthemum flower, but are classified by the EPA as Likely to be Carcinogenic to Humans.
Instead, use natural alternatives that kill pests by mechanical – not chemical – action. A powerful roach bait, for example, can be made from equal parts powdered sugar, corn meal and Boric Acid placed in small caps in out-of-reach areas.
Reaping the Benefits Year Round
This type of Spring Cleaning has the power to go beyond organizing and de-cluttering to reaping lifelong health benefits. We’ve heard it time and again: Our children are especially vulnerable to lurking toxins, pound-for-pound breathing 2.5 times more than adults. It’s crucial we start looking beyond labels and stop settling with just doing better. We should have full confidence in what we’re spritzing and spraying in our homes.
For more information on healthy living and other cleaning tips, see Branch Basics’ Healthy Living Library.