Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What are Your Cleaning Products Doing?

Recently I laughed at myself as I realized I was holding my breathe while cleaning the bathtub.  This was funny because I was cleaning the tub with baking soda which doesn't really have any smell to it.  I wasn't completely holding my breathe mind you, but noticed I had slowed my breathing and was trying not to breathe too much.

Apparently I've developed a habit that stemmed from the possible damage from breathing in chemical fumes from cleaning products.  Over time I had started this habit of not breathing as much while I cleaned the bathtub because of the nasty cleaning fumes.  Then when I switched to cleaning with all natural baking soda I kept holding my breathe out of habit.  Now I just have to remind myself it's ok to breathe again!  :P

So was my concern for my health all just in my head, or is there something to it?

Did you know that although ingredient labels are mandatory for food, cosmetics, and drugs sold in the US, they are not mandatory for cleaning products.  Many companies are intentionally leaving harmful ingredients off their labels.
EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D, said. “Quite a few cleaning products that line store shelves are packed with toxic chemicals that can wreak havoc with your health, including many that harm the lungs. The good news is, there are plenty of cleaning products that will get the job done without exposing you to hazardous substances.” 
Some household cleaning products can expose unsuspecting users to toxic substances linked to short- and long-term health problems, including asthma, allergic reactions and even cancer. (source -emphasis mine)
So what's a person to do?  Go to the experts!  In this case it's the Environmental Working Group who have just spent a great deal of time researching cleaning products on our behalf...
Key findings:
• Some 53 percent of cleaning products assessed by EWG contain ingredients known to harm the lungs. About 22 percent contain chemicals reported to cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy individuals.
• 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.
(I am very curious about them mentioning that some essential oils could form formaldyhyde.  To get answers I called a high quality essential oil company called Young Living.  The woman I spoke with said that lower quality oils can contain ingredients that may cause such reactions, and that medical grade essential oils shouldn't cause any problems.  I then contacted the Environmental Working Group to make sure the answers I was getting are correct, before passing them on to you all.  When I get EWG's response I will post it in the comment section at the bottom of this article.)
• 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.
• Many leading “green” brands sell highly rated products, among them Green Shield Organic and Whole Foods’ Green Mission brand. But not all cleaners marketed as environmentally conscious score high. Some “green” brands, including Earth Friendly Products and BabyGanics, do not disclose ingredients adequately.
EWG recommends avoiding a few types of products altogether, since they’re unnecessary – or there are no safer alternatives. Among them:
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. (source)
For a safer air freshener and all-natural alternative to hand sanitizer, check out The Best Spray in the World! and Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Sanitizer.
This product scored a D.

I have used vinegar as a fabric softener and I've got to say it worked great!  I just dump about 1 cup of vinegar in my over sized washing machine when it is filling and let'er go.  There is a triple bonus here as it helps remove stains, softens the laundry in the dryer, and left it static free.  I was pretty amazed!  I haven't done it regularly because we do a lot of laundry and the dryer sheets are cheaper, however after reading the above info I will probably go all vinegar once the sheets are used up. (May not be suitable for all fabrics- use common sense.)

To see what the real deal is with your cleaning products check out the EWG's very easy to use 2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning.  Simply type in the name of your product and they give it a grade rating of A to F for your convenience.  They also share what are safe to use cleaners that you can purchase as well.

If you are interested in saving money then try these cleaning products that I clean my house with (and if you've been to my house you know that it being clean is important to me :)...

1)  The Best Spray in the World:  To clean my windows, appliances, kitchen counters, fish tank exterior, mirrors, bathroom counters, toilets, and as a help with cleaning the shower.

2) Baking Soda (ideally aluminum free): For the shower and sink a little more muscle is necessary to remove soap scum.  For that I just get the area wet then sprinkle on some baking soda.  A little scrubbing with a green scrubby and my sink and tub are smooth as butta!
My kitchen sink gets super shiny by using it in the same way there.
If your carpet is getting stinky just sprinkle on some baking soda, leave it for a little bit then vacuum it up for fresher carpet!  (For this I would definitely go with the aluminum free baking soda.)
To shine up the kitchen or bathroom faucet I scrub the faucet with wet baking soda, and am getting really good results!
For a clean toilet sprinkle in some baking soda and give it a scrub with the old toilet brush, then voila!

3) Vinegar: I am growing more sure that there could be thousands of uses for vinegar.  I mix it with water and mop my tile and linoleum floors with it.  To improve the smell I have added a few drops of peppermint essential oil to it and it smelled great!  I suggest adding it each time you start a new room as the oil must stay on the top and gets removed by the mop.
I use it as mentioned above with the laundry.
If you have some tough to clean windows or appliances then vinegar mixed with water is the way to go.  It doesn't smell as nice as the other spray, but it works really well! (Note that the first time you may clean the windows or mirror they may look foggy.  That is the wax left behind by Windex and will quickly come off.)

Dr Bronner's Baby Mild
4) Dr Bronner's Soap: Yes this is for hair and body wash, but if you mix it with baking soda it makes a soft scrub like mixture.  I used it on my faucet today to try and remove hard water stains, and it did a really good job.  I haven't tried it in the shower yet, but I am betting that will work great too.

Click here for EWG's free 2012 Cleaning Products Guide!

So what do you like to clean with?  What are some of your favorite cleaning products?  I'd love to hear from YOU!

Please read the follow up to this article called Pollution and Essential Oils.  Thanks!

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