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Spring Cleaning: Green your Cleaning Products

Thursday, April 02, 2015

 

A clean house can be like a sanctuary.  Gleaming sinks, cabinets, floors, tubs and toilet bowls may reduce your stress levels, but too often they come at a steep price. 

The majority of household cleaners on the market are incredibly toxic, and not just if ingested, but if inhaled, if gotten on the skin or in the eyes, and even when they go down the drain and interact with waterways. 

A pristine toilet bowl is a beautiful thing, but is it really worth “irreversible damage” if you get a splash of Lysol’s Power Toilet Bowl Cleaner in your eye?  And what about your poor dog who drinks out of said toilet bowl?  He’d probably rather you just clean it with vinegar and baking soda instead of potentially poisoning him.  

The truth is that you don’t need to be using such harsh cleaners.  There are loads of more eco-friendly and healthy green cleaners out there: Pinterest boards are devoted to green cleaning, and entire cleaning empires are built on the premise of providing effective eco-friendly cleaners.  The problem is that these cleaners tend to cost a lot more than do the more toxic ones, and they are not readily available at every store.  To be honest, they don’t always clean quite as well either — you may have to use a bit more elbow grease than you would with the lung-irritating/inflaming-but-super-fun Scrubbing Bubbles.  So why should you work harder and pay more just to use green cleaning supplies in your house?  For two reasons: the environment and your health.  What follows is a list of products and chemicals that it is time to clean out of your house.

The Environment 

When talking about the impact of non-green cleaners on the environment, it is not just in reference to the external environment, but also to the internal environment of your home.  Finally there is the impact that using these cleaners has on the waterways.  Everything you use that goes down the drain ends up at water treatment plants.  Here the majority of the toxic chemicals are cleaned out of the water before it goes back to the river, but not all of it is.  There are low levels of these chemicals showing up in rivers and other waterways, and many of them have never been adequately tested.  That’s right, of the chemicals used in products you have in your house, many have never been adequately tested.  In 1976 the US Toxic Substances Control Act was born in an effort to regulate chemicals, but existing substances were grandfathered in without testing.

Disinfectant Sprays

In the category of spray cleaners, many products contain ingredients called asthmagens.  If inhaled, these ingredients are known to trigger asthma attacks, and even to cause asthma in people who have not previously had it.  Although disinfectant sprays as a category are the worst offenders, many spray cleaners have these chemicals and because they are sprayed into the air, which means you are going to breathe them in. 

Chlorine Bleach 

Bleach is one of many offenders that releases VOCs into your indoor environment, but because bleach is so commonly used (both on its own and as an added ingredient in many other cleaners) it gets its own mention.  VOCs can contribute to chronic breathing problems, headaches or allergic reactions in the short-term, and increased risk of cancer and organ damage over the long-term.  The negative side effects may be even worse in people with asthma.  

Fragrance

Likewise, the fragrance in many household cleaning supplies can be problematic for the air quality in your house.  A single fragrance can contain dozens of chemical compounds, and because of an odd fragrance-protection loophole in label laws, the ingredients do not need to be listed on the product.  Professor Anne Steinemann tested 25 popular air fresheners, household cleaners, detergents and body products and discovered that all of them released VOCs into the environment.  Even more disturbing was that 44% of them released carcinogenic air pollutants. Back away from the Febreze and put down the Glade Plug-ins — they even warn on their packaging that they should only be used in well-ventilated areas.  Not using them at all would be a safer choice.

Your Health

Cleaners have impacts on your health because of everything mentioned in “The Environment” section of this article, but also in more direct ways.  

Straight up Poison

Remember those Mr. Yuk stickers from childhood?  The same chemicals are used today, and are just as toxic.  Children and pets cannot discriminate between what is good for them or bad for them based on labels — especially when the products are made to smell so compelling.  According the Poison Control Centers, they received 206,636 calls in the year 2000 due to cleaning products.  More than half of those were because of exposures involving children under the age of 6.  This should be enough reason to rethink bringing anymore toxic cleaners into your home.

Antibacterial Products

Antibacterial hand washes and hand sanitizers need to be banished from your home.  Unless they are all natural (meaning they use alcohol and essential oils instead of harsher chemicals) they contain a chemical called triclosan, which disrupts thyroid and other hormone levels in your body and could contribute to infertility.  This chemical is banned in the EU for any product that comes into contact with food, and is currently being investigated by the FDA because there is compelling evidence that the chemical’s use should be restricted.   The prevalence of antibacterial products may also be contributing to resistant strains of bacteria showing up in the environment.  Furthermore, there is no evidence that shows that using antibacterial soaps works any better than regular soap and water.  The perceived health benefits are far outweighed by the potential risks.

If you begin switching out the aforementioned categories of cleaners for their green counterparts, you’ll make a positive impact on your home health and also on the larger environmental impact.  If the cost of green cleaners is prohibitive, stock up on some distilled white vinegar, lemons and baking soda.  These three budget-friendly products can adequately clean and disinfect your whole house.  Vodka is also a surprisingly effective household cleaner — it also makes the job much more enjoyable.

Erin Brockmeyer, LAc, is owner and acupuncturist at Solstice Natural Health in downtown Portland.  She creates custom health plans for patients to help them tackle their most complicated health concerns, including infertility, prenatal care, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions and chronic and acute pain conditions.  Visit her website for more information and to download her free e-book 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health Today.

 

Related Slideshow: The 7 Best Health and Fitness Apps

Here is a list of some of the most obsession worthy health apps.

Prev Next

MapMyRun

MapMyRun is the number one selling running app for a reason:  it is easy to use, offers community support if you want it, and tracks and stores your exact routes for you.  If you are training for a race or a serious runner, users say that the extra perks in the upgraded paid version are well worth it. 

Made for iPhone, Android and Blackberry 

Prev Next

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal seems to be the clear favorite amongst everyone polled.  It is helpful not only for the fitness tracking aspect, but everyone polled mentioned how much they loved the food/diet aspect as well. From carb counting for diabetics to recipe ideas to complement your fitness goals, users love this app. 

Made for iPhone and Android

Prev Next

JeFit

JeFit is another fitness app that has rave reviews.  It not only tracks progress for you, but offers a huge database of workouts.  While many apps offer community support, JeFit allows you to sync workouts with friends who use the app, offering a (real) virtual buddy system.

Made for iPhone and Android

Prev Next

Strava

Strava gets the highest mark of all the cycling apps.  While it is also great for runners, the cyclers seem particularly inclined towards the fierce competition that can be ignited by this app.  You can track all of your rides via GPS, then you can compare your efforts to those logged by others in the community on the same stretch of road.  You can also join ongoing challenges that can net you great prizes (in addition to bragging rights). 

Made for iPhone and Android

Prev Next

YogaStudio

YogaStudio gets the top vote for Yoga apps.  It has a lengthy collection of full class-length videos available at your fingertips.  Unlike many other apps, this one also allows you to customize your own video yoga class.  All of the poses are done by qualified yoga instructors, and you can find classes suitable for all levels of yogis.

Made for iPhone only

Prev Next

SimplyBeing

SimplyBeing meditation app offers the best of both worlds.  You can choose to run this app as a background for your meditation with soothing music or natural sounds that run for a set amount of time.  Conversely, for those of you who have trouble focusing during meditation, you can choose a soothing voice-guided meditation. 

Made for iPhone and Android

Prev Next

Fooducate

Fooducate is an app all about educating people so that they make healthier food choices.  Although not perfect, this app is easy to use (you can even take pictures of bar codes to instantly find foods in their database).  It gives food a letter grade, tells you the pluses and minuses, and gives you better ranked alternatives.  You can also use it as a weight loss tool by tracking your daily calories. 

Made for iPhone and Android

 
 

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