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A Toolkit for Healthy Cleaning Products

A Toolkit for Healthy Cleaning Products
One study found that household cleaners, like ammonia and bleach can cause “long-term lung damage.” Needless to say, natural cleaning products are especially important for families with small children or persons with asthma and severe allergies, who may be more sensitive to the chemicals found in common household cleaning items. However, there are fortunately a wide range of cleaning solutions available that lack hazardous toxins, both available in supermarkets and from DIY methods. These solutions can help your family clean their home without compromising health and environmental impact in the process.

What To Watch Out For
The most acutely dangerous cleaning products are corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acidic toilet bowl cleaners. Corrosive chemicals found in these items can cause severe burns, especially if ingested by young children. Additional ingredients with high toxicity levels include chlorine bleach and ammonia, which produces irritating and damaging fumes. In fact, most doctors recommend people with asthma or lung or heart problems avoid using bleach and ammonia at all. These two chemicals pose an added threat in that they can react with each other or other chemicals to form lung-damaging gases.

Additionally, many laundry detergents contain toxins known to irritate human skin and damage pipes beneath washing machines. As a solution, environmental experts recommend using an organic detergent solution and running clothes on an extra-rinse cycle. Often, laundry and cleaning agents contain unnecessary added fragrances, which can cause allergic reactions. The term “fragrance” on an ingredient list means the product contains a chemical combination that may consist of dozens of substances for which there is limited safety data. However, products labeled “Free & Clear” lack added fragrances and dyeing agents, though a few may contain a scent to mask the smell of other ingredients.

What To Look For
When shopping for toxin-free cleaning agents, a few pointers will put you in the right direction. Products labeled “chlorine-free” do not contain chlorine bleach but sometimes use oxygen bleach as an alternative. You can also check to see if a product is vetted as toxin-free by an independent source. EcoLogo and Green Seal are organizations that provide independent, third party certification of environmentally friendly cleaners. Green seal-approved products are authorized to bear their seals on the packaging, but you can also search online to check if products contain known toxins. Both programs restrict certain toxic chemicals and review manufacturer data from companies regularly. These systems help vet against items that are detrimental not only to your personal health but also to larger environmental impacts that hinder sustainability and wellness in everyday life.

DIY Solutions
You can also reduce the amount of toxins in your cleaning products by making your own DIY solutions with safe, natural ingredients. Making a small set of DIY products is a great way to further your spring cleaning and give your house the cleanse it needs to start fresh.

To make a natural all-surface cleaning, mix equal parts white vinegar and water, then add around 10 drops of essential oils (many people like citrus scents for cleaning their homes). The vinegar smell should disappear soon after use. Though this solution works on most surfaces, avoid use on marble, stone or granite. A similar solution can be used for windows and glass cleaners: instead, mix 1 part vinegar with 4 parts water, adding essential oils to scent.

Aiming For Less
Wander into any cleaning cabinet in American and you’ll find a range of half-used cleaning sprays, detergents, bleaching agents, scourers, polishes, and specialized cleaners for practically every appliance imaginable. But truthfully, most surfaces don’t need their own cleaning agent! For instance, instead of using overly-fragrant fabric softeners in your wash, adding vinegar into the washing machine softens clothes (the vinegar smell will dissipate during the cycle's rinse). All-purpose cleaning sprays generally work on most surfaces. For wood, place a combination of equal parts water and vinegar with a tablespoon of olive oil into a spray jar.

Give your cleaning supply storage a thorough shake-down and only keep the products that you know you absolutely need to keep up with your home. Importantly, though, remember that some cleaning products contain hazardous chemicals and can’t be disposed of in normal trash. Take these products (usually toilet and oven cleaners) to a recycling center. Other items can be recycled or, in the instance of solid products such as scourers and soap bars, put in the trash. Over time, you will gain a sense of what products you need and what items are simply taking up space in your shelf.

Cleaning is an everyday aspect to maintaining a sustainable home, so it’s important to rely on a set of products that don’t exacerbate health conditions and environmental detriment. With this approach, your family can reorganize their cleaning shelf to prioritize wellness in all aspects of life.
Written by Ali Barclay
Working as a writer now gives Ali Barclay much more freedom than in her previous career in Environmental Health—which she loved, but found very stressful. She took a step back when she became a mom and decided she'd invest the time in teaching her children the joys of eco friendly and sustainable living and making a difference at home."
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