Call it the cleaning cupboard’s dirty little secret: many household cleaning products contain a variety of toxic chemicals that can harm your family’s health. These come in the form of carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, organ toxicants, reproductive and developmental disruptors, neurotoxins, and respiratory hazards. There are over 17,000 petrochemicals available for home use, most of which have not been tested for exposure to human health and the environment. Chemical exposure is increasingly linked to chronic illnesses including asthma, allergies, cancer, obesity, and reproductive harm. These chemicals enter our bodies via the air we breathe, through our skin, and through the water we drink.
In addition to the hazards associated with human health, one must also consider the dangers to our environment. The chemicals in our cleaning products are released into the environment through evaporation of volatile compounds into the air and also by escaping down the drain as a residual product. Once the chemicals enter our water, they can have adverse effects on water quality and aquatic life. We all live downstream!
What can you do as a consumer?
Cleaning product manufacturers are not legally required to disclose ingredients on their packaging, but thankfully, there are a handful of companies that believe in full ingredient disclosure. Choosing to support these companies with your hard-earned dollars is a vote for consumer transparency. Seventh Generation offers this handy guide to the Top 12 Chemicals of Concern to avoid in cleaning products. Familiarizing yourself with this list will ensure that you know what to look for when scanning labels. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also offers handy resources to help you avoid toxic petrochemicals in household products. If you’re interested in a particular cleaning product that does not list its ingredients, check their website or try contacting the product manufacturer. This extra step takes some time and effort, but the more we practice it, the more manufacturers become aware that ingredient transparency is a priority.
Skip the Antibacterials and Antimicrobials
To borrow a line from Sandor Katz, “the problem with killing 99.9 percent of bacteria is that most of them protect us from the few that can make us sick”. An FDA advisory committee study found that using antibacterial soaps provides no benefits over plain soap and water and can actually bring more harm than good, due to chemicals like Triclosan. Triclosan is linked to liver and inhalation toxicity and has been shown to disrupt hormone balance and thyroid function. Additionally, Triclosan and other antibacterial ingredients may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Make Your Own
Another creative solution is to consider making your own cleaning products at home. This option is extremely budget-friendly and surprisingly simple. For example, vinegar diluted with a bit of water makes an excellent glass and surface cleaner. Making a paste of baking soda and water yields a fabulous scouring scrub. It’s important to note that “clean” does not have a particular scent; however, if you enjoy natural fragrances in your cleaning products, Aura Cacia offers an array of home care essential oils and recipes for DIY household cleaning products that are delightful to the senses.
Thanks in part to a robust Come Clean campaign spearheaded by Seventh Generation, there’s a bill up for debate known as the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act (H.R. 5205), which requires manufacturers of both consumer household and industrial cleaning products to disclose all intentionally added ingredients on their product labels and websites. Take action by telling your representatives that you value chemical labeling transparency.
Products to look for at the Co-op
You’ll find an array of non-toxic, petrochemical-free household cleaning products at the Co-op. Look for brands like Vermont Soap, Seventh Generation, Ecover, and Earth Friendly Products. You’ll find many of these brands featured in our Member Deals spotlight and in weekly sales throughout April and May.