We all want our homes to be clean and free of germs so we can live in a safe and healthy environment. In the quest for a clean fragrant home, we regularly apply a combination of chemicals to our household surfaces as well as releasing them into the air we breathe.
We can smell the chemicals whenever we use these cleaning products. The label even warns us to wear gloves, avoid contact with skin and eyes, and not to breathe in the fumes.
Children are particularly vulnerable as their vital organs are still developing, any damage can be long lasting. They are smaller in size than adults and their developing organs are at greater risk of being affected by toxins. They also have a reduced ability to eliminate toxins from their developing bodies.
We are constantly bombarded with clever marketing campaigns that promise a sparkling home with a liberal use of whatever cleaning products are being promoted. Many people think a different product is required for each item that needs to be cleaned. Generally we use too many chemical cleaning products and spend too much money on them
The average home today contains more toxic chemicals than the average chemistry laboratory at the turn of the century.
Most homes contain too many plastic bottles full of toxic, polluting cleaning products. These cleaners create packaging waste that is disposed of in our already, overloaded landfills. In addition, the chemicals in cleaning products can damage our health and the environment.
More than 72,000 synthetic chemicals have been produced since World War II. Most have been derived from petroleum and coal tar. The majority of these synthetic chemicals have never been tested for their acute or long-term effects. Neither have they been tested for their combined or cumulative effects.
Many of these synthetic chemicals have been added to our food, skin care and cleaning products without our consent and knowledge of their potential effects. Many of these chemicals have also been dispersed widely into the environment contaminating our soil, water and air. Some will persist in the environment for decades and even centuries because they biodegrade slowly and incompletely.
Soaps and detergents are used for cleaning because pure water can’t remove oily and greasy stains. Soap cleans by acting as an emulsifier which allows oil and water to mix so that oily grime can be removed during rinsing. Detergents were developed in response to the shortage of the animal fats and plant oils used to make soap during the world wars.
The difference between soap and detergent is that soap is composed of a single surfactant and nothing else, while modern detergent is composed of a whole mixture of substances often including more than just one type of surfactants along with many other ingredients.
Detergents are primarily surfactants, which lower the surface tension of water and separate dirt from the object being cleaned. The main ingredients used in the manufacture of surfactants are fatty alcohols, which are derived primarily from petroleum-based chemicals but can also be produced from plant oils and animal fats.
Apart from surfactants, modern detergents can also contain enzymes to degrade protein-based stains, bleaches to add power to the cleaning products, builders such as water and fabric softeners, synthetic colourings and fragrances. Most colourings and fragrances are derived from petrochemicals and are not necessary for the action of the cleaning products.
Most washing products, dishwashing liquids, all-purpose cleaners, toilet and bathroom cleaners contain detergents derived from petrochemicals. They can potentially cause allergic reaction and irritation to the skin, eyes, mucous membranes and lungs. They have also been linked to cancers and damage to the reproductive and nervous systems.
Legislation on labelling does not require manufacturers to list specific ingredients on labels, making it hard for consumers to know the true ingredients in their cleaning products. Petrochemical derived ingredients include chemicals such as xylene, ethylene, propylene, benzene, mono-ethanolamine, di-ethanolamine and tri-ethanolamine.
‘Green-washing’ is a marketing technique used by many companies these days to convince us that their products are ‘eco-friendly’, ‘natural’, ‘green’ and ‘environmentally safe’. The fact is in most cases this is far from the truth as the majority of companies these days are motivated by profits rather than genuine concern for the environment.
A good example would be the widespread use of palm oil in many so-called ‘green’ cleaning products. The palm oil industry has a huge negative impact on sensitive eco-systems and habitats within the countries that produce it. Many species that inhabited the forests which once stood where palm oil plantations now exist, have been displaced and are being driven closer to extinction.
Current labelling regulations within Australia do not require manufacturers to disclose a full list of ingredients in their products. This creates difficulty in making an informed decision when it comes to purchasing cleaning products for your home.
How to protect your loved ones from the harmful effects of all these cleaning products?
- Most importantly, educate yourself and use safer alternatives as much as possible.
- Choose those with no synthetic chemicals if possible.
- Minimise cleaning products to a few essentials that can do the entire job and you will also save money in the process.
- Store all cleaning products in their original containers out of the reach of children.
- Use non-toxic alternatives made from basic ingredients such as baking soda, washing soda, lemon and white vinegar.
- Always read and follow the instructions on the label and use only the amount required for the job.
- When using chemicals, ensure there is adequate ventilation, wear goggles and rubber gloves.
- Never combine cleaning products as they can interact in dangerous ways and give off toxic fumes.
- Stop using the product if you feel dizzy, nauseous or develop headache.
- Minimize the use of harsh chemicals.
Natural Cleaning Products
We do not need to use chemical-laden cleaning products to have a clean, fresh smelling home. In fact, most of the natural cleaning products outlined here have been used for hundreds of years.
With the advent of petro chemicals these time tested chemical-free methods of cleaning seem to have all but disappeared. By using natural cleaning products, your family will breathe easier and your home will smell fresher without the health hazards associated with toxic chemicals and fumes.
You can make your own natural cleaning products using natural ingredients such as baking soda, fresh lemon, pure soap flakes, salt, soap nuts, washing soda and white vinegar as they all have cleansing and scouring properties.
The best cleaner in the world is water. Most bacteria are killed by hot, soapy water. Soaking is one of the most effective ways of removing dirt. If you have hard water, add a small handful of baking soda as a natural water softener.
Baking soda, a common baking ingredient is a naturally occurring mineral (known as sodium bicarbonate) with many great cleaning properties. It cuts through grease because it reacts with fatty acids to form mild detergents. It also softens water, removes stains and acts as a whitening agent, therefore great for the laundry. When added to washing and dishwasher powder, it improves the performance and reduces the amount required. Its abrasive quality serves as a gentle scouring powder without scratching your kitchen or tile surfaces.
Fresh lemon juice contains citric acid that can deodorise, remove stains, brighten whites in the laundry or kitchen, clean glass, inhibit mould and disinfect toilets. It cleans bath edges and showers plus grouting on tiles. When used neat (full strength), it will remove grime at the base of taps.
Pure soaps are crystal like flakes of pure soap concentrate made from 100% pure vegetable oils and purified water. They are a natural and biodegradable washing agent. Hot water and pure soap flakes with a little washing soda will perform most cleaning jobs.
Salt is a disinfectant and a natural, gentle abrasive. It is useful for clearing drains and cleaning stained kitchen utensils. It cuts through grease when added to baking soda. It removes burn marks from the edges of dishes and stains from china ware. It whitens discoloured bread boards if used with cold water as a daily scrub.
Soap nut is the fruit of the Ritha, a tree found primarily in India and Nepal. It is completely natural, renewable and biodegradable. The shell contains saponin, a natural surfactant. Put six to eight half shells into a cotton bag and place in your washing machine. They should last four to six washes. When they look darker and soft, remove them and put on your compost heap. Soap nuts can also be ground to make washing powder.
Washing soda is a natural product (known as sodium carbonate) and one of the oldest cleaning products. It is a stronger base than baking soda. Washing soda is preferred for really tough stains like grease or petrol stains on garage floors etc. It is a natural water softener and cuts through grease well.
Washing soda can also be used as an effective heavy-duty cleaner for painted walls, hard floors and kitchen surfaces. Though washing soda does not produce fumes in direct air, it is recommended to wear gloves and masks while using it as a cleaning agent. The high alkalinity of washing soda also makes it an ideal stain remover for tough fabrics and clothes.
White vinegar is a very versatile cleaning agent. It contains acetic acid that will dissolve calcium build-up in dishwashers, coffee pots, kettles, sinks, shower screens and windows. It cuts through grease and soap scum and helps to carry away foul odours as it evaporates. This makes it an ideal cleaner and disinfectant for the bathroom and toilet.
White vinegar can polish off cup rings and other stains on wood when mixed with olive oil. Vinegar mixed with salt or baking soda will polish up brass and copper. Vinegar is a great household disinfectant and you can mix vinegar, salt and water to use as a cleaning compound.
Use natural cleaning tools such as scrubbing bristle brushes, cellulose sponges, linen cloth, steel wool and some elbow grease! Use old garments to make rags instead of buying newer synthetic ones. Use a wooden bristle brush instead of a plastic brush with nylon bristle. Use cellulose sponges instead of synthetic ones.
Microfiber cleaning tools can be used to clean surfaces without any cleaning products. Microfibers are finer than human hair and bring more water into contact with whatever surface is being cleaned. They act as a solvent, loosen dirt particles and trap them in the fibres. However, microfiber materials are made with synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon which are derived from petrochemicals, a non-renewable and non- biodegradable resource.