With all the chemical cleaners available, it makes us want to depend on more natural, greener cleaners, instead. But does going more natural really make a difference?
Go down any supermarket aisle or Target store and you will find a wide selection of household chemical-based cleaners. These guys all have ingredients in them that we expose ourselves to regularly. Furthermore, we're not just using one cleaner; we're using a variety of specialty cleaners that cater different surfaces. One may be great for mirrors and windows, while another is for bathtubs and sinks, and so on. Each of these cleaning products contain their own chemical solutions with certain ingredients that promise to do the job. Unfortunately, very little environmental regulations are placed on these cleaning agents and not much testing has been done on the long-term health of humans who frequently use them. These solutions contain what we call volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Phthalates is such an ingredient and commonly used in household cleaners and studies have been made on it that find a connection to asthma, and other respiratory issues, as well as male reproductive complications. Other ingredients are used to stabilize its shelf life and glycols act like antifreeze. Other common ingredients with proven health issues (studies are linked for each ingredient) are: perchloroethylene, triclosan, quarternary ammonium compounds, 2-butoxyethanol, and sodium hydroxide. Another common ingredient are phosphates, which can cause algal bloom in rivers and lakes. Plus all of the other ingredients included in these products that still have not been fully tested to the extent of understanding what possible health hazards they might cause over a period of time. Then, when you use all of these various specialty products for each surface, exposing yourself and the environment to each solution, means that you are risking your health to a possibly volatile combination in your system; more so for your pets and children who are more vulnerable. There's just not enough information known on all of these ingredients.
With so many uncertainties of chemical exposure and its health effects, many people are looking for more and more greener options. However, just like a lot things today, going greener and more natural can stop short past marketing. Currently, the FDA only regulates agriculture to be labeled organic, and does not have regulations on what should or should not be considered natural. Thus, these terms are up to the manufacturers to decide on how to label and market their products. Scary, huh? I'm pretty sure adding a little chamomile oil is not going to suddenly make the world a little greener! Thus, it is up to us to decipher what to choose to ensure our health and the health of the environment.
Products that are truly green are the ones that list transparency; ingredients that can be sourced to actual, real natural sources, or contain biodegradable ingredients. And if you can find products that list the harmful ingredients that they don't have, like the ones listed above and are contained in post-consumer recycled materials, even better! Here are some companies that are doing their part to display transparency and really make a difference through their products:
The previously listed green product companies are doing their part in ensuring that their cleaning products are up to par with their chemical competitors in terms of performance so that the customer will not have to settle for less than perfect just to be more environmentally friendly. The one ingredient, however, that green products cannot compare to is chlorine, like bleach. So in that sense, the consumer just has to put a little extra elbow-grease into their cleaning in more extreme situations, in the absence of bleach. However, many times consumers choose cleaning products, conventional or green, because using them frequently is a learned behavior. We don't need to kill the bacteria, we just need to get them off our counter tops. This germophobia with antibacterial products have given us more harm than good with cases of asthma and allergies, because with the antibacterial products from infancy and onward, we never develop T-helper cells as antibodies to fight off allergic reactions.
That said, there are still times that cleaning products are great for! Like that pizza stain from two weeks ago that no one told you about, or laundry! But keep in mind that regardless, cleaning products generate over $61 billion per year. Though this is terrific for our economy and provides jobs, it is still a huge money-making company for that sole purpose and thus, some of their products may not be all that necessary. Consider alternative options for some lighter spills and less abrasive situations. Vinegar and baking soda are great ingredients to get the job done and not harm us or the environment! If that's too basic, add a little lavender oil to give that scent you're used to!