The Dirt on Household Cleaning Products
How often do you take a peek at the ingredients of your all-purpose cleaning solution?
If the answer is never, you’re definitely not alone.
While a growing number of consumers are getting more and more concerned about the harmful ingredients hidden in makeup and skincare products, the toxic ingredients you’ll find in most cleaning products are rarely part of the conversation.
But the nature of household name cleaning products is far from squeaky clean: From laundry detergents to toilet cleaners, our go-to products are packed with substances that are harmful to both our health and the planet.
So, how can we make sure we’re not putting our health and environment on the line without sacrificing hygiene and the comfort of a clean home?
The dirty four
But what exactly do we mean by “toxic”?
In the age of greenwashing and cleanwashing, it seems like the word is carrying less and less weight as time goes by, as clean beauty brands often define ingredients as toxic without any science backing up their claims.
When it comes to cleaning products, toxicity can’t be misunderstood: Prolonged contact with harmful substances is proven to cause nausea, dizziness, eye irritation, and even serious respiratory issues.
Many cleaning ingredients we use today are also classified as potential carcinogens!
Here are some of the main culprits…
Phthalates are plasticizers, a type of chemical used to make plastics more durable and dissolve other materials, often found in fragrances.
These chemicals are known endocrine disruptors, capable of causing reproductive issues to humans and other living organisms when released into the environment.
Any chemical cleaner with a scent is likely to contain phthalates, from laundry detergents to dishwashing detergents.
Unfortunately, companies are not obliged to disclose how their fragrances are made, so making an informed choice is going to be a real challenge!
We all know how dangerous ammonia can be: As a powerful irritant, inhalation can affect your lungs and eyes almost instantly, especially if you suffer from asthma or other breathing problems.
And yet, ammonia is still one of the most popular ingredients for glass cleaners and all sorts of polishers.
Chlorine, most commonly found in bleach, is another common cleaning agent with a bad rap, as it’s associated with serious respiratory irritation.
Yet, its disinfectant and whitening properties make it the perfect ingredient for cleaning bathrooms, getting rid of mildew, and whitening laundry loads.
You might not use bleach by itself, but you’re bound to find chlorine as a key ingredient in most toilet cleaners, laundry detergents, and mildew removers.
2-Butoxyethanol is a type of glycol ether and a powerful solvent often found in window cleaners and other glass cleaners.
The chemical is known to cause irritation in the eyes and throat when inhaled, as well as dizziness, nausea, and even kidney problems in more severe cases.
So, is DIY the answer?
While these popular ingredients tend to only cause severe issues after prolonged exposure and inadequate handling, there is still much we don’t know about how cleaning our homes, day in and day out, is affecting our health.
But what we do know for sure is that these chemicals are incredibly harmful to the environment, as they are not biodegradable and are bound to pollute our waterways.
Here’s where DIY culture comes to the rescue.
When it comes to keeping your home clean, biodegradable and all-natural ingredients can get the job done just as well, without any of the health risks.
So, how can you concoct effective cleaning solutions with nothing but some simple and affordable pantry staples?
A simple mixture of one part warm water, two parts distilled white vinegar, and one part baking soda can take care of most of your cleaning needs, kitchen to bathroom.
Vinegar contains acetic acid, a low pH ingredient perfect for getting rid of stubborn limescale, and also possesses natural antibacterial properties.
Adding baking soda to the solution is an all-natural way of banishing bad odors and giving the cleaner some much-needed fizz, just what you need for dissolving the toughest stains!
You can also add a slice of lemon and a few rosemary sprigs to give your all-purpose cleaner a pleasant smell.
If you’re looking for a stronger kick, you can mix one part white vinegar, one part lemon juice, and half a cup Borax substitute with two cups water.
Borax substitute is the brand name for sodium sesquicarbonate, a high pH crystal much stronger than baking soda when it comes to tackling mold and mildew.
Does DIY ever fall short?
But while making your own cleaning solutions might be a more affordable, eco-friendly, and safer way of dealing with your chores, that doesn’t mean that white vinegar and baking soda have all the answers you need.
For example, going DIY is very challenging when you’re dealing with laundry, as the wrong products can easily ruin your washing machine and clothes in the long run.
Making an effective laundry detergent is difficult: Baking soda, Borax substitute, and white vinegar can only be used in combination with a real detergent to wash your clothes effectively and DIY mixes lack the softeners and anti-caking agents of commercial products.
On top of that, using vinegar on surfaces like wood or stone is a recipe for disaster, as it will break down the finish over time.
The good news is that conscious brands have started to identify this gap in the market, offering clean soaps, detergents, and all-purpose cleaning solutions designed to leave no trace in the environment, and free of any harmful irritants.
So why not go 50/50 by making most of your cleaning products yourself while splurging on a clean, eco-friendly detergent or wood cleaner on the side?