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8 Scary Cleaning Chemicals to Avoid

8 Scary Cleaning Chemicals to Avoid
 

The average household contains about 62 toxic chemicals, say  environmental  experts. We’re exposed to them routinely — from the  phthalates in synthetic  fragrances to the noxious fumes in oven  cleaners. Ingredients in common  household products have been linked to  asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders,  hormone disruption and  neurotoxicity.

Manufacturers argue that in small amounts these toxic ingredients aren’t   likely to be a problem, but when we’re exposed to them routinely, and  in  combinations that haven’t been studied, it’s impossible to accurately  gauge the  risks. While a few products cause immediate reactions from  acute exposure  (headaches from fumes, skin burns from accidental  contact), different problems  arise with repeated contact. Chronic  exposure adds to the body’s “toxic burden”  — the number of chemicals  stored in its tissues at a given time.

No one can avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, but it is  possible  to reduce it significantly. In the following pages, experts weigh in on the  worst toxic offenders commonly  found in household cleaning products, and offer  ways to swap them for  healthier, safer options.

How to Make a Non-Toxic Cleaning Kit

1. Phthalates

Found in: Many fragranced household products, such  as air  fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper. Because of proprietary  laws,  companies don’t have to disclose what’s in their scents, so you  won’t find  phthalates on a label. If you see the word “fragrance” on a  label, there’s a  good chance phthalates are present.

Health Risks: Phthalates are known endocrine  disruptors.  Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had  correspondingly reduced  sperm counts, according to a 2003 study  conducted by researchers from the  Centers for Disease Control and  Prevention and the Harvard School of Public  Health. Although exposure to  phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it  can also happen through  skin contact with scented soaps, which is a significant  problem, warns  Alicia Stanton, MD, coauthor of Hormone  Harmony (Healthy Life Library, 2009). Unlike the digestive system, the  skin has  no safeguards against toxins. Absorbed chemicals go straight to  organs.

Healthier Choice: When possible choose fragrance-free  or  all-natural organic products. Beth Greer, author of Super Natural Home, recommends bypassing aerosol or   plug-in air fresheners and instead using essential oils or simply  opening  windows to freshen the air. Besides causing more serious effects  like endocrine  disruption, “Aerosol sprays and air fresheners can be  migraine and asthma  triggers,”  she says. Also consider adding more  plants to your home:  They’re natural air detoxifiers.

Gender-Bending Phthalates

2. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Found in: Dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet  and upholstery cleaners.

Health Risks: Perc is a neurotoxin, according to the  chief  scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney  General’s  office. And the EPA classifies perc as a “possible carcinogen”  as well. People  who live in residential buildings where dry cleaners  are located have reported  dizziness, loss of coordination and other  symptoms. While the EPA has ordered a  phase-out of perc machines in  residential buildings by 2020, California is  going even further and  plans to eliminate all use of perc by 2023 because of  its suspected  health risks. The route of exposure is most often inhalation:  that  telltale smell on clothes when they return from the dry cleaner, or the   fumes that linger after cleaning carpets.

Healthier Choice: Curtains, drapes and clothes that are   labeled “dry clean only” can be taken instead to a “wet cleaner,” which  uses  water-based technology rather than chemical solvents. The EPA  recently  recognized liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) as an environmentally  preferable  alternative to more toxic dry-cleaning solvents. Ask your dry  cleaner which  method they use. For a safer spot remover, look for a  nontoxic brand like  Ecover at a natural market, or rub undiluted castile  soap directly on stains  before washing.

3. Triclosan

Found in: Most liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps  labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Triclosan is an aggressive antibacterial   agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Explains  Sutton: “The American Medical Association has found no evidence that  these  antimicrobials make us healthier or safer, and they’re  particularly concerned  because they don’t want us overusing  antibacterial chemicals — that’s how  microbes develop resistance, and  not just to these [household antibacterials],  but also to real  antibiotics that we need.” Other studies have now found  dangerous  concentrations of triclosan in rivers and streams, where it is toxic  to  algae. The EPA is currently investigating whether triclosan may also   disrupt endocrine (hormonal) function. It is a probable carcinogen. At  press  time, the agency was reviewing the safety of triclosan in consumer   products.

Healthier Choice: Use simple detergents and soaps with   short ingredient lists, and avoid antibacterial products with triclosan  for  home use. If you’re hooked on hand sanitizer, choose one that is  alcohol-based  and without triclosan.

4. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds,  or “QUATS”

Found in: Fabric softener liquids and sheets, most household  cleaners labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Quats are another type of antimicrobial,  and  thus pose the same problem as triclosan by helping breed  antibiotic-resistant  bacteria. They’re also a skin irritant; one 10-year  study of contact dermatitis  found quats to be one of the leading  causes. According to Rebecca Sutton, PhD,  a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), they’re also  suspected as a culprit for  respiratory disorders: “There’s evidence that even  healthy people who  are [exposed to quats] on a regular basis develop asthma as  a result.”

Healthier Choice: You don’t really need fabric softener  or  dryer sheets to soften clothes or get rid of static: Simple vinegar  works just  as well. “Vinegar is the natural fabric softener of choice  for many reasons,” explains Karyn Siegel-Maier in her book The Naturally Clean Home (Storey Publishing, 2008). “Not only is it nontoxic, it also removes  soap residue in the rinse cycle and  helps to prevent static cling in the  dryer.” White vinegar is your best choice  for general cleaning; other  types can stain.

Alternatives to chemical disinfectants abound, including antibacterial,   antifungal tea-tree oil. Mix a few drops of tea-tree oil and a  tablespoon of  vinegar with water in a spray bottle for a safe, germ  killing, all-purpose  cleaner. Add a couple of drops of lavender  essential oil for scent.

5.  2-Butoxyethanol

Found in: Window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.

Health Risks: 2-butoxyethanol is the key ingredient in  many  window cleaners and gives them their characteristic sweet smell. It  belongs in  the category of “glycol ethers,” a set of powerful solvents  that don’t mess  around. Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be  listed on a product’s label.  According to the EPA’s Web site, in  addition to causing sore throats when  inhaled, at high levels glycol  ethers can also contribute to narcosis,  pulmonary edema, and severe  liver and kidney damage. Although the EPA sets a  standard on  2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, Sutton warns, “If you’re  cleaning  at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can   actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are  higher  than workplace safety standards.”

Healthier Choice: Clean mirrors and windows with  newspaper  and diluted vinegar. For other kitchen tasks, stick to simple  cleaning  compounds like Bon Ami powder; it’s made from natural  ingredients like ground  feldspar and baking soda without the added  bleach or fragrances found in most  commercial cleansers. You can also  make your own formulas with baking soda,  vinegar and essential oils. See “DIY Cleaners” on page 5 for a list of clean  concoctions.

6. Ammonia

Found in: Polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks and  jewelry; also in glass cleaner.

Health Risks: Because ammonia evaporates and doesn’t  leave  streaks, it’s another common ingredient in commercial window  cleaners. That  sparkle has a price. “Ammonia is a powerful irritant,”  says Donna Kasuska,  chemical engineer and president of ChemConscious,  Inc., a risk-management  consulting company. “It’s going to affect you  right away. The people who will  be really affected are those who have  asthma, and elderly people with lung  issues and breathing problems. It’s  almost always inhaled. People who get a lot  of ammonia exposure, like  housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis  and asthma.” Ammonia  can also create a poisonous gas if it’s mixed with  bleach.

Healthier Choice: Vodka. “It will produce a reflective shine  on any metal or mirrored surface,” explains Lori Dennis, author of Green Interior Design (Allsworth Press, 2010). And  toothpaste makes an outstanding silver polish.

7. Chlorine

Found in: Scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew  removers, laundry whiteners, household tap water.

Health Risks: “With chlorine we have so many avenues of   exposure,” says Kasuska. “You’re getting exposed through fumes and  possibly  through skin when you clean with it, but because it’s also in  city water to get  rid of bacteria, you’re also getting exposed when you  take a shower or bath.  The health risks from chlorine can be acute, and  they can be chronic; it’s a  respiratory irritant at an acute level. But  the chronic effects are what people  don’t realize: It may be a serious  thyroid disrupter.”

Healthier Choice: For scrubbing, stick to Bon Ami or  baking  soda. Toilet bowls can be cleaned with vinegar, and vinegar or  borax powder  both work well for whitening clothes. So does the  chlorine-free oxygen bleach  powder made by Biokleen. To reduce your  exposure to chlorine through tap water,  install filters on your kitchen  sink and in the shower.

8. Sodium  Hydroxide

Found in: Oven cleaners and drain openers.

Health Risks: Otherwise known as lye, sodium hydroxide  is  extremely corrosive: If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes, it  can cause  severe burns. Routes of exposure are skin contact and  inhalation. Inhaling  sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts  for days.

Healthier Choice: You can clean the grimiest oven with   baking-soda paste — it just takes a little more time and elbow grease  (see  recipes in “DIY Cleaners” on page 5). Unclog drains with a mechanical “snake” tool, or try this approach from the Green Living Ideas Web  site: Pour a cup of  baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain and  plug it for 30 minutes.  After the bubbles die down, run hot water down  the drain to clear the  debris.

Beware of Greenwashing

If a cleaning product at your supermarket proclaims itself “green,” “natural” or “biodegradable,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s  nontoxic. In 2010 the  environmental consulting firm TerraChoice Group  produced a report called “The  Sins of Greenwashing.” In it the group  found more than 95 percent of so-called  green consumer products had  committed at least one “greenwashing sin,” like  making an environmental  claim that may be truthful but unimportant. “CFC-free,” for example, is a  common one, since CFCs are banned by law. Donna Kasuska of   ChemConscious offers this advice: “When gauging ecological claims, look  for  specifics. ‘Biodegradable in three to five days’ holds more meaning  than “biodegradable” as most substances will eventually break down with  enough  time.”

DIY Cleaners

Clean your home safely — and cheaply — with the following recipes:

Basic sink cleanser – Combine ½ cup baking soda with  six  drops essential oil (such as lavender, rosemary, lemon, lime or  orange). Rinse  sink well with hot water. Sprinkle combination into sink  and pour ¼ cup vinegar  over top. After the fizz settles, scrub with a  damp sponge or cloth. Rinse  again with hot water. (From The Naturally Clean Home, by Karyn Siegel-Maier.)

Oven cleanser — Put a heatproof dish filled with  water in  the oven. Turn on the heat to let the steam soften any baked-on  grease. Once  the oven is cool, apply a paste of equal parts salt,  baking soda, and vinegar,  and scrub. (From Super  Natural Home, by Beth Greer.)

Bathroom mildew remover – Good  ventilation helps  prevent mildew and mold. When they do occur, make a spray  with 2 cups of  water and 1/4 teaspoon each of tea-tree and lavender oil. Shake  first  and spray on trouble spots. The oils break down the mildew so there’s no   need to wipe it down. (From Green  Interior Design, by Lori Dennis.)

Carpet shampoo – Mix 3 cups water, ¾ cup  vegetable-based  liquid soap, and 10 drops peppermint essential oil. Rub  the foam into soiled  areas with a damp sponge. Let dry thoroughly and  then vacuum. (From The Naturally Clean Home.)

Laundry soap — Try “soap nuts” made from the dried  fruit  of the Chinese soapberry tree. Available in natural groceries and  online, the  reusable soap nuts come in a cotton sack that goes into the  washing machine  with clothes.

Dusting — Skip the furniture polishes. Instead, use a   microfiber cloth. Made from synthetic fibers that are then split into  hundreds  of smaller microfibers, they capture dust more efficiently than  regular rags.  If necessary, a little olive oil makes a fine polishing  agent.

How to Make a Non-Toxic Cleaning Kit

By Jessie Sholl, Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness  publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic  lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in  favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com   to learn more and to sign  up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe  to the print or digital version.

 

10 Cancer-Causers to Remove From Your Home

10 Cancer-Causers to Remove From Your Home

 

Given poor government regulation, many of the cleaning products available on  the market contain “everyday” carcinogens such as formaldehyde, nitrobenzene,  methylene chloride, and napthelene, as well as reproductive toxins and hormone  disruptors. Not to mention other ingredients that cause liver, kidney and brain  damage, allergies and asthma. I really am a happy person–not your basic Eeyore  type, but toxic cleaning products seriously get my goat. One of the best things  you can do to detox your home is to create one of Annie’s simple non-toxic  cleaning kits to use–most of the ingredients you probably already have on  hand.

But there are a host of products, other than those used for basic cleaning,  that often contain carcinogenics. This list, from Cancer: 101 Solutions to a  Preventable Epidemic (New Society Publishers, 2007) by Liz Armstrong et al,  cautions against 10 household products, in addition to cleaners, that you should  avoid having in your house.

1. Air fresheners: Often contain napthelene and  formaldehyde. Try zeolite or natural fragrances from essential oils. For more  information, see Easy  Greening: Air Fresheners.

2. Art supplies: Epoxy and rubber cement glues, acrylic  paints and solvents, and permanent markers often contain carcinogens. For more  information, see Arts  and Crafts: Make it Safe.

3. Automotive supplies: Most are toxic. Keep them safely  away from the house and dispose of at a hazardous waste disposal center.

4. Candles: Avoid artificially scented paraffin candles that  produce combustion by-products, including soot. Beeswax only, with cotton wicks.  For more on beeswax candles, see The  Brilliant Beeswax Candle.

5. Carpet and upholstery shampoos: Use only wet-clean,  natural ingredients. For DIY carpet cleaning, see how to Remove  Stains and Pet Odors from Carpets.

6. Dry-cleaning: Choose clothes that don’t need  perchlorethylene to clean them. Ask for the wet-cleaning option at you local  cleaners, or seek dry-cleaners that use liquid C02 or citrus juice cleaners. For  more information, see Healthy  and Green Dry Cleaning.

7. Flea, tick and lice control: Avoid lindane-based  pesticides. For more information, see Natural  Flea and Tick Control.

8. Paints and varnishes: Always chose low- or no-VOC  finishes. For more information, see Is  Your Paint Making You Sick?

9. Household pesticides: Go natural. Make a Sugar  Ant Hotel.

10. Microwaves: Never microwave or heat food in a plastic  container. For more information about the dangers of food and plastic, see Kitchen  Plastic: Easy Greening.

Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable  living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True  Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine.  Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

5 Ways to Clear the Air and Stay Healthy

5 Ways to Clear the Air & Stay Healthy

Airborne chemicals are embedded inside our homes. They swirl around us as  toxic gases emitted from the poorly-labeled bottles of cleaning fluids in our  kitchens and bathrooms, from the bug sprays and air fresheners we use, and from  the glues, sealants, and flame retardants in our furniture. They are also  dragged inside our homes on the bottoms of our shoes and then stirred up when we  walk on our carpets. Studies have shown that the air that surrounds us indoors is  more toxic than the air outdoors…even if you live in a highly polluted city like  Los Angeles or New York.

Airborne chemicals are known as VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. They are  called volatile because they don’t stay put…they evaporate into the air and then  you breathe them in. You never really think that your home could make you tired,  irritable or even sick, but over time your body may absorb common VOCs like formaldehyde, phthalates, or PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl  ethers) which are the chemicals in flame retardants used in furniture, which  have been found in human breast milk and dryer lint.

These chemicals may exacerbate allergies and asthma, and can cause fatigue, nausea, dizziness, eye, nose  and throat irritation, cough, headache, flu-like symptoms, and skin irritation.  As they accumulate in the body over time they can silently affect how efficient  your body runs, like whether you can maintain a healthy metabolism, burn fat  well, and keep your hormones in balance. Some also are known to cause heart,  lung or kidney damage and even cancer and nerve damage if exposure is prolonged.  This in turn can have a devastating effect on your health. If your liver, for  instance, becomes taxed by an overburden of chemicals, it may not work  efficiently, setting you up for other health problems.

There are literally millions of chemicals that have been invented by humans in the last 60  years and depending on who you ask, somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 are in  common use today. Yet only a very tiny percentage have ever been directly tested  for their effects on human health.

Our bodies are remarkably resilient in defending ourselves from these  chemicals, but only to a point. Scientists question the cumulative effect. It is common  sense to believe that the more chemicals you are exposed to, the more likely you  will eventually be negatively affected by them. Here are some easy and effective  ways to reduce your exposure to chemicals in your home and minimize your risk of  getting sick. They are simple to do and will give you peace of mind in knowing  you are doing something proactive to help you and your family stay healthy.

5 Ways to Reduce Toxins by Clearing the Air:

  • Remove your shoes at the front door. Shoes track in lead,  pesticides and other pollutants. Stuff we track in from the outside can make our  home toxic, especially for pets and young children who spend more time on the  floor. At the very least get a good doormat to wipe your shoes before entering  your home.
  • Vacuum with a well-sealed high quality HEPA vacuum cleaner.  This can do a much better job of cleaning your carpets than the cheaper vacuum  cleaners found at most department stores. Steam cleaning can kill dust mites and  bacteria as well.
  • Avoid buying new upholstered furniture containing halogenated fire  retardants. If it contains polyurethane foam, look for models where the  foam is thickly covered or wrapped inside the cushion so dust from it is less  likely to escape into your home. See if they offer non-toxic stain resistant  fabrics as well.
  • Use an air purifier. Try one with HEPA  (High Efficiency Particle Arresting) technology developed by the US Atomic  Energy Commission to filter and trap sub-micron particles. Many reviews say this  type of air purifier is the most effective.
  • Add houseplants to green and purify your living space. A NASA  study found that common houseplants are natural air purifiers. Look for Aloe  Vera, Philodendron, Rubber Plant, English Ivy, Ficus, Boston Fern, Gerbera  Daisy, and Spider Plant, to name a few.

For more practical, simple solutions on how to have a super healthy home  or work environment, visit www.BethGreer.com and www.healthyhighway.org

By Beth Greer

Beth Greer, The Super Natural  Mom®, is author of the bestseller Super Natural Home, endorsed by  Deepak Chopra and Ralph Nader. She’s a radio talk show host, former  President/Co-Owner of The Learning Annex, Certified Build It Green® Healthy  Home/Workplace Specialist, Huffington Post columnist, and Environmental Health  Consultant, who eliminated a sizable tumor in her chest without drugs or  surgery. Beth is a trusted consumer advocate in the Natural Product and  Sustainability Market and consults for spas, homes, businesses, schools and  health centers nationwide.

8 Scary Cleaning Chemicals to Avoid

8 Scary Cleaning Chemicals to Avoid

The average household contains about 62 toxic chemicals, say environmental experts. We’re exposed to them routinely — from the phthalates in synthetic fragrances to the noxious fumes in oven cleaners. Ingredients in common household products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity.

Manufacturers argue that in small amounts these toxic ingredients aren’t likely to be a problem, but when we’re exposed to them routinely, and in combinations that haven’t been studied, it’s impossible to accurately gauge the risks. While a few products cause immediate reactions from acute exposure (headaches from fumes, skin burns from accidental contact), different problems arise with repeated contact. Chronic exposure adds to the body’s “toxic burden” — the number of chemicals stored in its tissues at a given time.

No one can avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, but it is possible to reduce it significantly. In the following pages, experts weigh in on the worst toxic offenders commonly found in household cleaning products, and offer ways to swap them for healthier, safer options.

How to Make a Non-Toxic Cleaning Kit

1. Phthalates

Found in: Many fragranced household products, such as air fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper. Because of proprietary laws, companies don’t have to disclose what’s in their scents, so you won’t find phthalates on a label. If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, there’s a good chance phthalates are present.

Health Risks: Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts, according to a 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health. Although exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also happen through skin contact with scented soaps, which is a significant problem, warns Alicia Stanton, MD, coauthor of Hormone Harmony (Healthy Life Library, 2009). Unlike the digestive system, the skin has no safeguards against toxins. Absorbed chemicals go straight to organs.

Healthier Choice: When possible choose fragrance-free or all-natural organic products. Beth Greer, author of Super Natural Home, recommends bypassing aerosol or plug-in air fresheners and instead using essential oils or simply opening windows to freshen the air. Besides causing more serious effects like endocrine disruption, “Aerosol sprays and air fresheners can be migraine and asthma triggers,”  she says. Also consider adding more plants to your home: They’re natural air detoxifiers.

Gender-Bending Phthalates

2. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Found in: Dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners.

Health Risks: Perc is a neurotoxin, according to the chief scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney General’s office. And the EPA classifies perc as a “possible carcinogen” as well. People who live in residential buildings where dry cleaners are located have reported dizziness, loss of coordination and other symptoms. While the EPA has ordered a phase-out of perc machines in residential buildings by 2020, California is going even further and plans to eliminate all use of perc by 2023 because of its suspected health risks. The route of exposure is most often inhalation: that telltale smell on clothes when they return from the dry cleaner, or the fumes that linger after cleaning carpets.

Healthier Choice: Curtains, drapes and clothes that are labeled “dry clean only” can be taken instead to a “wet cleaner,” which uses water-based technology rather than chemical solvents. The EPA recently recognized liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) as an environmentally preferable alternative to more toxic dry-cleaning solvents. Ask your dry cleaner which method they use. For a safer spot remover, look for a nontoxic brand like Ecover at a natural market, or rub undiluted castile soap directly on stains before washing.

3. Triclosan

Found in: Most liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Triclosan is an aggressive antibacterial agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Explains Sutton: “The American Medical Association has found no evidence that these antimicrobials make us healthier or safer, and they’re particularly concerned because they don’t want us overusing antibacterial chemicals — that’s how microbes develop resistance, and not just to these [household antibacterials], but also to real antibiotics that we need.” Other studies have now found dangerous concentrations of triclosan in rivers and streams, where it is toxic to algae. The EPA is currently investigating whether triclosan may also disrupt endocrine (hormonal) function. It is a probable carcinogen. At press time, the agency was reviewing the safety of triclosan in consumer products.

Healthier Choice: Use simple detergents and soaps with short ingredient lists, and avoid antibacterial products with triclosan for home use. If you’re hooked on hand sanitizer, choose one that is alcohol-based and without triclosan.

Triclosan Found in Dolphins

4. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”

Found in: Fabric softener liquids and sheets, most household cleaners labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Quats are another type of antimicrobial, and thus pose the same problem as triclosan by helping breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They’re also a skin irritant; one 10-year study of contact dermatitis found quats to be one of the leading causes. According to Rebecca Sutton, PhD, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), they’re also suspected as a culprit for respiratory disorders: “There’s evidence that even healthy people who are [exposed to quats] on a regular basis develop asthma as a result.”

Healthier Choice: You don’t really need fabric softener or dryer sheets to soften clothes or get rid of static: Simple vinegar works just as well. “Vinegar is the natural fabric softener of choice for many reasons,” explains Karyn Siegel-Maier in her book The Naturally Clean Home (Storey Publishing, 2008). “Not only is it nontoxic, it also removes soap residue in the rinse cycle and helps to prevent static cling in the dryer.” White vinegar is your best choice for general cleaning; other types can stain.

Alternatives to chemical disinfectants abound, including antibacterial, antifungal tea-tree oil. Mix a few drops of tea-tree oil and a tablespoon of vinegar with water in a spray bottle for a safe, germ killing, all-purpose cleaner. Add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil for scent.

5. 2-Butoxyethanol

Found in: Window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.

Health Risks: 2-butoxyethanol is the key ingredient in many window cleaners and gives them their characteristic sweet smell. It belongs in the category of “glycol ethers,” a set of powerful solvents that don’t mess around. Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label. According to the EPA’s Web site, in addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Although the EPA sets a standard on 2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, Sutton warns, “If you’re cleaning at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards.”

Healthier Choice: Clean mirrors and windows with newspaper and diluted vinegar. For other kitchen tasks, stick to simple cleaning compounds like Bon Ami powder; it’s made from natural ingredients like ground feldspar and baking soda without the added bleach or fragrances found in most commercial cleansers. You can also make your own formulas with baking soda, vinegar and essential oils. See “DIY Cleaners” on page 5 for a list of clean concoctions.

6. Ammonia

Found in: Polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks and jewelry; also in glass cleaner.

Health Risks: Because ammonia evaporates and doesn’t leave streaks, it’s another common ingredient in commercial window cleaners. That sparkle has a price. “Ammonia is a powerful irritant,” says Donna Kasuska, chemical engineer and president of ChemConscious, Inc., a risk-management consulting company. “It’s going to affect you right away. The people who will be really affected are those who have asthma, and elderly people with lung issues and breathing problems. It’s almost always inhaled. People who get a lot of ammonia exposure, like housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma.” Ammonia can also create a poisonous gas if it’s mixed with bleach.

Healthier Choice: Vodka. “It will produce a reflective shine on any metal or mirrored surface,” explains Lori Dennis, author of Green Interior Design (Allsworth Press, 2010). And toothpaste makes an outstanding silver polish.

7. Chlorine

Found in: Scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, household tap water.

Health Risks: “With chlorine we have so many avenues of exposure,” says Kasuska. “You’re getting exposed through fumes and possibly through skin when you clean with it, but because it’s also in city water to get rid of bacteria, you’re also getting exposed when you take a shower or bath. The health risks from chlorine can be acute, and they can be chronic; it’s a respiratory irritant at an acute level. But the chronic effects are what people don’t realize: It may be a serious thyroid disrupter.”

Healthier Choice: For scrubbing, stick to Bon Ami or baking soda. Toilet bowls can be cleaned with vinegar, and vinegar or borax powder both work well for whitening clothes. So does the chlorine-free oxygen bleach powder made by Biokleen. To reduce your exposure to chlorine through tap water, install filters on your kitchen sink and in the shower.

8. Sodium Hydroxide

Found in: Oven cleaners and drain openers.

Health Risks: Otherwise known as lye, sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive: If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes, it can cause severe burns. Routes of exposure are skin contact and inhalation. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts for days.

Healthier Choice: You can clean the grimiest oven with baking-soda paste — it just takes a little more time and elbow grease (see recipes in “DIY Cleaners” on page 5). Unclog drains with a mechanical “snake” tool, or try this approach from the Green Living Ideas Web site: Pour a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain and plug it for 30 minutes. After the bubbles die down, run hot water down the drain to clear the debris.

Beware of Greenwashing

If a cleaning product at your supermarket proclaims itself “green,” “natural” or “biodegradable,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s nontoxic. In 2010 the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice Group produced a report called “The Sins of Greenwashing.” In it the group found more than 95 percent of so-called green consumer products had committed at least one “greenwashing sin,” like making an environmental claim that may be truthful but unimportant. “CFC-free,” for example, is a common one, since CFCs are banned by law. Donna Kasuska of ChemConscious offers this advice: “When gauging ecological claims, look for specifics. ‘Biodegradable in three to five days’ holds more meaning than “biodegradable” as most substances will eventually break down with enough time.”

DIY Cleaners

Clean your home safely — and cheaply — with the following recipes:

Basic sink cleanser – Combine ½ cup baking soda with six drops essential oil (such as lavender, rosemary, lemon, lime or orange). Rinse sink well with hot water. Sprinkle combination into sink and pour ¼ cup vinegar over top. After the fizz settles, scrub with a damp sponge or cloth. Rinse again with hot water. (From The Naturally Clean Home, by Karyn Siegel-Maier.)

Oven cleanser — Put a heatproof dish filled with water in the oven. Turn on the heat to let the steam soften any baked-on grease. Once the oven is cool, apply a paste of equal parts salt, baking soda, and vinegar, and scrub. (From Super Natural Home, by Beth Greer.)

Bathroom mildew remover – Good ventilation helps prevent mildew and mold. When they do occur, make a spray with 2 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon each of tea-tree and lavender oil. Shake first and spray on trouble spots. The oils break down the mildew so there’s no need to wipe it down. (From Green Interior Design, by Lori Dennis.)

Carpet shampoo – Mix 3 cups water, ¾ cup vegetable-based liquid soap, and 10 drops peppermint essential oil. Rub the foam into soiled areas with a damp sponge. Let dry thoroughly and then vacuum. (From The Naturally Clean Home.)

Laundry soap — Try “soap nuts” made from the dried fruit of the Chinese soapberry tree. Available in natural groceries and online, the reusable soap nuts come in a cotton sack that goes into the washing machine with clothes.

Dusting — Skip the furniture polishes. Instead, use a microfiber cloth. Made from synthetic fibers that are then split into hundreds of smaller microfibers, they capture dust more efficiently than regular rags. If necessary, a little olive oil makes a fine polishing agent. 

 By Jessie Sholl, Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit www.experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

Green Dry Cleaning

Green Dry Cleaning

 Green Dry Cleaning

Dry Cleaning: Some Facts, Do It Less, and Go With a Green Cleaner Instead

1. You know that sort of chemical smell or dry smell on your clothes after they’ve been dry cleaned? That’s perchloroethylene (perc) and it’s a known carcinogen.

2. All those clothes that say “Dry Clean Only”? Not so. Polyester is plastic. So is rayon. Silk is the oldest material out there. (Do you think the Chinese were dry cleaning silk during the Ming Dynasty?) Wool is infinitely hand-washable. Wash all of the above, by hand, in cold water with a very little soap. Don’t even think about putting in the dryer.

3. Dry cleaning isn’t really dry. In the perc method, your clothes are immersed in a chemical bath to clean them.

4. The new Green cleaners are not perfect, but they are better than the old dry perc cleaners; for you, for your kids, for your planet. They employ one of three other cleaning methods, using C02, silicone or hydrocarbons, as opposed to the aforementioned Perchloroethylene. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great step in the right direction.

For a more in depth analysis of conventional versus green cleaners, read this Wall Street Journal article by Gwendolyn Bounds.

No time for the whole article? Check out Gwendolyn’s recommendation for finding green cleaners in your neighborhood: “For now, the Web is the best bet for consumers hunting for a non-perc cleaner in their neighborhood. CO2 cleaners are listed at findco2.com, wet-cleaners at professionalwetcleaning.com and GreenEarth cleaners at greenearthcleaning.com. There’s also nodryclean.com, which lists various cleaners by method, and igreenclean.org.”

Even though the article is from 2008, the dry cleaning chemical facts in this post by Melissa Breyer are detailed and accurate. Terri Hall gives some great instruction for hand washing wool, silk and rayon in her article, and Annie B. Bond points out various toxic chemicals lurking on our clothes and in our closets and how you can get rid of them.

-Jocelyn Broyles

Photo © Blaze86 | Dreamstime.com

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