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Last updated on November 22nd, 2018
This study of 787 participants in Massachusetts concluded that the regular use of household cleaning products doubles the risk of breast cancer.
What I find interesting is that cleaning product manufacturers are required to disclose their cleaning product ingredients. Have you ever wondered why that is? Maybe it is just me but I always think if they do not want to tell me what the products they want me to buy are made of, they must be hiding something. And if they hide something, they must be hiding something they do not want me to know. And if they do not want me to know something, that something must be bad for me. And if that something is bad for me, why would I want to pay money for it? Again, maybe it is just me. Maybe the reason they do not want to tell us the ingredients is that they do not want us to recreate their products. Because as soon as we hear “sodium laureth sulfate,” we will go home and make it. It’s possible. But somehow I do not think so.
Most cleaning products are dangerous for our health. You will know that by noticing warning statements on the label. Some cleaning products cause immediate hazards such as skin or respiratory irritation, watery eyes, chemical burns, or even death. According to the US Poison Control Center, in 2000, cleaning products were responsible for nearly 10% of toxic exposures. More than half of those exposures involved children under 6. There is another group of cleaning products that do not pose an immediate danger and thus might not have the warning statements; however, they might be associated with chronic or long-term effects such as allergy, hormone disruption, reproductive problems, and cancer. Did you know that the National Environmental Health Association published a study that revealed the regular use of basic household cleaning products doubles the risk of breast cancer?
Even so-called green, non-toxic, eco-friendly, natural cleaning supplies might not be always good for our health and the environment. The reason is that terms like “green,” “non-toxic,” “eco-friendly,” “organic,” and “natural” do not have legal definitions; in other words, manufacturers can say virtually anything they want on their product labels to sell their products. So be careful and request ingredients, which might be difficult to do. Also, even the cleaning products that are relatively non-toxic might contain surfactants (aka cleansers) that irritate skin and cause eczema.
Furthermore, what makes it even more disturbing is that even if you and I do not use these toxic cleaning products, we are still exposed to toxins, because our neighbors use them. After we use these toxic chemicals in our houses, where do they go? Some small potent amounts of them get absorbed by our bodies through skin contact, inhaling, and ingesting (what do you clean your countertops with?), the rest of them end up in our municipal water system, soil, oceans and rivers, fish, and animals. Another environmental concern with cleaning products is that many use chemicals that are petroleum-based, which contributes to the depletion of this non-renewable resource and increases our nation’s dependence on imported oil.
And why do we use such toxic cleaning products? Maybe because we do not think twice about what type of ingredients cleaning products contain. Out of sight – out of mind. Maybe because we are conditioned to associate that toxic smell with cleanliness. My friend, who works for a cleaning company that only uses green cleaning products, has a customer who complains that they do not use Comet. “I do not smell cleanliness,” she says.
We also might think that we have to disinfect our houses to stay clean and healthy, which is not necessarily true. According to the Organic Consumer Association, if you do not have a compromised immune system or illness, for most household needs a disinfectant is not needed. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention in the brochure “Seven Keys to a Safer Healthier Home” states that “cleaning with soap and water to remove dirt and most of the germs is normally enough.” Even for the prevention of staph infection in public places, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that there is no evidence that spraying surfaces with disinfectants will prevent staph infections more effectively than the targeted approach of cleaning frequently touched surfaces and any surfaces that have been exposed to infections.
So how should we prevent this toxic exposure in our houses? Avoid cleaning products with the words “Danger” or “Poison” or “Corrosive” or “May Cause Burns” on the label. Open your windows. Household cleaning products significantly contribute to indoor air pollution. Did you know that according to the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), even in very industrialized and polluted areas, indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air?
But what is even better, in my mind, is to make your own cleaning products and buy commercial ones only when you really have to. And when you have to use commercial cleaning products, use only the ones that have ingredients listed, if not on the bottle, at least on the company website. Making your own cleaning products is not hard. What I do is buy two things in bulk at Costco: baking soda and white vinegar. I also get Dr. Bronner liquid soap from Whole Foods or Amazon. With a few exceptions, baking soda, vinegar, and Dr. Bronner’s castile soap cover my cleaning needs.
In conclusion, I’d like to emphasize your house cleaning does not have to be harmful to your health and the environment. And it doesn’t have to be toxic to your wallet, either.
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