When Clean is Not Healthy

Despite this year’s extension of summer weather into mid-October, we all know that we will soon be closing up our windows and sealing our homes from the cold. Unfortunately, we will also be sealing IN the toxins from our chemical cleaners.

Keeping our drains running freely, our furniture clear of dust, and our ovens, bathrooms, and kitchens gleaming, comes at a cost. Our household cleaners have a range of potential hazards: The Organics Consumers Association points to acute or immediate dangers such as skin or respiratory irritation, watery eyes, or chemical burns, and potential chronic or long-term effects such as respiratory impairment and even cancer.

Corrosive chemicals that are used to clean drains or magically lift burnt food off of oven interiors often result in a burn if there is any skin contact. In addition, the Organics Consumers Association explains that combining products that contain chlorine and ammonia or ammonia and lye, as in the case of some oven cleaners, produces chloramine gas. Chlorine combined with acids, commonly used in toilet bowl cleaners, forms chlorine gas. While low concentrations of these gases produce only mild respiratory tract irritation, the New England Journal of Medicine has stated that exposures in higher concentrations may cause corrosive effects and cellular injury. So even  if you do not have skin contact, just breathing the gases from the cleaners can cause respiratory difficulties.

Fragrances added to cleaners can also cause problem, particularly among asthmatic or respiratory-impaired individuals. Unfortunately, fragrance makers are not required to list the individual ingredients of a fragrance, and have traditionally insisted that their recipes are “trade secrets.” In an effort to be transparent, the International Fragrance Association published a general list of the materials that have been used in fragrance compounds. There were 3,999 items! Procter & Gamble is breaking with tradition and aiming for full disclosure of the chemical ingredients in its products by 2019. Read more at http://www.ewg.org/release/procter-gamble-raises-bar-fragrance-ingredient-transparency#.Wd_VmGhSy70

Using a random sample of 1,136 adults to conduct a nationally representative population survey in the United States, a University of Melbourne study published in Science News in 2016 found the following:  When exposed to fragranced products, 34.7% of Americans suffer adverse health effects, such as breathing difficulties, headaches, dizziness, rashes, congestion, seizures, nausea, and a range of other physical problems. For half of these individuals, effects are potentially disabling, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So, short of letting your pipes clog, the furniture get dusty, your oven crusty, and your bath and toilet covered in an unsavory layer of scum, what are the alternatives?  Fortunately there are two main choices:  First of all, you can purchase non-toxic cleaners. For a list of these, check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning: http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners#.Wd_YgGhSy70

A second choice is for the DIY folks. Amass the following ingredients and then follow some basic recipes (scroll to the bottom of https://greatist.com/health/27-chemical-free-products-diy-spring-cleaning) to create your own non-toxic cleaners: Baking Soda, castile soap, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, essential oils, borax.

In the next few weeks, as you close up your windows and block out the cold, be sure to engage in healthy cleaning practices.

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