A “Clean” Home
We clean to eliminate dirt, germs and odors. However, many household cleaning products contain a number of chemicals, some of which may be hazardous if accidentally swallowed, inhaled, splashed in the eyes or spilled on the skin. Research shows some of these chemicals can be inhaled because they stay in the air for as long as 20 minutes. Accidental exposure to cleaning chemicals can also trigger eye or skin irritation, rashes, headaches, allergies, respiratory problems (like asthma), and in some cases, cancer. Children and pets are particularly susceptible to adverse reactions from cleaning products because they crawl/play on the floors and are closer to the contaminants.
Children are also at risk for accidental poisoning from household cleaning chemicals. One study found, in 2006, 11,964 children were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for exposure to some type of household cleaning product. The most common source of injury was bleach.
In addition to the human hazards of some cleaning products, there is a concern over the environmental dangers they may cause to the water and soil. Thus, some people are switching to more eco-friendly cleaning products. Michelle Niedermeier, M.S., Environmental Health Specialist with the Pennsylvania IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Program in Philadelphia, PA, says there are no standardized definitions of “natural” or “green.” She offers some tips:
Don’t judge a product by its smell. Most fragrances are simply chemicals. A room doesn’t have to smell like “pine” or “lemon” to be clean. These added scents can cause irritation and respiratory problems in susceptible people.
Know what you are buying. Read the label. Look for “signal” words that imply hazardous ingredients, like “warning,” “danger” or “flammable.”
Look for third party product certification. Products labeled with the “Green Seal” must meet rigorous environmental standards that ensure the ingredients are safe for human health and the environment.
Keep all products in their original, labeled containers. No matter whether you decide to stay with traditional or “green” cleaning products, it’s important to keep them in a properly labeled container. This reduces the risk of using the wrong product or mixing incompatible chemicals (ones that cause dangerous chemical reactions when combined). In addition, the label provides important safety information about how to handle accidental ingestion or contact with the skin or eyes.
Niedermeier says an alternative to purchasing cleaning products is to make them at home. Many non-toxic cleaning products can be made using three ingredients: baking soda, vinegar (white is preferred, but if you don’t like the smell, use apple cider vinegar) and castile soap (a vegetable-based soap). If you want fragrance, you can add some fresh lemon or lime juice. Other ingredients needed include water, measuring cups, a bucket (for mixing), a funnel and bottles.
Here are some suggestions for making your own cleaning products using these ingredients, from the advice of Niedermeier and the organization Care2.com:
Glass cleaner. Mix 3 tablespoons of vinegar with 2 cups of water and ¼ to ½ teaspoon of liquid vegetable soap. Pour into a spray bottle and mix well.
All purpose spray cleaner. Place 2 cups of warm water in an empty spray bottle. Add one teaspoon of vegetable soap and one teaspoon of baking soda. Slowly add 3 teaspoons of vinegar to the mixture (be careful, the vinegar will react with the baking soda and foam). Replace the nozzle and shake to completely mix the ingredients.
Regular all purpose cleaner (non-spray). Add 4 tablespoons of baking soda to 4 cups of warm water. Mix well. Niedermeier says this is a good cleaner for scrubbing counter tops, the bathtub and other surfaces.
Soft scrub. Place about ½ cup of baking soda in a bowl, then add just enough vegetable soap to make a creamy paste-like mixture. Use with a sponge to wipe grimy surfaces. This is a nice cleaner for bathtubs because it cuts the grime without scratching the surface.
Niedermeier says since home-made cleaners are not quite as abrasive, you may need to use a little more elbow grease to remove dirt and grease. Even though the ingredients are non-toxic, all home-made cleaning products should still be stored in a labeled container (with a list of ingredients as well as the type of cleaner) and out of reach of children.
Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/epp/pubs/products/cleaning.htm
Green Seal, http://www.greenseal.org
Choi, Hyunok, et al., “Common Household Chemicals and the Allergy Risks in Pre-school Age Children,” PLoS ONE, October 2010, Vol. 5, No. 10, p. e13423.
Light, E., “Efficacy of ‘Green’ Cleaning Products with Respect to Common Respiratory Viruses and Mold Growth,” Journal of Environmental Health, May 2009, Vol. 71, No. 9, pp. 24-27.
McKenzie, L., et al., “Household Cleaning Product-related Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments in 1990-2006,” Pediatrics, September 2010, Vol. 126, No. 3, pp. 509-516.
Magnano, M., et al., “Contact Allergens and Irritants in Household Washing and Cleaning Products,” Contact Dermatitis, December 2009, Vol. 61, No. 6, pp. 337-341.