Have you ever stopped to think about the chemicals in a product like drain opener, strong enough to dissolve clogs often made up of hair? Chemicals in household cleaning products that leave your sink sparkling may also be doing damage to your health. If you’ve ever had to open a window to avoid a headache from fumes or cope with skin irritation caused by direct contact with a cleaner, you already know that there’s a problem. But when you’re in a big-box retail store stocked to the rafters, it can be hard to know how to buy non-toxic products or determine which ones pose the greatest risks — few have detailed labels that spell out the names of the chemicals they contain.
Thanks to ongoing research, we know that some of the most dangerous are ingredients derived from ethoxylates. These chemical compounds, which include bisphenol-A (BPA), have been linked to cancer and disruptions in normal hormone function. According to a study in the journal Chemosphere, the compounds can find their way into the human brain, liver, and fatty tissues.
“Hormonally active compounds such as bisphenol-A and some artificial fragrances are compounds that can mimic or otherwise alter the body’s hormone system,” explains Robin Dodson, ScD, a research scientist with the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Mass. “Evidence from laboratory and human studies suggests that these chemicals can affect developing reproductive and nervous systems, metabolism, and cancer.”
Dodson co-wrote a study that looked at 213 chemical compounds in household cleaners, from carpet cleaners to detergents, and found multiple chemical compounds, such as triclosan and ethanolamines, known to interfere with the action of hormones in the body. Because people tend to use many of these products, their negative effects are compounded.
“Based on our research, consumers can avoid some chemicals including antimicrobials, such as triclosan, and fragrances by reading the product label,” says Dodson. However, she says, many others are not clearly identified.
Despite the potential hazards of cleaning products, the federal government does not require ingredient labels the way that nutrition labels are required for food products. (The exception is for household products that contain pesticides, like bug killers.) Though many manufacturers provide some kind of label, there is no industry standard, and consumers may be faced with vague terms, such as “surfactant,” that don’t reveal much information about how to buy cleaning products.
How to Buy Non-Toxic: Healthy Cleaning Product Resources
Because consumers have been pushing for more information, consumer groups, government agencies, and some manufacturers and retailers have developed ratings scales that can help you choose the best cleaning products for your needs. These scales consider the types of ingredients in the product as well as the manufacturer’s willingness to make ingredient lists available to the public. Here are four good information aids:
Design for the Environment logo: Developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, this logo on a product lets consumers know that the product is considered safe for people, pets, and the environment.
Guide to Healthy Cleaning: Developed by the Environmental Working Group, this searchable guide rates products from A to F.
Whole Foods Eco-Scale Rating System: This system, developed by Whole Foods Market in collaboration with manufacturing partners, rates products on a scale from green to red.
GoodGuide: This searchable database and mobile application provide you with a rating system for a variety of household and personal care products. Dodson cautions that all these resources rely on manufacturers to list their ingredients, and her research shows that many products contain chemical compounds not clearly identified on the labels.
Healthy Home Cleaning Alternatives
“It was a mystery to me why if we can send a man into space, we hadn’t developed a safe and effective cleaning product,” says Kevin Tibbs, chemist and co-founder of Better Life, a line of safe cleaning products that carry a voluntary ingredients label. Tibbs was inspired to develop the products because of his daughters. “Kids want to clean, and they want to help,” he says. “There’s no way I would give them a commercial cleaner.”
Better Life is one of a handful of product lines like Green Concepts, Berkley Packaging Co., Amway Global, Kirkland Signature, Clean Cut Solutions and others aimed at meeting the need for healthier cleaning choices. However, the burden of figuring out whether the products in your cleaning cupboard are non-toxic still lies with you. Tibbs recommends avoiding items that contain these ingredients:
Healthy home cleaning alternatives do exist and quite possibly are already in your kitchen. “Plain water and simple ingredients like baking soda and vinegar work for many cleaning tasks,” says Dodson.
One final healthy home cleaning tip: Keep in mind that safe storage is a must for all cleaning products, especially if you have small children in the house. Even items that may seem safe can require medical treatment if they are accidentally swallowed or sprayed into the eyes. A study of emergency room visits caused by household cleaner-related injuries over a 16-year period found that one in three injury cases in children age 5 and younger was caused by swallowing bleach, a common household item. Other culprits included stain removers and odor removers.
- Republished with permission from EverydayHealth.com