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  • Writer's pictureMiri M

Spring cleaning? See how to avoid harmful chemicals, and use free apps to identify safer products

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

Today I'd like to talk about the dangers of using cleaning products that have potentially harmful chemicals in them, and how to avoid these products.

Remember the TV commercials of cleaning products? They usually emphasize how powerful and effortless it is to make your home squeaky clean and smells fragrant. Yes, performance is an important criteria, but safety is of higher concern when it comes to products that you use everyday. You need to read this post if you are concerned about the chemicals in products that you use daily.

What are these commonly used harmful chemicals? How to avoid them?

(This list applies to personal care products and beauty products too.)

(1) Chemical Fragrances

When "Floral", "Sea", "Pine", "Citric" are written on the packaging, what it usually means is that the product is added with chemically derived synthetic scents (Phthalates or other types of masking smells). Synthetic fragrances are everywhere from hand soaps to air-fresheners and toilet paper, but brands are not required to disclose the chemicals they use because of proprietary laws. So, if you see “fragrance”in ingredients list , best is to avoid them.

☠️ Health hazards:

Phthalates are known to be endocrine disruptors that have antiandrogenic effects on males. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health, 2003). Phthalates also affect female reproductive health and health of foetus and infants. Phthalates are mainly absorbed directly into the body through inhalation and skin.

(2) "Anti-bacterial" ingredients

The main "anti-bacterial" ingredients commonly added in household and personal cleaning products are Triclosan, benzalkonium chloride, Chloroxylenol and Quarternary Ammonium Compounds.

It's best to avoid anything that says "Anti-bacterial" because:

  • Human beings are comprised of 10% human cells and 90% microbial cells (good bacterial in your guts and everywhere else), killing these micro-organisms is bad for overall well-being. Read this book (Human as Superorganism by Rodney Dietert) if you want to understand more about human microbes

  • The harmful chemicals get washed down the drain and kill other important microorganisms in the environment

☠️ Health hazards:

Triclosan is most commonly added to antibacterial hand soaps, laundry liquids/powder, toothpaste and wet wipes - because of that, people’s long-term exposure to triclosan is higher than previously thought, raising concerns about the potential risks associated with the use of this ingredient over a lifetime. In addition, laboratory studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Triclosan is also know to be a possible endocrine disruptor. Click here to find out how Benzalkonium chloride is harmful too.

(3) Questionable ingredients:

There are too many questionable chemical cleaning agents in commercial cleaning products that can potentially cause serious issues to our health - asthma, allergies and hypersensitive responses, and other more serious health problems such as thyroid dysfunction and cancer. It is impossible to write them all, but below are a few:

  • 2-Butoxyethanol is a common ingredient found in window cleaning sprays, and all-purpose clearners;

  • Sodium Hydroxide is mainly used in oven or hood cleaner and drain openers;

  • Chlorine in bleach, toilet cleaning detergents, anti-mid dew sprays;

  • Ammonia in polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, jewelry, dishwashing tablets, window cleaners;

  • Sulfactants such as Isotridecanol and Ethoxylated for binding with grime and dirt, common in oven and hood cleaners;

  • Synthetic sulfate-based chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are produced from petroleum and plant sources such as coconut and palm oil. They are most common among cleaning and personal care products such as shampoos, dish soap, body soap, laundry detergents, household cleaners - to create a foamy lather effect;

  • Preservatives added to most liquid based detergents and personal care products, such as EDTA and parabens, which could release harmful formaldehyde releasing compounds and VOCs

  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone, also referred to as MCI/MCIT/CMIT/CMI, is a preservative with antibacterial and antifungal effects within the group of isothiazolinones. It is toxic in contact with skin or inhaled, it may cause allergic skin reaction. Methylchloroisothiazolinone is found in many water-based personal care products and cosmetics.

You might be exposing your family to more toxic chemicals than you think

Sure, most of the products sold in the market have been tested and approved by the authorities. However, authorities are not able to take into account of all the products/chemicals that you use each day, and therefore not able to determine for YOU, whether it is safe to use the products. Think of how many products you use everyday and how many times you wash your hands? What about the amount of chemicals you wash down the drain each day? Many countries do not have proper water treatment plants and these toxic chemicals get into the underground water source, our soil and plants.

Use modern technology to help you identify safer products

Don't worry, you don't have to stand in the store to google the ingredients one by one. There are at least two well established apps that you can use to help you search quickly.

All you need to do is to use the apps to search the product brand name or the key main ingredients, and if info is available, you will be shown a scale from 1-10.

1 means safest and 10 means the most worrying.

Click here for the EWG (Environmental Working Group) app

Click here for the 1Source app

The same goes for cosmetics and beauty products.

If you are interested, I suggest that you take a look at this documentary: "ToxicBeauty" (Click here for the documentary trailer) - you may want to throw away your beauty products after seeing this.

For more background information on this documentary, take a look at this Vogue article and this website Beautytruth.

Now that we have learned what do avoid? (we probably have eliminated 90% of what's commercially available in the supermarket), how to choose the right cleaning product?

Never over-sanitise and always choose mild and biodegradable products

It is a sad sight that stores are loaded with anti-bacterial products, especially during Covid19 epidemic. It is no surprise - consumers are led to believe that they need anti-bacterial sanitisers to get rid of pathogens. In fact, the human body is inhabited by millions of tiny living organisms, which, all together, are called the human microbiota. We need these bacteria to stay balanced and healthy. Over-sanitising our bodies actually make us more prone to infections, allergy and sickness. Instead, consider using boiling water, vinegar, alcohol, salt, tea tree and other essentials to kill the unwanted bacteria, mould and viruses rather than using harsh chemicals.

Return to Basics

I am a minimalist when it comes to cleaning product. My main cleaning products are 100% natural Castile liquid soap for hand washing and general cleaning (add essential oils for added cleaning power and natural fragrances), a simple biodegradable dish soap, bar soap for wash cloths, and simple laundry powder without fluorescent brightening agents, fragrances or preservatives.

Always go for the most simple, minimal, and all natural option when it comes to cleaning and personal care products. After all, your skin is your biggest organ, and you should protect yourself from inhaling harmful fumes and fragrances.

A bar of old-fashioned soap is always a safer than detergents loaded with foaming agents, colours and smells. One 100% natural all-purpose cleaner is better than many bottles of specific purposes cleaners and sprays that are loaded with harsh chemicals. You can keep your kitchen counters less cluttered too and save lots of money.

There are a few reputable and friendly sellers that offer refillable 100% natural Castile Soap. I love the all-purpose Castile soaps of The Castile Soap Shop and I think it is good value of money. Click here to read about them. What's even better, they can drive their refill van to your home and refill their products into bottles already available in your home, if you meet a minimum order quantity.

(Please note that I am not affiliated to the company and I do not get commission mentioning them)

DIY your own eco-enzymes for all-purpose cleaning

I am no expert in making eco-enzymes, but my good friend The Green Mama is! She has many wonderful eco-living tips and recipes on her site that I highly recommend.

Click this link for The Green Mama's tutorial on how to make eco-enzyme at home.

Do you have any cleaning tips that you would like to share?

Or you know of any great product that you would like to show case?

Write to me, let's connect!

Stay clean, but clean safely 😊 !


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