Keeping your home spic and span is necessary to your health and wellbeing. By getting rid of dust and germs, you also reduce your risk of exposure to their accompanying health risks. But commercial cleaning products that get the job done may be doing more harm than good, so you might want to consider environmentally friendly household products.

Clean Home, Dirty Earth?

Some of the cleaning products commonly used at home may have adverse effects on the environment. These products include:

General cleaners (surface cleaners, floor cleaners, etc.). The EPA explains that cleaning products are released to the environment through evaporation or rinsing down the drain when you clean sponges, mops, and the like. Certain ingredients not only pose health risks such as skin and eye irritation but also environmental risks like exposing aquatic life to harmful chemical components.

Detergents. There are generally two types of detergent: laundry and dishwashing.

People have been using chemical additives—from sulfur and charcoal to ashes—to wash clothes since ancient times. Prior to the invention of detergents, soap was used as a clothes cleaner. In the 1930s, the first commercial laundry detergents were invented and were shown to be more effective at removing stains.

The way detergent works is that it has surfactants, or agents that are able to bind with grime on one end and with water on the other, thus lifting stains away from fabric and suspending them in the water, keeping them from returning to the fabric. Aside from having surfactants, detergents also have additives called builders, which help detergents do their job in hard water. They also act as extenders, meaning less surfactants are needed in the detergent. Detergents may also include bleach or other whitening agents as well as chemicals to give your favorite detergent that fresh floral scent.

When you use detergent, the wastewater goes to household septic tanks and treatment plants. Solid materials are removed then dissolved by biological methods. Detergent components like surfactants and builders then go through a process called biodegradation before the water is released into water systems.

The problem with detergents is that they may contain nonbiodegradable components which are harmful to the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the chemical components of detergents may have some negative effects on the environment, such as toxicity to aquatic life (affecting scales of some fish, for example), eutrophication (excessive growth of algae in water, resulting in oxygen depletion in water and severely affecting aquatic life), and making water more acidic. Detergents may also contaminate ground water. Additionally, those that come in nonbiodegradable, non-recyclable packaging contribute to landfill waste.

Eutrophication is no longer a big concern since phosphate, the primary culprit, has been banned as a detergent component, but other chemicals may still have adverse effects on the environment. Formulations of detergents have greatly improved since their invention, but Mother Earth will still thank you if you are an informed consumer. Powder detergents are generally cheaper but they tend to contain more chemicals than their liquid counterparts. Liquid detergents are typically more expensive but are more concentrated so you’ll need less when you do a load of laundry. Before choosing a detergent, make sure to do you research on the ingredients as companies aren’t required to list them on the packaging. As much as possible, go for those that can be refilled or that come in biodegradable or recyclable packaging.

Air Fresheners. They make your home smell like vanilla or your bathroom smell like a forest, but air fresheners in their various forms contain components like phthalates (hormone-disrupting chemicals) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs, which may be carcinogenic). While there is no conclusive evidence to show the negative effects of such components on environment and health, the EPA still recommends minimizing your exposure to them.

How to Choose Environmentally Friendly Household Products

While all commercially available cleaning products have some chemical components, you can still minimize impact and help the environment and safeguard your health by doing your research. The benefits of buying environmentally friendly household products are obvious, but along with advantages come disadvantages of environmentally friendly products—they’re sometimes less effective at stain removal, for example.

So how do you choose the greenest products possible? The EPA recommends taking into account a product’s biodegradability, low toxicity, low VOC content, reduced packaging, and low life cycle energy use (e.g., plug-in air fresheners make use of electricity, which adds to their carbon footprint). The agency adds, “When purchasing cleaning products, the overall best value takes into account performance, price, availability, regulatory requirements, and environmental impact. Purchasers should examine as many relevant product attributes as possible, recognizing that tradeoffs are inevitable. For example, one product may be made with renewable resources (a desirable characteristic), while another product has a lower VOC content (also a desirable characteristic).” The EPA also warns consumers to be wary of labels saying a product is “eco safe” since this isn’t regulated. Read up and go for trusted brands with a proven commitment to the environment.




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