You may think that keeping your home germ-free is the best way to safeguard your family’s health. What you may not know is that the home care products that do such a fantastic job of getting rid of the ickies may contain chemicals that are doing more harm than good. These chemicals may pack the one-two punch of affecting both your family’s health as well as the environment.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization focused on the environment and public health, has what it calls its Cleaners Hall of Shame list. This is a list of products that can get your home all shiny but which may contain carcinogens, poisons, and asthma-inducing agents, among other toxic ingredients. (The EWG is the same group behind the Dirty Dozens list, or the list of produce that contain the highest levels of toxic chemicals.)
Take a look at your cleaning closet and go through the ingredients list of your current home care products. Also stop and consider the labels when you’re out shopping. Some ingredients you should watch out for are the following:
Methoxydiglycol (DEGME). This is “suspected of damaging the unborn child,” according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. While there are allowable levels of DEGME in cleaning products, the EWG found a specific multi-surface cleaner to contain 15 times the allowed amount.
Thiourea. Found in a tarnish remover, this has been classified as a carcinogen.
2-butoxyethanol. Just because a product is labeled “green,” it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. One such “green” all-purpose cleaner was found to have 2-butoxyethanol, which can irritate eyes and damage red blood cells.
Sodium or potassium hydroxide. Often found in conventional oven cleaners, these can burn skin, lungs, and eyes.
Quaternary ammonium compounds or ethanolamine. These chemicals can instigate asthma attacks and even bring about asthma in those who previously did not have the disease.
Phthalates. These hormone-disrupting chemicals can be found in those heavenly air fresheners.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Also found in air fresheners, these may be carcinogenic. While there is no conclusive evidence that phthalates and VOCs have dire effects, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends minimizing your exposure to them.
Aside from having chemicals that are hazardous to health, some home care products also have ingredients that are hazardous to the environment. Chemicals in detergents, for example, can pollute our waters. Nonbiodegradable components in detergents that find their way from your drain to open water can have adverse effects such as toxicity to aquatic life, eutrophication (excessive algae growth, resulting in oxygen depletion in water that severely affects aquatic life), and making water more acidic.
Detergents may also contaminate ground water. Those that come in nonbiodegradable, non-recyclable packaging also contribute to landfill waste. When choosing a detergent, keep in mind that powder is generally cheaper but tends to contain more chemicals than liquid.
Even something as seemingly innocuous as a sponge can have an environmental impact. Mass-market sponges are typically made of synthetic, non-biodegradable materials that end up in landfills for hundreds of years.
When possible, you can opt for natural cleaning products like lemons, baking soda, and vinegar. But what if you’d rather purchase something than go through the DIY route?
Fortunately, the changing consumer attitude towards environment-friendly products means an increase in eco-friendly home care products in the market. They run the gamut from surface cleaners to detergents, bleach and fabric softeners. There is even a natural alternative to synthetic sponges: cellular sponges. (They do require extra care as natural materials tend to absorb food particles and germs more easily, but you can toss them without worrying that they’ll be sitting in a landfill until your great-great-great grandchildren are born.)
Take note that not all ingredients may be listed on the labels of the products in stores. The best thing you can do is be an informed consumer. Read up on the harmful ingredients to avoid, look for eco-friendly products, and make better choices for your family and for Mother Earth.
Contact the companies themselves if you have any questions about the ingredients that go into their products. Ready to overhaul your cleaning closet? Head to Healthy Options, the largest organic health store in the Philippines, to take a look at all your options for eco-friendly home care products.