Commercial cleaning products may be convenient but are they safe for your health and the wider environment?
Common household bleach can react with other chemicals, releasing chlorinated VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air, some of which are toxic and possible human carcinogens. Meanwhile, the overuse of antibacterials in the home is similar to the overuse of antibiotics in animals. If the bactericide is not fully effective, microbial resistance to antibacterial agents can increase over time, potentially resulting in more dangerous strains of bacteria evolving. There is also evidence to suggest that excessively clean homes and the associated lack of exposure to often relatively harmless bacteria and parasites can contribute to the development of allergies and other autoimmune conditions.
So if you’re restocking your cleaning cupboard, why not take the opportunity to see if you can replace some of your cleaning products with greener (and potentially safer) alternatives?
Example of a greener cleaning cupboard:
- Sodium bicarbonate
- Lemon juice
- Distilled vinegar – (the smell disappears as it dries)
- Table salt
- Essential oils
- Beeswax furniture polish
- Castile soap
- Eco-friendly product brands
- Old toothbrush for scrubbing nooks and crannies
- Old sheets/towels cut into rags
(For tips on how to use these home remedies, see links at end of blog.)
We stock refillable Ecover products in our Eco Shop. Approved by the Good Housekeeping Institute, I can confirm that Ecover products work well minus the harshness and they smell nice too. Furthermore, the washing-up liquid is very gentle on my sensitive hands!
Cleaning tips to remember:
- Go easy on the detergents. A little goes a long way and a germ-free home doesn’t always equate to a healthy family.
- To get rid of dirt and grease, scrubbing with bicarb and vinegar or lemon juice can be pretty effective on its own.
- Replace antibacterial hand wash with a bar of soap. The most effective way to clean your hands of dirt and germs is to scrub them away. The soap might not kill germs, but its slipperiness will help you to rinse them down the sink.
- Solid soap typically needs fewer preservatives and less packaging than liquid soap.
- I find that newspaper dipped in a solution of vinegar and water cleans windows and mirrors effectively. Dry with a sheet of newspaper to banish streaks.
- Instead of using detergents containing optical brighteners, soaking stains in white vinegar or lemon juice before drying in natural sunlight can help whiten clothes.
- Beware deceptively-labelled products. Just because a cleaning product “contains natural ingredients”, features a picture of a tree and comes packaged in a green bottle, doesn’t make it environmentally-friendly. (On closer inspection, you may find that the “natural ingredients” only account for a tiny proportion of the bottle’s contents and natural ingredients are not always sustainable anyway.)
- In general, the fewer added colours and fragrances in a product, the better.
- Air fresheners and aerosols can be particularly bad for the environment and can cause irritation in asthmatic people. Open windows in warm weather for ventilation instead. Alternatively, try these natural air-fresheners. (Home-baking, pure beeswax candles and cut flowers from the garden smell good too.)
- Houseplants are an excellent way to help filter the air!
- Anyone up for growing their own soapwort…? See soap recipes here!
In truth, if you want to disinfect a surface (bearing in mind that over-blitzing microbes can potentially limit the effectiveness of a developing immune system), a bleach solution is probably the most effective way to do it, but don’t go overboard – a little goes a long way! Avoid using it with other cleaning agents to lower the risk of producing chlorinated VOCs.
At the end of the day, everything has some sort of impact on the environment. Lemons have to be transported, eco-products still have to use raw materials from somewhere with inevitable waste during the production process, and for a cleaner to be effective, it’s bound to disrupt the aquatic balance to some extent…
While we may not be able to fully eradicate the environmental costs of cleaning, we can aim to reduce them.
Further links and resources: