Words by Building Biologist and Naturopath, Nicole Bijlsma
Chemical cleaning products were introduced after WWII with the advent of the industrial revolution in the 20th century. As a result of an effective marketing strategy and a bit of paranoia, one of the world’s largest and most profitable industries, the ‘chemical giant’ was born. Some how, we’ve been convinced as a society that all germs are bad and that we need to use harsh chemicals to create a healthy home for our kids.
Most of the ingredients used in conventional cleaning products will not only expose your family to potentially toxic and in some cases, known carcinogens, they also have the capacity to mutate bacteria so they become resistant and potentially more dangerous (just ask anyone who has contracted a Golden Staph infection during a hospital stay). In addition, it is impossible for the consumer to assess a product as the manufacturer is NOT required to list the ingredients on the label (most only list the active ingredient). Add to this, the time it takes for the toxic vapours to ‘out gas” in your home and you can’t help but question as to whether there is a better, more healthier option. Well there is!
“Our obsession to kill germs and create a ‘sterile’ home may predispose our children to asthma and allergies that is contributing to the allergy epidemic”
Six ingredients in cleaning products to avoid:
- Fragrances, air fresheners and deodorisers
Most commercial air fresheners and deodorisers are made from synthetic fragrances which do little more than mask your ability to smell and cover up odours. Furthermore, paradichlorobenzene is the active ingredient used in many air fresheners which is an eye, skin and throat irritant and causes kidney and liver tumours in mice (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2000).
- Bleach (sodium hypochlorite)
Sodium hypochlorite is the primary chemical used in ‘household bleach’. Whilst it is effective in killing bacteria, its wide spread use in products alleged to kill mould is quite perplexing when it does little more than ‘bleach’ the mould so it can no longer be seen (and may even exacerbate mould issues). Bleach gives off toxic fumes which irritates the eyes, lungs, nose, throat and skin and may even cause burns and death.
- Ammonia and its compounds
Ammonia and its compounds (Quaternary Ammonium Compounds) are commonly used in window, oven and floor cleaners. It is a lung, skin and eye irritant that can trigger asthma (Tox Town, 2009). In extreme situations it may cause burns and even death due to suffocation and fluid in the lungs.
- Ionic and non-ionic surfactants
There are many solvents used in cleaning products that may be hazardous to your health. The two most common detergents are sodium lauryl (laureth) sulphate and cocomidopropyl betaine (cocamide DEA, coco-betaine…) both of which are lung, eye and skin irritants. Despite the fact that coco-betaine was voted allergen of the year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2004, most ‘natural’ products contain it! Healthier cleaning products such as the Abode cleaning product range contain alkyl polyglucosides as their detergent.
This is found in citrus-based products marketed as ‘natural’ (they often have an orange or lemon on the label) are common causes of skin rashes and may contribute to allergies in children
- Dry cleaning solvents
Conventional dry cleaning involves the use of perchloroethylene or ‘perc’. Short-term exposure may cause eye irritation, light-headedness, confusion, lung problems, and temporary liver damage. Chronic exposure may damage the kidneys, liver, and the central nervous system (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2007). Perc is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
There is a better way…
Putting together a safe, healthy home cleaning kit is SO simple. It is pretty basic and should contain:
- Microfibre cloths and mop (to dust, wipe surfaces and floors and to clean windows)
- Cream cleanser paste: 6 tsp bicarb soda to 3 tsp of detergent
- Mould spray: 80% white naturally fermented vinegar to 20% water solution in a spray bottle
- Scrubbing brush and elbow grease!
Nicole Bijlsma also has a fantastic range of safe cleaning products which are available in many health food stores or online (links below):
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicole Bijlsma is an accomplished Naturopath, Acupuncturist and Building Biologist who is the founder and CEO of the Australian College of Environmental Studies, and was instrumental in bringing building biology into Australia. Nicole is a popular public speaker and best-selling author on environmental health having featured on every major television network. Nicole writes a Healthy Home column for Body+Soul which is published in Newscorp newspapers across Australia. Nicole is passionate about empowering people to create healthy homes. To find out more about Nicole and her amazing work, click HERE.