You use cleaning supplies on a regular basis, hopefully, so it’s worthwhile to think about both the health and sustainability of your cleaning products. What about making your own? Right off the bat, it’s pretty obvious that you could be sending a lot less material to the landfill. Instead of using a spray-bottle once, throwing it out and buying a new one, you can reuse the same one for as long as it lasts.
It’s also a lot cheaper, pennies on the dollar, even taking into account things like essential oils (tea tree oil is a common ingredient in sustainable cleaning supplies because it’s antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial) which can feel expensive at the initial purchase, but you use them relatively slowly.
Most importantly, manufactured cleaning supplies are typically loaded with chemicals that are surprisingly damaging to human health, for something that’s meant to be used in our homes on a daily basis. Your house could have as many as 60 toxic chemicals, most of which don’t cause an immediate acute reaction, but chronic exposure, especially in unstudied combinations, can be a very different story. Your home should be an oasis and a safe-haven, not a toxic soup. Here’s a quick list of some of the most concerning chemicals that we find in our household cleaners and why you don’t want them in your home:
Phthalates – These are not required to be listed on labels, and often show up as “fragrance.” You can be exposed to them via inhalation or skin contact, and they’re found in cosmetics, soaps, air fresheners, even toilet paper and vinyl shower curtains. The danger of this is that it’s an endocrine disruptor, which can cause abnormal growth of genitalia and hormone levels during sexual development of boys whose mothers have high exposure to phthalates during pregnancy.
Perchloroethylene (perc) – This is found in carpet and upholstery cleaners, dry-cleaning solutions, and spot removers. It’s a neurotoxin, which means it causes damage to your brain; initial symptoms include (but certainly aren’t limited to) dizziness and loss of coordination. Exposure is through inhalation: that particular smell your clothes have when you get them back from the dry-cleaner. Perc is also classified by the EPA as a possible carcinogen.
Triclosan – Most hand and dish soaps that are labeled antibacterial have triclosan in them. It’s a probable carcinogen, according to the EPA, and may also be an endocrine disruptor. The most dangerous part is that it promotes the growth of resistant bacteria, not just to triclosan itself, but also to antibiotics. It’s been found in rivers and streams, and must be in oceans as well as it’s been found in dolphins. It’s possible that triclosan is contributing to the deaths of some animals from bacterial infections.
Quarternary ammonium compounds (quats) – Common in both liquid and sheet fabric softeners, as well as items labeled antibacterial, these guys, like triclosan, promote the growth of resistant bacteria. They are also a leading cause of skin irritation, and are highly suspected in respiratory problems.
2-Butoxyethanol – A glycol ether, this stuff is typically found in general-purpose cleaners, kitchen cleaners and glass cleaners. It’s not required to be listed on labels, but the EPA has workplace safety standard levels for it. If you’re cleaning at home, though, you could easily end up with levels that are higher than the safety standards, especially if you’re using these products in an enclosed space. If you inhale a little you can get a sore throat, but too much of it and you can end up with kidney and liver damage, narcosis (i.e., you pass out), or pulmonary edema.
Ammonia – Very bad to breath, ammonia is an ingredient in metal polish and glass cleaner. Also highly dangerous toxic fumes result when mixed with bleach.
Chlorine – You’re exposed to chlorine through inhalation and skin exposure when you use products like toilet bowl cleaner, mildew remover, scouring powder and some laundry whiteners. It’s a possible thyroid disruptor, and can cause acute and chronic respiratory problems.
Sodium hydroxide (lye) – Oven and drain cleaners both use lye, which is another one you’re exposed to both by inhalation and skin contact. If it so much as touches your skin it can cause burns, and breathing it in can give you a sore throat for days.