A growing number of Americans are seeking so-called green cleaners — products made with natural, nontoxic, and biodegradable ingredients. Sales of natural cleaning products totaled $105 million in the last year.
Some of these cleaners promise that they contain natural (instead of synthetic) agents, break down quickly in the environment, or pose less of a toxic threat to humans and ecosystems. But critics caution that just because the ingredients in green cleaners are plant-based or natural doesn‘t necessarily mean they‘re safe.
Although green cleaners may purport to list all ingredients, the market is largely unregulated — which means consumers still must be wary of what‘s in the bottle. Even cleaning products labeled “natural” may contain some fraction of synthetic chemicals.
Or they may contain natural ingredients consumers would rather avoid, such as petroleum distillates, some of which can cause cancer. And just because a cleaning product is biodegradable and made from plant-based sources doesn‘t mean that it is without potential adverse effects on health.
Plant-based ingredients included in some green cleaners include limonene (a citrus-based oil), pine oil, and the foaming agent coconut diethanolamide — all of which can cause allergic dermatitis. And a recent study of natural and nontoxic consumer products found the suspected cancer-causing chemical 1,4-dioxane in roughly half of 100 tested products — including several dishwashing liquids with words such as “Earth friendly” and “eco” in their brand names.
Consumer advocates have pressed for stricter labeling rules, but the industry has resisted, arguing that long lists of ingredients would create a distraction on product labels, drawing attention away from important safety information.
The typical American home contains 3-10 GALLONS of toxic materials, and uses and stores more than 60 hazardous household products; everything from glass and bathroom cleaners to garden pesticides and fertilizers.
Health effects of ingredients in common household products include:
- respiratory problems
- eye irritation
- disruption of the endocrine system
Green with Greed
As more and more consumers are wisening up to the dangers of the products they use in their own homes, “green,” environmentally friendly options have sparked an industry revolution with a growing number of companies offering their own versions of eco-friendly cleaners. Clorox is one of the latest to offer a line of these products with the launch of Green Works in January 2008.
Unfortunately, the terms “green” and “natural” are nothing more than marketing terms; they’re not absolute terms of science, and they do not automatically equal safety.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who is even slightly familiar with how multinational corporations can use marketing to manipulate their products. Everyone is always looking to cash in on an expanding niche market.
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Many companies are just chomping at the bit, eager to reach into the wallets of modern, environmentally concerned consumers who want to live healthier lives, without having to boil their own soap.
And by now, everyone should be aware that advertising is all too frequently about making money, not about telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Now there is nothing wrong about earning a profit, after all it is the American way, but when you compromise and exchange human health in exchange for profits, most have a major problem with that.
And, believe me, natural cleaning products are a growing niche market, with U.S. sales totaling $105 million in the last 12 months — up 23 percent in just one year.
According to SPINS (which keeps tabs on the natural products industry trends and consumer dynamics), 2 percent of Americans are now committed users of natural and organic products. 10 percent of the U.S. population use natural products on a regular basis, and another 20 percent are starting to transition.
How Can They Get Away With It?
It’s still very much an unregulated market. And, cleaning product manufacturers — green or otherwise — are not required by law to disclose all of their ingredients on their labels.
So, as Matt Kohler, brand manager for Green Works said, “Any fly-by-night company can take a drizzle of lemon oil, pour it over a vat of chemicals and call it a natural cleaner.”
How Safe is Your Green Cleaner?
First, check the label carefully. Some can be so insidious that while they claim to be natural, safe, biodegradable or green, it may simply be that their original product has been repackaged in a biodegradable container. That’s not entirely what you had in mind when you bought it, was it?
Others may tout the claim that they’re free of CFC’s. But CFC’s have been banned for decades, so who cares?
Some natural cleaners still contain petroleum distillates such as benzene, or 1,4 dioxane, both of which can cause cancer, not to mention the fact that they come from a non-renewable resource (oil) which is, in and of itself, far from eco-friendly.
1,4 dioxane is also a suspected kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant.
Based on the Organic Consumer’s Association’s review of natural and organic personal care and household cleaning products, the only products that consistently tested negative for 1,4 dioxane were those carrying the USDA Certified Organic seal.
Clorox Green Works Natural All Purpose Cleaner, as well as their dilutable cleaner both tested negative for 1,4 dioxane, as did all of Dr. Bronner’s castile soaps. The Earth Friendly Products’ dish soaps, however, did not fare so well, containing between 13.6 to 19 ppm (parts per million) of 1,4 dioxane.
Other dangerous ingredients to look out for include:
- phosphates – cause algae proliferation in bodies of water, killing marine life
- nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE’s) – cause reproductive defects, liver and kidney damage
- phthalates – cause sperm damage and reproductive defects in boys
- volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), including 1,4-dichlorobenzene – cause nose and throat irritation, dizziness,
- glycol ethers
Natural chemicals that can cause allergic reactions, and should also be avoided, include:
- limonene (a citrus-based oil)
- pine oil
- coconut diethanolamide
However, there’s no need to despair!
There are REALLY EASY ways to keep your household sparkling clean without any risk of harmful chemicals — make them from scratch!
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to make many, if not all, of your cleaners, using nothing but common household items that you may already have in your cupboards.
How to Clean and Sanitize Without Harmful Chemicals
Items, such as vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice can get the job done just as well — sometimes even better — than their toxic counterparts.
Here’s a simple starter list of what you need to make your own natural cleaning products:
- Baking soda
- White vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Liquid castile soap
- Organic essential oils (optional)
- Mixing bowls
- Spray bottles
- Micro fiber cloths
For example, vinegar combined with hydrogen peroxide works exceptionally well as both a disinfectant and sanitizer.
Cleaning mirrors and windows is as easy as adding a quarter-cup of white vinegar per quart of water. Add a few drops of liquid dish soap to the mixture if windows or mirrors are really dirty, but be very careful not to use any that contain harmful antibacterial substances.
If you’re still using air fresheners because you like a scented environment, consider safer alternatives like therapeutic essential oils. Many of them also have the added bonus of being antibacterial agents. Just bear in mind that essential oils are NOT the same thing as fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are artificially created and often contain synthetic chemicals — so make sure the essential oil you use is of the highest quality and 100 percent pure.
Most people know that baking soda is an ideal means to absorb odors in your refrigerator, but did you know it’s also a real powerhouse when it comes to cleaning?
Half-a-Dozen Uses for Baking Soda
Here’s half a dozen examples of how plain and simple baking soda can replace dangerous commercial cleaning products in your home:
Use as a safe non-scratch scrub for metals and porcelain.
To clean your oven, simply sprinkle a cup or more of baking soda over the bottom of the oven, then cover the baking soda with enough water to make a thick paste. Let the mixture set overnight. The next morning the grease will be easy to wipe up because the grime will have loosened. When you have cleaned up the worst of the mess, dab a bit of liquid detergent or soap on a sponge, and wash the remaining residue from the oven.
To unclog a drain, pour 1/2 – 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, then slowly pour 1/2 – 1 cup of vinegar in after it. Cover the drain and let it sit for 15 minutes. If it bubbles like a volcano, it means it’s working as planned. Flush with a gallon of boiling water.
Deodorize dry carpets by sprinkling liberally with baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes, then vacuum.
To rid your garbage disposal of foul smells, add vinegar to water for ice cubes, then let a few of them get chopped by your disposal.
To clean your silver, boil 2-3 inches of water in a shallow pan with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and a sheet of aluminum foil. Totally submerge silver and boil for 2-3 minutes more. Remove silver from the pan and wipe away the tarnish with a clean cotton cloth.
Sterilize Sponges and Rags in Your Microwave
I also recommend you modify the way you use your existing towels, sponges, rags and other conventional tools you use to clean your home with, as
- they are some of the top sources for illness-causing germs in your home; and
- they do a very poor job of cleaning the biological and toxic aspects of dirt in your home
Microwaves are horrible for cooking, but GREAT for sterilizing these items!
A University of Florida team found that putting your wet sponge in the microwave for two minutes at full power could kill 99 percent of a wide range of bacteria, viruses and parasites (including B. cereus spores after four minutes, which are normally able to survive extreme heat and radiation).
Keep in mind, however, that you MUST SOAK THE SPONGE BEFORE MICROWAVING IT, or else it will likely catch fire and possibly ruin the microwave, if not your house. Additionally, the way this works is by causing the water in the sponge to turn to hot steam, which is what kills the bacteria. Also make sure the sponges do not contain any metallic components.
Zapping your sponges in the microwave every other day will decontaminate them better than simply putting them in the dishwasher, which is the strategy I had been using previously.
How to Clean and Disinfect With Just Water
Cleaning with even so called “safe” green cleaners as discussed above may help but there is a much better way – DRY STEAM VAPOR. No chemicals, just water and you not only get a true clean but if your Ladybug® is equipped with TANCS® you get true disinfection as well. So toss out your green chemicals and clean with steam. You family will thank you.