Monday, October 31, 2016

In Search Of A Safer Home Environment - Cleaning Without Poisons

Today we have a lot of tough choices when it comes to keeping our homes clean.   With the advent of superbugs and the heightened concerns for cleanliness many new cleaning products have been brought to market and some common household cleaners contain dangerous chemicals.  The exposure to these harsh ingredients has far-reaching consequences ranging from chemical burns, fertility problems and liver damage.    This makes for a really tough decision for parents who naturally want to maintain a sanitary environment for their children without exposing them to toxic cleaners.   This is a concern for "pet parents" as well!

Some of the modern cleaners, especially hand sanitizing agents contain estrogenic compounds which means that they can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body.  It is well known that artificially increasing levels of estrogen can lead to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. 

These compounds were not able to be removed by water processing plants and therefore enter the water supply.  The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project documented severe defects in fish populations caused by these chemicals.  Human research studies document early onset of puberty linked to estrogenic compounds in the environment.  

What’s in your cleaning cupboard?
Triclosan: Absorption through the skin can be tied to liver damage. (found in antibacterial products)
Ammonia: It is a very volatile chemical, it is very damaging to your eyes, respiratory tract and skin.
Sodium hypochlorite: Corrosive, irritates or burns skin and eyes, causes fluid in the lungs which can lead to coma or death. (also known as household bleach)
Sodium Tripolyphosphate: skin and mucous membrane irritant (laundry products)
Formaldehyde: Highly toxic, known carcinogen. (air fresheners)
Perchlorethylene: Known carcinogen damages liver, kidney and nervous system damage. (carpet cleaner)
 Ammonium Hydroxide: Corrosive, extremely irritable to eyes, skin and respiratory passages. (carpet cleaner)
Lye: Caustic, burns skin and eyes, can severely burn esophagus and stomach if swallowed. (drain cleaner or oven cleaner)
Hydrochloric acid: Corrosive, eye and skin irritant (drain cleaner)
Trichloroethane: Eye and skin irritant, nervous system depressant; damages liver and kidneys.
Petroleum Distillates: Highly flammable, carcinogenic
 Nitrobenzene: Easily absorbed through the skin, extremely toxic.
Phenol: When phenol touches your skin it can cause it to swell, burn, peel, and break out in hives. Causes convulsions, circulatory failure, coma and death. (air fresheners)
Linear alkylate sulfonate: Absorbed through the skin. Known liver damaging agent. (laundry products)

Is it any wonder that we see more and more people with allergies and multiple chemical sensitivities?

Safer alternatives

Essential oils – there is more and more research indicating the efficacy of these oils in cleaning and in actual anti-microbial activities.   They have an added benefit of being insect repellant as well.

Antibacterial hand cleaner – use one with an alcohol base instead of triclosan. 
Window cleaner – white vinegar

Carpet cleaner – white vinegar (especially for pet stains – works best on fresh stains)

Carpet deodorizing – powdered borax

To clean pet stains from carpet – use white vinegar and hot water.  This works best on fresh stains and has the added benefit of removing the odor-causing chemicals that encourage pets to leave more stains in that area.

Soap – many quality handcrafted soaps are available at natural grocery stores.  It is also easy and fun to make your own soap at home.

Salt – great for scrubbing

Baking soda – deodorizing and scouring powder.  When mixed with vinegar works to remove stains in toilet bowls.

Disinfectant - mix borax and vinegar (one half cup per gallon)

To clean greasy baked on food from dishes – put hot water in the pan and add baking soda (2 tbsp per quart of water) and allow it to sit until food is loosened from surface.

Wash dishes in soap instead of detergent.    Or you can use equal parts borax and washing soda (sodium carbonate).

To remove mineral deposits from metal shower heads boil them in vinegar – avoid inhaling the steam that is generated from this as the vaporized vinegar can be a respiratory irritant.

Efficacy of Natural Cleansers
One of the big concerns with using natural cleaning products is whether or not they are effective.   Certainly the very strong toxic cleansers are really good at killing bacteria.   However, chemicals are not the only means to kill the bacteria.  Bacteria can be killed by heat and many are destroyed simply by drying out.   Bacteria thrive with moist conditions, especially if they have a suitable host such as food (or food spills/stains).  This means that much of the bacteria can be eliminated simply by washing up thoroughly.  In a home setting, it is not practical or possible to eliminate all bacteria.  Even labs with “clean rooms” have highly specialized equipment to maintain that environment.  This includes constant positive pressure of air flow, using biohazard suits and autoclaves among other things.   Claims such as “kills 99% of all germs” or “kills germs on contact”, are really ludicrous because touching that surface or even a light breeze will repopulate that surface with bacteria.  Modern dishwashers use such high temperatures that they kill bacteria on dishes.  The hot setting on washing machines can be used on particularly soiled linens, such as bedding of someone who is ill or fabrics soiled by vomit, feces or urine.  UV light destroys many bacterial species so hanging clothes outside can help as well.

Some great benefits of natural cleaning products:
Generally speaking these natural alternatives are much less expensive than their conventional counterparts.  Part of the reason for this is that there are no research and development costs associated with the sale of these products.  They are readily available in the stores. 

Those consumers with children or pets will be glad to know that these items are safer for their little ones (human and animal!).  Pets and children have an unfortunate tendency to get into everything!  With the natural cleaners it is more difficult for them to injure or poison themselves.  What a relief!

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