All In Clean Fun

by Dave on October 15, 2009

by Andy Meddick

According to Mintel, the Chicago-based market research company, sales of green cleaning products quadrupled from 2003 to 2008. By 2013, Mintel expects say eco-friendly cleaners will account for 30% percent of the household-cleaners market, compared to just 3 percent in 2008.

Household cleaner manufacturers are not legally required to disclose ingredients on labels. “Bleach,” for example, is a word used interchangeably with Chlorinated Hydrogen Peroxide. It is the chlorine that can cause health and environmental issues. Hydrogen peroxide is used in many Doctors offices to sanitize – it is much cheaper than chlorinated bleach, just as effective, does not have that toxic smell, and is safer for our health.

We all need guidance about which chemicals to avoid and how to decipher vague, or confusing labeling claims. So here’s our guide to some basic concepts on ‘green’ cleaning product labeling and how to spot the sincerely green ones from the smoke and mirror crowd.

Laundry Detergent: Phosphates. Phosphates are water-softening mineral additives used to enhance the performance of ‘stain removers.’ If ingested they can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Being corrosive, they can cause sever skin irritation. Phosphates are banned in marine boating area and campgrounds, and are harmful to greywater and septic systems. Why? They encourage overpopulation of algae (‘algae bloom’) feeding on the imbalance of phosphates in the water. When the algae die, this clogs waterways, blocking off light and heat, and reducing oxygen levels. Waterways silt up. Water borne organisms die off. The Baltic Sea is quickly dying due to this. The World Wildlife Fund estimates a 24 percent reduction on the phosphate load of the Baltic Sea simply by removing phosphates from detergents. Once we have done that we can move on to tackling all the other phosphates for which we are responsible. If just making our cleaning Eco friendly can reduce the burden by nearly a quarter, is it not worth making the switch? Look for “Zero,” or, “No Phosphates.” Additionally, so-called, “Bleach,” mentioned above as Chlorinated Bleach, is harmful to your lungs and mucous membranes. It produces dioxins, and trihalomthanes – toxins linked to cancer, and absorbable organic halides harmful to marine life. Avoid synthetic dyes and perfumes, which can cause skin and respiratory issues.

Dishwasher Detergent: Chlorine Free.  Chlorine in your dishwasher can irritate skin, eyes, and mucous membranes, causing respiratory problems, particularly for steam escaping from the dishwasher. Chlorine leaves a chemical residue on, ‘clean’ dishes, which can transfer to your food and into your body. Also avoid phosphates,

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synthetic dyes and perfumes, for the same reasons mentioned above.

Bathroom Cleaners: Ammonia Free. Conventional bath, shower, toilet, and kitchen cleaners form toxic gases when mixed with water because they often contain ammonia – a skin, eye, and lung irritant. This is particularly important for the skin since it comes in contact with many surfaces in the bathroom. When used in enclosed areas such as toilets and shower stalls, the lungs and eyes can easily absorb micro-particles of cleaning product in fine sprays. Aside from bleach, many cleaners contain 1,4-dichlorobenzene (a carcinogenic pesticide), hydrochloric acid (a highly corrosive chemical), and sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate (an eye, skin and respiratory irritant). Products containing sodium sulfate, or sodium bisulfate, can trigger asthma attacks. Better to use all-natural products containing vegetable enzymes, or natural mineral polishers, such as borax.

All Purpose Cleaners: Plant-based. This category of cleaners contain, “Surfactants” to break down dirt and oil, and repel scum buildup by leaving a film on surfaces that dirt cannot stick to. It’s fine if the surfactant is truly natural, made from plant sources such as citrus, or coconut oils. However, if the surfactant is made from chemicals such as alkylphenol ethoxylate, or petroleum, then the cleaner is leaving a layer of chemicals on your surface, or countertop that can transfer to your skin, or food. Also to be avoided in conventional cleaners are ammonia, butyl cellusolve (a skin-penetrating neurotoxin), and ortho-phenylphenol (a harsh eye and skin irritant). Hormone-disrupting parabens may also be used as preservatives. All-natural products that contain natural disinfectants, such as citric acid and lemon oil, are safe alternatives.

To recap: switch to all-natural cleaning products, plant-based, and zero-phosphates. We’ve just scratched the surface of the main chemicals used in conventional cleaning products here, so demand better labeling and support those manufacturers who are labeling all ingredients.

Think you don’t need to pay attention to conventional cleaning products? Do you have kids? Doesn’t everything go in their mouths? Think again about chlorinated sprays! Are you buying organic food? Why buy organic food and serve on a chlorine-soaked plate? “But I have a cleaning service. I don’t buy cleaning products, or it’s out of my control.” Negotiate a deal with your cleaning company: get them to use your all-natural cleaning products as opposed to their conventional products. Alternatively, lobby your cleaning service to switch to eco-friendly cleaning products for all their clients. Many eco-friendly manufacturers have service-sized packaging, or a super-concentrated and safe to dilute with water. These products are available through your local natural foods market (yes, G4U Market!). If this does not work, then find another company that will use green cleaning products. Think about the health issues for cleaning service employees – they do this every day! Think about the environmental toll of all those nasty conventional cleaning products being used, especially in a vacation home area such as ours, where cleaning services are essential for rentals, or because the owners live part-time in another state.

This applies to anywhere you use conventional cleaning products: house, laundry, garden equipment, kids toys, pet bedding and toys, boats and recreational equipment, and your vehicles.

Here are two local Sussex County, DE companies that use all-natural cleaning products:

* Ecolistic Cleaning. Eco-friendly home and office cleaning. Owner Courtney Kellogg. (302) 703-2413

* Go Green Mobile Clean. Eco-friendly vehicle cleaning. Owner Mark Quigley.


Until next time Treehuggers, remember, hugs not drugs. Andy for Good For You Market.

This column first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, August 13, 2009.

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