How To Be Green While You Clean Your Home

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Soap on a logAs the world becomes more aware of the impact we are having on the planet, many of us are taking steps to live greener lives. One of the biggest ways that people are contributing to the eco-friendly effort is by transitioning to green cleaners.

Article Overview

What Is Green Cleaning?

Green cleaning is an eco-friendly movement that involves cleaning with the use of environmentally-friendly products instead of those that pollute our world. Ingredients within green cleaning products are healthier for those exposed to them as well as healthier for the environment.

There are multiple stages of green cleaning products:

  • Products that are packaged in environmentally friendly packaging
  • Products that do not use any harsh chemicals at all
  • Products that are made from naturally occurring products (usually foodstuffs)

Why Are Green Cleaners Important?

Of all the things the human race does on a daily basis, few expose us and our planet to more chemicals and toxins than cleaning with commercial cleaners. Taking a look at the back of any commercial cleaning product bottle will reveal warnings against inhalation and mixing one product with another.

These warnings are in place because inhalation can cause significant health concerns from asthma to burning in the lungs and mixing chemical products can result in a serious, sometimes fatal, reaction. Environmentalists and the health conscious alike are pushing homeowners to turn to eco-friendly cleaning products in an attempt to reduce these harmful chemicals and hopefully one day completely eliminate them.

Commercially Available Green Cleaners

Seventh Generation

Seventh GenerationSeventh Generation (View on Amazon) is perhaps one of the biggest names when it comes to green cleaners. If there is a household cleaning product you are looking for, then Seventh Generation has it. They even have unexpected but welcomed green household items such as baby diapers and tampons.

This is a company that not only focuses on creating healthy cleaning products but also places a lot of emphasis on their corporate impact on the environment. Biodegradable formulas ensure that non-toxic cleaners are not creating harsh fumes or adding to volatile organic compound production.

Additionally, many of Seventh Generation’s products are certified Kosher and cruelty-free.

Biokleen

BiokleenBiokleen (View on Amazon) is a company focused on producing non-toxic and environmentally safe cleaning products. Biokleen products are concentrated, resulting in less waste products and are 100% biodegradable.

These products include laundry detergent and chlorine-free bleach. Biokleen’s All-Purpose Cleaner cuts through the toughest grease and dirt without the use of toxic chemicals. The cleaner contains no phosphates, chlorine, ammonia, petroleum, solvents, alcohol or any EPA priority pollutants.

Ecover

EcoverEcover (View on Amazon)is an international company focused on providing eco-friendly cleaners for every room of the house. Using plant-based and mineral ingredients, Ecover provides cleaning options for everything from toilets and laundry to hand soap and cars. Even the ECover factories are state of the art, clean running factories.

Full Circle

Full Circle is focused on producing natural cleaning solutions by giving users the opportunity to make their own eco-friendly cleaners using the kits that they make and sell. Eco-cleaning kits from Full Circle contain recycled materials to help homeowners eliminate toxic chemicals while reducing waste by providing reusable bottles and microfiber cleaning cloths.

The Difference Between Green Products and Green Brands

Whether it is because they truly care about the environment and the health of their consumers or about the mighty dollar, many big name companies are releasing “green” products. Very often these big company’s “green” products differ from green brands in more ways than one.

The first way is the ingredients list; many of these non-green green products still carry caution labels and contain a number of unpronounceable ingredients that have questionable health effects.

Another difference between these two types of “green” products is that more often than not, true green brands make adjustments to their manufacturing process and their factories to sustain a green business. Most big name companies producing “green” products do not concentrate their efforts on green manufacturing.

How Dangerous Are Non-Green Cleaners for Us and Our Planet?

  • Petroleum-Based Products are found in many non-green cleaning products. The perfect example of one of these products is dish soap. A ludicrous example can be found when Dial dish soap (which contains Petroleum) was sent to the Gulf to help clean up the oil spill devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi a few years back. How ironic is that?!? In an effort to reduce our dependence upon imported oil, green products turn to plant-based detergents instead.
  • Phosphates can be found in dishwasher and laundry detergents that are not certified as “green products.” Recent research has proven that phosphates can cause over-nitrification of rivers and other water sources, resulting in excessive amounts of algae. As algae grows out of control, fish are deprived of oxygen, killing off local fish populations.
  • Formaldehyde can, unfortunately, be found in any number of home cleaning products including air fresheners as well as mold and mildew cleaners. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can prove a severe health risk.
  • Phenol is another substance commonly found in non-green air fresheners and furniture polishes. This substance is known to cause a number of health complications including: convulsions, hives, coma, circulatory collapse and death.
  • Ammonia is one of the substances most commonly found in home cleaning products. Ammonia has been proven to cause damage to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract if put in direct contact with the skin or inhaled.
  • Bleach is the “kill all” cleaner of choice that can be found in just about every household that hasn’t made the effort to “go green.” Bleach can cause significant damage to the eyes and skin if contacted and also causes damage to the respiratory tract. If bleach is mixed with ammonia, the fumes can quickly result in death.
  • Perchlorethylene can be found in a number of carpet cleaners and upholstery shampoos. This toxic substance is a known carcinogen and has been shown to cause damage to the nervous system, liver and kidneys.
  • Ammonium Hydroxide is another chemical that can commonly be found in carpet cleaners and upholstery shampoos. This corrosive substance is much like bleach in its irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory passages.
  • Chlorine can be found in dish washing detergents at fairly high concentrations. Chlorine is extremely toxic when ingested and can cause a number of skin, eye and airway irritations as well.
  • Lye is a product that can eat through human flesh at an alarming rate and can be found in most common drain cleaners and oven cleaners. Lye has been known to burn eyes and skin and if ingested, it can quickly eat through the esophagus and stomach.
  • Hydrochloric Acid is a corrosive substance that many will remember from chemistry class. Present in drain cleaners, this substance will damage the eyes, skin, liver, kidneys and digestive tract.
  • Tricholoroethane can also be found in many household drain cleaners and is a known nervous system depressant and skin and eye irritant.
  • Nitrobenzene can be found in furniture polishes. This chemical is known to be extremely toxic and can cause nausea, convulsions, muscle spasms, coma and headaches. This substance can be quickly absorbed through the skin.
  • Sodium Hypochlorite can be found in a number of mold and mildew killing cleaners. This corrosive substance has been shown to lead to fluid in the lungs.
  • Triclosan can be found in many antibacterial cleaners and hand soaps. This substance has been linked to liver damage and, when used in antibacterial soaps, the development of drug-resistant bacteria.
  • Both Dimpylate and Diazinon can be found in a number of pesticides that can be found around the house. The substances are toxic and impair the central nervous system.
  • Chlorinate Hydrocarbons can also be found in a number of pesticides and are believed to be carcinogens and mutagens. These substances build up in the body’s fatty tissue and begin to attack the nervous system.
  • Lindane can be found in over-the-counter lice shampoo and has a number of very nasty effects. This chemical has been proven to cause vomiting, convulsions and collapse of the circulatory system. Lindane is also believed to cause damage to the liver and lead to birth defects, cancer and stillbirths.
  • 2-butoxyethanol/ Ethylene glycol butyl ether is just one of the glycol ethers that are utilized in cleaning products – particularly in carpet cleaners and specialty cleaners. This substance is used as a solvent. 2-butoxyethanol/ Ethylene glycol butyl ether can be both absorbed through the skin and inhaled and have been linked to a number of health concerns including: blood disorders, kidney damage, liver damage, reduced pulmonary function and in the case of longer term exposure it has been linked to reproductive damage as well. This product is commonly found in toilet bowl fresheners, moth control insecticides, room fresheners, cleaning products and urinal cakes.
  • Ethoxylated nonyl phenols (NPEs) have the unusual nickname of “gender benders.” The reason these substances have such a strange, almost offensive, name is because they have been known to induce female characteristics when male fish were exposed to them. This alteration of gender specific characteristics led to the European Union banning all nonyl phenols from cleaning products that are both used and manufactured in the area. Unfortunately, these substances are still being used in the United States in a number of various cleaning products.
  • Methylene chloride is believed to be a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. So strong is this belief that in 1987 United States product regulators mandated that all products containing Methylene chloride also feature a warning label. Methylene chloride is found in many paint stripping products.
  • Naphthalene is another carcinogenic product. Naphthalene in addition to paradichlorobenzene is commonly utilized in moth balls. Unfortunately according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment Naphthalene is known to cause cancer. Paradichlorobenzene is also listed by the IARC to be a possible human carcinogen. There are a number of moth repellent products that do not utilize these chemicals and it is advisable to utilize these when possible.
  • Silica is made from finely ground quartz and is utilized in a considerable number of home cleaners because of its abrasive property. While silica may make a good “scrubbing product” for home cleaning, it is also carcinogenic when inhaled as a fine dust.
  • Toluene is used as a solvent in a number of home products, particularly paint. Toluene is also sold as a pure product. Unfortunately, this product has been found to be a powerful reproductive toxin. According to the California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Toluene poses health risks both to pregnant women and the developing fetus.
  • Trisodium nitrilotriacetate (NTA) is a product commonly found in laundry detergents as a builder. Unfortunately, this product has multiple negative properties. According to the Agency for Research on Cancer, Trisodium nitrilotriacetate (NTA) is known to be a possible human carcinogen. Additionally, this toxic substance is known to have a negative impact on the environment as it impedes the elimination of metals in wastewater treatment plants.
  • Xylene is most commonly found in cleaning products used to remove scuffs, remove graffiti, adhesives and spray paints. Xylene is a particularly powerful toxin that has been shown not only to cause reproductive harm, but it has also been proven to be a neurotoxicant. As a neurotoxicant, Xylene has been seen to cause memory loss after repeated exposure.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA) is used in a wide number of household cleaners. Diethanolamine has also been listed by the State of California as a suspected carcinogen. Exposure to this toxic product can result in skin irritation, respiratory distress and eye irritation.
  • Hexane is a product that is frequently found in craft paints, stain removers and spray adhesives. Additionally Hexane has been found commonly in industrial settings.  This product has been shown to cause a number of potential health effects as a result of being inhaled. Most commonly seen as a result of Hexane inhalation include long-lasting and sometimes permanent nerve damage.

Deciphering Chemical Warnings

Kid with toxic cleanersAll household cleaning products must come with warning labels specific to the products ingredients. There are three different warnings: caution, warning and danger.

Caution

Products that are marked with caution means that they are harmful if they are swallowed and anywhere from one ounce to one pint of the product can kill an adult.

Warning

Products that have a warning label are products that are harmful if swallowed but tend to be less hazardous than those marked with Danger or Poison.

Danger and Poison

Products that have a danger or poisonlabel are the most dangerous of household products. These chemicals are harmful or fatal if they are swallowed and as little as a taste to a teaspoon of these products can kill an adult. We recommend that these items are removed from your home immediately to protect your family from any potential harm.

Facts and Statistics on Non-Green Cleaners

  • According to the American Association of Poison Control, 91% of human poison exposure happens in that person’s home.
  • The Silent Spring Institute discovered that concentrations of toxic chemicals within homes can be a 200 to 500 times higher link to cancer cases than in homes with lower or no toxic chemicals in the home.
  • The Silent Spring Institute’s study also found that women who work at home have a 55% higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who work outside their homes.
  • Research has shown that 80% of chemicals found in everyday products do not have detailed toxin information. Less than 20% of these products have been tested for acute effects and less than 10% have been tested for chronic damage.
  • Over the past 40 years, more than 70,000 new chemicals have been released into the environment as a result of new consumer and industrial products and food.
  • According to the Toronto Indoor Air Conference, 1990, women who work in the home have a 54% higher death rate than women who work outside of the home.
  • Infertility in both males and females is on the rise and new research indicates that pesticide exposure could be to blame.
  • Statistics from the US Poison Control Center state that every 30 seconds a child is accidentally poisoned. More than 50% of these poisonings happen within the home and occur with children under the age of five.
  • In the last twenty-five years there has been an increase of 25% of cancer in children under fifteen.
  • Chickenpox, measles and mumps were the three most common childhood illnesses seen in children thirty years ago. Today, the three most commonly seen illnesses are ADD, asthma and cancer.
  • Over the past twenty years the incidence of brain cancer in children has increased 40%.
  • Asthma is currently the leading cause of absenteeism in school aged children.
  • Every year over fifty million Americans suffer from allergies, the leading cause of chronic disease in the United States. This prevalence of allergies results in a cost of $18 billion each year for the healthcare system.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a number of studies have proven that the levels of a number of volatile organic compounds are on average two to five times higher indoors than they are outdoors. This indicates that indoor air pollution is a very real concern.

Who is Most at Risk When Using Non-Green Cleaners?

Woman cleaning with spongeWhile everyone and our planet are at risk from the use of non-green cleaners, those at the highest risk for poisoning from these cleaners are the elderly, children and pets due to the lack of education or memory of the potential harm associated with these products.

How Do Non-Green Cleaners Affect the Planet?

According to research, the average American uses approximately forty pounds of toxic cleaning products every year. These products are used to clean counter tops, spray the air for freshness, flush down the toilet and pour down the sink.

As these chemicals exit our homes, they make their way into the air around us, our water supply and eventually the fragile soil surrounding rivers and lakes. As these chemicals build up, the ozone layer continues to be depleted, groundwater is polluted and plant and animal life are affected by the buildup of these toxins in soil.

Research by a U.S geological survey organization has shown that around 66% of streams test positive for the presence of disinfectants. 70% of these streams test positive for substances that were once present in detergents.

Homemade Cleaning Products Can Be Green Cleaners Too

Many people rely upon commercially produced green cleaners to keep their homes clean due to convenience, but eco-friendly cleaners can also be created from everyday products.

  • Baking soda has long been used as a solution for removing odors and as a mild abrasive. Whether used in toothpaste, as an air freshener or a surface cleaner, this is an affordable cleaning solution.
  • Salt is another all-natural abrasive cleaner that is cheaper than all non-green cleaning options. Use caution when cleaning with salt as its abrasive nature can wear down surfaces over time.
  • Olive oil is a completely safe tool for polishing wooden furniture.
  • Vinegar is a great home solution for destroying mildew and for cutting grease on stovetops. While affordable, one of the biggest drawbacks people have with this solution is the smell of vinegar. Often the odor of vinegar can be resolved with a little more water dilution and even a few drops of essential oils like lavender or peppermint.
  • Castile soap is a good solution for those looking for a green way to pick up dirt from carpets and clothing. The soap itself dissolves into oil and then latches on to dirt.
  • Hydrogen peroxide is usually kept on-hand in first-aid kits, but it is also a great solution for killing odor-causing bacteria.

Learn more about making your own homemade eco-friendly cleaners.

 

Deciding to Go Green

Making the decision to become a clean, green household can be a daunting task particularly for those living on a shoestring budget. However, there are a number of ways that green cleaners can be introduced to a home. What many people choose to do is to use cleaning products that they have already and as products run out, they replace them one at a time with green products.

Other families with limited finances choose to use natural cleaning solutions like baking soda and vinegar to maintain a safe but clean household. There is also the option to invest in a few commercially produced green cleaners and use vinegar or baking soda for some chores as well. Finally, many green cleaning companies offer coupons or “starter pack” discounts on their products to help new users make their transition!

Going Green Is About a Better Future

Making the choice to go green is a big step but in the long run it is one that will not only protect your family’s health, but it will also protect your family’s future and the state of our planet. With less chemical products being inhaled, our children will grow up healthier and will give birth to healthier children.

With less waste being produced by non-recycled products, our children won’t grow up on a planet that resembles a giant landfill (remember WALL-E?!?). With fewer toxins being released into our ecosystem, our future generations have the opportunity to view how beautiful Mother Nature truly can be.

 

What is your favorite green cleaner or green cleaning tip?

About The Author:

Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.

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