As we go into high gear with spring cleaning, it’s good to take stock of the products we use and determine if they could be endangering our bodies or the environment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, air inside homes can be more polluted than air outdoors! Thousands of ingredients in common household products, including detergents, deodorizers, disinfectants, waxes, polishes, degreasers, and countless other items contain hazardous chemicals. Just because it smells nice and has a daisy on the label does not make it safe. Furthermore, although words like “non-toxic” may indicate (although not guarantee) a product doesn’t affect humans, it may very well still have an effect on the environment and reach marine life through water runoff. For example, in her “Guide to a Healthier Home” booklet, Denise Koroslev, our instructor for the “Home and Health: Keeping it Simple” workshop on May 9, notes that Simple Green, an “environmental” all-purpose cleaner is 84% water, but it also contains ethoxylated alcohol, which has traces of the contaminant 1,4-dioxane. Even if your exposure to this suspected carcinogen is relatively low, the chemical will eventually head down your pipes, leach into groundwater, and cause aquatic toxicity.
Companies are good at marketing products through appealing labels and terminology, but although the term “organic” has become regulated, the word “natural” may be misleading because the FDA has never established a singular definition. Since assessments aren’t done on each and every product we buy and trust, it’s up to consumers to inform themselves by becoming more vigilant in reading and understanding labels and choosing what to buy more wisely. A good rule of thumb is to buy products with a shorter list of ingredients. Familiarize yourself with what those chemicals do to the body and the planet. Simple, pure, and inexpensive ingredients for everyday house cleaning include white vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and lemon juice. These safe alternatives work just as well as the bad stuff and have a multitude of uses in the kitchen and bathroom. Even better, you probably have them in your pantry already.
Here’s a super simple, safe (and cheap) recipe you can mix and put in a recycled spray bottle: One cup of water + 1/8 cup of white vinegar. It makes an effective glass and mirror cleaner, whereas Windex contains ammonia, which is far from benign and rates as a moderate concern for asthma, and skin irritation/allergies. You can also use plain old baking soda instead of Comet or Ajax to get your sink and toilet bowl sparkling clean and fresh.
Conversely, some ingredients aren’t as bad as we thought. We’ve heard we’re supposed to avoid sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), but those original concerns were misleading. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a watchdog for consumer products, now gives SLS a low concern rating, and Seventh Generation, a company that sells plant-based products and practices sustainability, safely uses SLS in their dish liquids, laundry liquids, and spray cleaners.
Check out www.EWG.org to learn the toxicity of any chemical. In their "Guide to Healthy Cleaning" click onto the list of “Products” on the middle, left column. You’ll see how all your favorite brands measure up, what ingredients they contain, and what makes them dangerous or safe.
Be sure to join Denise at Rodgers Ranch for a mind-opening workshop on DIY toiletries and household products that make your home a healthy and non-toxic sanctuary.
Below is a chart of EWG’s choice of 10 chemicals that should be banned in the State of California. Denise also thinks glyphosate (in Round Up) and atrazine (a widely used herbicide, often used on golf courses and lawns) should be added to the list.