green cleaning products

Could Cleaning Your Home Be Damaging To Your Health?

green cleaning products

I’ve got a great guest post today for you from Georgina at Ethical Consumer, on how cleaning our homes could be bad for our health.  It’s not all doom and gloom – Georgina offers some health friendlier shop bought and natural alternatives to try to make your home fresher and cleaner without any negative effects.  

An Englishman or woman’s home is their castle.  And when it comes to our ‘castles’ we like to keep them clean.  The average Brit spends around 4 hours a week scrubbing and scouring to keep their home in tip-top condition.  Modern cleaning products claim to make this cleaning a doddle with the promise of a no-effort clean but are these claims as squeaky clean as our houses?

Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer reports on the dirty ingredients and toxic chemicals that keep our homes looking clean.

Convenience at a cost

Enter any large supermarket and you’ll see a large array of cleaning products each claiming to make your life easier, clean your home better and to save you time.  We’re used to modern convenience with our cleaning gadgets and we want short-cuts to save us time on our mundane chores, but how much thought do we give to the chemicals that we spray and squirt around our homes?

It can be alarming when we see the hazard labels on products we use every day or week: irritant, corrosive, oxidising and toxic, but if we use the chemicals correctly then they are safe – right?

Not according to recent research from Natural Resources Defense Council in California whose research discovered 45 different toxic chemicals present in household dust.  Chemicals such as phthalates, hormone disrupters that affect reproductive systems and are linked to developmental problems in babies.  The source of these toxic compounds: household chemicals and personal care products.

Exposing the dirty truth

At Ethical Consumer, we’ve produced reports on over 40,000 companies, brands and products on all aspects of ethical behaviour.  For our household cleaning analysis, we ranked 41 popular household cleaners against 23 different criteria, one of those being toxic chemicals.

Unlike personal care or food and drink products, manufacturers are under no obligation to provide a detailed list of the ingredients in their cleaning products.  This lack of transparency makes it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions on avoiding toxic chemicals, although EU legislation stipulates that companies do need to list the full ingredients on their website.

Across our analysis, three main toxic chemicals emerged as the most concerning and ubiquitous and so our rankings focused on those.

The toxic trio

Parabens
This additive is used for its antifungal and preservative properties, extending the shelf-life of cosmetics and cleaning products.
As an indication of its toxic potential, five parabens have been already banned from cosmetics by the EU, but they are still found in many cleaning products.

Absorbed through the skin and through inhalation and ingestion, parabens have strong links to hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation.  Breast cancer charities have highlighted their presence in breast tumours where they thought to increase the growth of cancer cells.

Triclosan
This pesticide is an antimicrobial agent used in many cleaning products.  It is known to affect thyroid hormone function disrupting the regulation of metabolism and normal breast development.  It is also an irritant to skin and eyes and may have a possible link to bacterial resistance.  Its use is already banned in soaps in the US and is restricted in use in many toiletries in the UK, yet its use is not prohibited in cleaning products.

Phthalates
A common chemical used in synthetic fragrances, phthalate toxicity is linked to developmental problems in babies, a recent study cited a correlation between pregnant women with high levels of phthalates and children with markedly lower IQ levels.  And again, as an endocrine disrupting chemical, phthalate is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer

The good, the bad and the toxic

Despite the mounting evidence of the harmful effects of these and other synthetic additives, the use of toxic, persistent compounds is widespread in our cleaning products.  Our ethical ranking table exposes the brands that continue to use these harmful chemicals and provides ethical ‘best buys’ for those companies who ban their use:

how toxic are household cleaners

The toxic

Sadly, some of the most popular brands performed very badly. UK manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser who manufactures Vanish, Dettol, Windowlene and Cillit Bang had no policy on removing triclosan, parabens or phthalates from their formulations.  Even more shocking is that this lack of corporate responsibility comes after their disinfectant humidifier chemicals were found to have led to the death of nearly 100 people in South Korea.

Proctor and Gamble also performed badly having no policy to remove parabens or phthalates from products such as Viakal, Flash and Comet.

Unilever, who produces brands such as Domestos and Cif, do not use phthalates and had a clear plan for the removal of triclosan.  However, they had no clear strategy to remove parabens from their formulas.

Colgate-Palmolive performed best in the big brand categories with no parabens, triclosan or phthalates used in their cleaning products. However, they ranked low down in our scoring due to their poor policies in other areas.

The good

A number of smaller brands performed well in our ranking with Greenscents, Libby V-concentrate and Bentley Organics, all offering organic and vegan products that also achieved our best rating for animal testing.  Bio-D, Faith in Nature, Libby Chan and Earth Friendly Products are all vegan and cruelty-free.

All of these products had clear policies that confirmed that their products did not contain the toxic trio of parabens, triclosan and phthalates, as well as a focus on natural and organic ingredients.  In the instance of the Libby Chan products, probiotic, edible chemicals provided a completely different take on natural cleaning products.

Reducing toxic dust for a cleaner home

There are a number of things that you can do to reduce toxicity levels in your home:

  1. Use fewer cleaning products, switching to microfibre cloths can reduce the cleaning products needed whilst providing a thorough clean, and they’re washable and reusable too.
  2. Check ingredients and make the switch – know what you are using by checking the ingredients on cleaning products and ditching brands that don’t make the grade.
  3. Make your own natural cleaners – with just a few simple ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda you can make a whole host of natural cleaning products. The Ethical Consumer website for the DIY toxic cleaning kit and check out this post on natural cleaning product recipes from Moral Fibres.

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5 comments

  1. Totally on board with this. I’m allergic to a lot of perfumes which rules out using air fresheners and most cleaning products (not to mention most toiletries…) and I can honestly say that my home is no grubbier for it. I also feel at ease cleaning around my child, which I wouldn’t do if I was scrubbing our home with bleach.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for this interesting article condensing a lot of other info out there… I’m just about to have my home fumigated for moths and as the problem seems to have halted with throwing out a certain carpet, I’m wondering about cancelling the fumigation altogether, and living, like this article points to – with less residual chemicals in my home.

    If you know of any research about what’s in the insecticidal fumigation chemicals used in the UK I’d be interested to read!

    Thank you

    Reply
  3. Good article, But! Microfiber cloths are releasing nano particles into the water celery time they are washed. Please use cotton cloths, which are also recyclable.

    Reply
  4. This was a really interesting read. I knew that a lot of cleaning products contained horrible chemicals but I wasn’t aware of exactly what they were. It’s a shame that it’s not easy to find safer alternatives in supermarkets. I think Ecover and Method are the only ones I’ve spotted in my local Tesco and ASDA. I’m sure you could order the rest online but it always frustrates me that greener products are so hard to find on the high street / in supermarkets. They give so much shelf space to damaging products but barely anything to safer alternatives. I would love to see some retailers make a bigger effort to stock safer and greener products.

    Reply
    • Yes! I love Bio-D for example, but can only find it in specialist shops. I would love to see these things become more mainstream, but sadly we’re up against massive billion pound industry with a massive advertising budget. We can only hope more people catch on to the fact their cleaning products aren’t quite so clean as they make out.

      Reply

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