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spring cleaning

Home and Garden, Natural Cleaning

Could Cleaning Your Home Be Damaging To Your Health?

green cleaning products

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.
Natural Cleaning

Eco Friendly Cleaning Supplies

eco friendly cleaning supplies

eco friendly cleaning supplies

This post contains affiliate links

Long term readers of Moral Fibres will know that I’m big on eco friendly cleaning.  It’s lighter on the planet, good for your health, and it’s a whole lot of fun whipping  up your own cleaning products in your kitchen.  I promise you’ll feel a bit like an alchemist mixing up various (often food safe) ingredients, and coming up with potions and powders that will leave your home sparkling clean and smelling beautiful.

I’ve been asked a few times lately about my eco friendly cleaning supplies and where I source my materials.  As it’s come up a few times I thought it would be useful to put all of this information into a blog post.  So lo and behold, a comprehensive list of the eco friendly cleaning supplies I use and where to source them.

My eco friendly cleaning supplies:

green cleaning supplies

Amber Glass Bottles (500ml or 1000ml size)

The reason I specifically use amber glass bottles is because the cleaning products I make typically contain essential oils.  Amber coloured bottles protect the essential oils from ultraviolet light, which can damage the oils.  Meanwhile the glass is used because certain oils, such as citrus oils, may dissolve plastic over time.  This could be a problem if you’re reusing plastic bottles time and time again.  I found my amber glass bottles at Baldwins, and their service is second to none.  Don’t feel you have to splash out on bottles though.  For a zero waste solution the glass bottles that white vinegar comes in will suffice: just store them in a dark cupboard when not in use.

Trigger Spray Nozzles

The glass bottles from Baldwins all come with screw tops.  I add a few trigger spray nozzles to my order.   Alternatively reuse trigger sprays from any used up cleaning products.  I’ve bought the nozzles as some as my bottles are 1000 ml sized, for cleaning products I like to make in bigger sizes.

Pump Tops

I’m having a go at making my own hand wash, so have two pump tops, again from Baldwins, for easy and measured dispensing.  I’ll share my recipe once I’ve hit the homemade hand wash jackpot.

White Vinegar

I buy my white vinegar in bulk from eBay, getting four 5 litre jerrycans of the stuff at a time.   Twenty litres works out at a little over £15 (with free postage) and it’s the most economical way of buying vinegar.  At about £1.33 a litre, it’s way cheaper than buying the glass bottles of white vinegar at the supermarket (£1 for 568ml) or the plastic 750ml bottles from the pound shop.  I use vinegar all around the house, and even the garden, so it’s a handy bulk supply to have in stock.

Vodka

I buy a big bottle of vodka specifically for cleaning with.  Nothing fancy, just the cheapest, nastiest stuff I can find on the bottom shelf of the supermarket.  Minimum alcohol pricing laws in Scotland means the cheapest I can find vodka for is £10 for 750ml.  Vodka is scent free and oddly great for deodorising (I promise your house won’t smell like a pub).  It’s also great at cutting through soap scum and has some disinfectant properties.  And the handy thing is that once you’ve finished cleaning you can pour yourself a celebratory vodka and tonic…!

Bicarbonate of Soda, Soda Crystals, Salt, & Borax

I keep a couple of boxes to hand of each ingredient.  Each is handy in it’s own right – see here for soda crystals uses and here for borax uses, and often can be combined with other ingredients to make powerful homemade cleaning products.  Large boxes of borax, soda crystals and bicarbonate of soda can be found cheaply in the cleaning aisle of bigger supermarkets, at Wilkinsons, or in pound shops.  Alternatively try eBay if you want to buy in bulk at low cost.

Dr Bronner’s Castile Soap

I’m a fan of Dr Bronner’s Castile Soap.  I’ve been buying the orange scented soap in the larger size and been using it as part of the handwash recipe I’m working on.  I also use it for other uses around the home, such as cleaning my solid floors.

Essential Oils

I use a variety of essential oils.  The most common ones I use are lemon, sweet orange and grapefruit, as I’m a particular fan of citrus scents.  I’m also partial to lavender and tea tree oil because of their disinfectant and antibacterial properties.  I tend to buy my essential oils from Buff & Butter on eBay as they are priced competitively, offer free delivery, and have the added advantage of being organic.

e-cloths

I love my e-cloths – I wrote a whole ode to e-cloths here.  These cloths remove dirt, grease and 99% of all bacteria, including salmonella, E.coli and listeria, with just water.  When dirty, just pop them in the washing machine.  I’m particularly a fan of using e-cloths to clean my windows and shower screen, and for cleaning my stainless steel hob and appliances.  Streak free cleaning at it’s finest.

There is a bit of controversy regarding microfibre cloths shedding microplastic into the ocean.  However, if you wear any kind of synthetic clothing then it’s also responsible for this microplastic release.  I would personally argue that the environmental impact of not using harsh chemicals that ultimately end up in our waterways is better than the small amount of microplastic coming from microfibre cloths.   That’s your personal choice to make though.

Other Items

Cotton cloths, scrubbing brushes, and citrus fruit are always handy eco friendly cleaning supplies to have to hand, as is a little bit of elbow grease!

Looking for inspiration?  Try my post on my green cleaning favourites for some recipes to try out with these eco friendly cleaning supplies!

eco friendly cleaning uk