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Home and Garden

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.
Home, Home and Garden

How To Wash White Striped Clothes

how to wash a white striped top

For something a little different today, I wanted to talk about laundry and how to wash white striped clothes.

You see, laundry is something I have come to put more thought in to in recent years.  And no, it’s not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but because since having kids I do so much more of it.  So much more.  To the point that, whether I like it or not, laundry takes up more of my day and more of my brain than ever before.

Take whites for example.  Prior to having children I just bunged everything into the machine and hoped for the best.  I didn’t separate loads of washing by colour.   I hardly owned any white clothing, so I never felt that there was any point doing separate loads because I would never have a full load of whites that needed washing at any one time.  So the odd rogue white item that managed to sneak it’s way into my wardrobe got washed with the coloured stuff.  What can I say?  I liked to live dangerously.

Since having kids it’s a completely different story.  They have so many white items of clothing, which I can never understand.  Kids are surely the muckiest creatures known to man, and white is like a magnet to all things dirt and food and poo.  All of which kids are masters at.    Yes manufacturers insist on making kids clothes, and especially baby clothes, white.

With more white laundry to deal with than ever before, I realised my old dangerous ways wouldn’t cut it.  I wanted to to prolong the lifespan of our clothes as long as possible because a) money and b) the environment.  Which meant vowing to always wash whites with whites, and darks with darks.  Which sounds simple enough, but, as with anything that sounds too simple there are always sticking points that unexpectedly rear their heads.

As a family of stripe lovers (and The White Stripe lovers) one of the earliest problems that cropped up was the conundrum of how to wash white striped clothes to keep them looking good for as long as possible.

The labels on white striped clothes always helpfully say “wash with similar colours“.  To which I always found myself shouting at the label “which similar sodding colour“?!  If it’s a black and white striped top, the top is 50% white and 50% black – so which should it be in with?  The white clothes or the dark clothes?  Some assistance would be useful.

Sadly, no assistance was forthcoming, so I took matters in to my own hands, and after some research and trial and error (and reading that Which rated those colour catcher sheets you can buy as pointless), here’s what I’ve found:

how to wash a white striped top

How to Wash White Striped Clothes

How to wash white and dark striped clothes

For white and dark striped clothes (such as black, navy or green) I’m rather free and easy when it comes to them.  I will wash these stripes in either a white, or a dark, or a coloured load on a 30°C wash or cooler with a couple of caveats:

1) Dark loads are ok for washing stripes in if you are washing clothes that have been washed a few times before.  However I wouldn’t wash white striped clothing in a dark load that contains a new pair of indigo or black jeans, or a new item of dark clothing in it, as dye tends to run from these items in the first few washes, and trust me, it will ruin your striped clothes.

2) Coloured loads are also ok for washing stripes in, but I wouldn’t wash stripes in a load that contains a new item of red clothing, as red is the worst of all dyes.  It will run and ruin white striped clothes in the blink of an eye.

Which leads me on to:

How to wash white and red striped clothes

Aka, the worst of the striped clothes.  Washing white and red striped clothes is headache inducing because red dye is so temperamental.

I would only ever wash white and red striped clothing in with other coloured clothing, and never with white clothing, on the coldest wash your washing machine will muster.

About 3 or 4 days after my first daughter was born, and a mountain of white laundry had piled up for the first time ever, I washed a load of white washing that contained a white baby-gro that had a tiny and completely innocuous looking red trim on it.  I looked at the red trim as I bundled the washing in to the machine, and thought, “ahh, what’s the worst that could happen“?, and then ran a 30°C cycle.  Well, my friend, that tiny and innocuous looking red trim ran over everything in the machine, even on a low temperature wash.  At least if the red dye had ran in a coloured wash it wouldn’t have had much effect, save for the white baby gro.  But in a white wash?  Everything came out the washing machine sporting a pink tinge, and all I could do was be grateful that I had spawned a girl.

Cold water is definitely the way to go.  Trust me on this.

How to wash white and yellow or grey striped clothes

Wash white with yellow or grey stripes in with your whites, on a 30°C wash.  I’ve never had a problem with these colours before – they are my favourite of the stripes!

So there we have it – I hope I have solved the how to wash white striped clothes puzzle!  I hope this helps you go forth and wash your white striped clothes with confidence!

Want to save this for later?  Here’s a handy image that you can click to pin on Pinterest:how to wash white striped clothes

Striped clothes images c/o People Tree*.