How can something I clean the house with, be detrimental to my health?
You are not just 'what you eat', you are what you absorb and digest as well - There are many ways to ingest toxic household chemicals; ingestion doesn't have to occur by eating. The simple act of scrubbing the bathroom will subject us to inhaling some of the fumes given off by the products we use, by holding a cloth soaked with products we may absorb up to 60% of that product through our skin. Eating from cutlery and drinking from glasses that have been washed with regular dishwashing products has the potential to be detrimental to our health, due to detergent residues contaminating the food. Similarly, residues from washing products can be absorbed through the skin from clothes.
In one decade, there has been a 42% increase in asthma (29% for men;82% for women-the higher rate for women is believed to be due to women's longer exposure times to household chemicals).
How chemicals affect our children, the environment and us.
There is an increased risk for leukaemia in children where parents have used pesticides in the home or garden before the child's birth.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission points out that poisoning sometimes happens slowly and its effects build cumulatively and synergistically, so symptoms may not become apparent right away. This is why many people may not even realise they are being adversely affected when using household cleaners. Our bodies were not designed to eliminate many of these chemicals, so we accumulate them in the fat cells of our body, where they slowly overload our systems; putting tremendous strain on the liver and immune system to such an extent that disease becomes apparent. Diseases that used to be rare are becoming more frequent, and illnesses that were once associated with old age, are becoming prevalent in children.
The American Cancer Society stated "environmental pollution causes cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, coughing, asthma, nervous disorders, emphysema, wheezing, nasal congestion, burning eyes, headache, burning, tingling, skin flushing, muscle aches, irritability, mental confusion, un co-ordination, hyperactivity and other debilitating illnesses."
There are both acute and chronic effects on health caused by many household products. Chronic effects include cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and chemicals that cumulate and affect the unborn child, with the possibility of causing birth defects.
Acute conditions include headaches, nausea, triggering of asthma attacks, eye, nose, throat or skin irritation, dry skin and fatigue. Almost all household cleaners contain some toxic ingredients, and many contain carcinogens or suspected carcinogens.
Liquid dish soap is the leading cause of poisoning among children under six years old as many commercial dish soaps contain formaldehyde and ammonia.
Children are at high risk when playing on floors and with toys that have residue from common household cleaners, many of which may contain formaldehyde, asbestos or pesticides. Young babies and toddlers especially, put everything into their mouths as a natural part of their exploration. Everything that they find on the floor, eventually finds its way into their mouth. Their respiration rates are three times higher than adults, and their detoxification systems are not fully developed and cannot filter these toxins out. Think about this, especially if your child needs to use an inhaler, or shows signs of other allergic reactions.
Accidental exposure to and consumption of household cleaning products will claim the lives of more than 40,000 children in America this year.
Environmentally, everything that goes down your drain and toilet, including all the drugs and poisons we ingested, absorbed, inhaled and then eliminated, eventually ends up at the water treatment plants where they are mixed with even more chemicals, recycled and returned to us via our drinking and bathing water supply.
Whatever we put down the drain goes directly into the rivers, polluting the water and all the life in it. What we do to the planet, we do to ourselves. If we eat the fish from these rivers, then we ingest these chemicals once again. If a product is not friendly to the environment, it cannot be friendly to us. If a product requires special handling or ventilation, think for a moment what the hidden truths are behind the words: 'use in a well ventilated area.' 'Do not inhale.' 'If swallowed, do not induce vomiting and seek medical attention.' question whether it is wise to expose yourself, your children or your environment to it.
Hazardous chemical concentrations are 2-5 times higher inside our homes then outdoors.
Manipulation, control and greed.
Millions of pounds are spent each year on advertising and packaging to convince us that our lives cannot be satisfying or complete without a house full of dangerous chemicals that supposedly make our lives easier and free from harmful germs, despite the devastating effects of them becoming well researched and well documented. Yet, only 1% of toxins are required to be listed on labels. This is mainly because the products don't make any claims about safety. Companies can also classify them as "trade secrets" to avoid listing them.
The government acknowledges that these cleaning products are hazardous, but regulation only requires labels to indicate if they are: combustible, corrosive, poison, caution, etc.
The average western household typically uses and stores about 10 gallons of hazardous petrochemicals in the form of household cleaners, pesticides, paints and solvents.
As the cumulative effects of these foreign substances becomes apparent, our medical profession treat these symptoms of toxic overload with yet more poisons in the form of drugs or invasive treatment - yet more huge profits for the drugs companies being made at the expense of our health.
Due to the increase in toxic buildup in our bodies, including the toxic buildup of formaldehyde, dead bodies are not decomposing as fast as they used to.
The only people to benefit from these products are the manufacturers and the drugs companies - not the consumers. There are safer, efficient alternatives outlined below.
Many of the ingredients we find in today's 'new, improved, cleaner, brighter' products are made from chemicals that were initially produced for use in warfare.
After the Second World War was over, surplus stocks of these toxins made their way into household cleaning products, personal care items, food, water and synthetic drugs, despite many of these substances never being tested for safety; ensuring the future of this industry and huge profits for the companies that manufacture these chemicals.
According to the National Research Council, "no toxic information" is available for more than 80% of the chemicals in everyday-use products. Tests are only done on single chemicals. There is never any testing done on combinations, which we're exposed to on a daily basis.
There has been a 28% increase in childhood cancer since the addition of pesticides into household products.
So, in answer to whether or not there are effective chemical-free alternatives to these modern products, we need only step back a few decades. Many pre-war household cleaning items were made from food items such as vinegar, borax, lemon juice and beeswax, and we have researched, invented and listed many recipes to cover your entire household cleaning needs.
By making our own products, we can avoid many of the risks to our long-term health. We can cut down our risk to degenerative diseases such as cancer, minimize acute discomforts such as headaches and skin irritations; can limit the pollution inside and outside our home. We cut down our risk of poisoning from accidental swallowing, we can save money and reduce waste packaging.
Indoor air pollution is a suspected culprit in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), which will claim about 5,000 US lives this year.
The Western consumer is inundated with advertising claims touting the advantages to speed, convenience and "fresh scent" while ignoring the health and environmental dangers. With a little elbow grease and non-toxic cleaners, you can get your home just as clean as with the toxic cleaners. Some non-toxic products need time to work. You can spray a shower with cleaner, leave it while you do something else, and come back to it later when the cleaner has had the time to do the work for you.
Some of the ones you might know.
Let's look in detail at a few chemicals that you may find you are in contact with almost every day:
Many of us have the idea that whiter whites and brighter colours mean cleaner clothes. We use chlorine products to disinfect surfaces, whiten our clothes, we drink it and then we bathe in water that is full of it.
Chlorine is in liquid or powder bleach, some multi-purpose cleaners, washing powders, disinfectants, mould inhibitors, in packaging, in our domestic water supplies, and in some antibacterial hand washes.
Chlorine irritates the eyes and lungs, can trigger asthma attacks and can aggravate respiratory ailments or heart conditions. It dries the mucous membranes and can burn the skin.
The harmful effects are intensified when the fumes are heated, as in the shower, swimming pools and Jacuzzis.
The 1990 Clean Air Act lists chlorine as a hazardous air pollutant, and in 1993, the American Public Health Association passed a resolution advocating that American businesses terminate the use of chlorine. Yet even with these safety warnings, manufacturers not only add chlorine to many products, they sometimes add perfume as a sales incentive, encouraging nasal exposure and inhalation of chlorine fumes.
Environmentally, there is conflict with the safety of chlorine, in that it is argued to be a basically safe product which breaks down into harmless salt and water. The real issue is that the by-products of chlorine (organochlorines and dioxin), do not break down readily and they remain in the environment.
Manufacturers dump these by-products into our streams and waterways, which cause polluted waters, in which the fish become contaminated, animals eat the fish and humans eat the animals - thus ingesting harmful chemicals - it is shown that Americans ingest a daily amount of dioxin 300-600 times greater than The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA's) so called 'safe dose'.
When consumed, these chemicals accumulate in the fatty tissues, causing hormonal imbalances, diabetes, cancer, suppressed immune systems, endometriosis, reproductive disorders and detrimental effects on foetal development in the womb. (The EPA has found dioxin to be 300,000 times more potent as a carcinogen than DDT - making it the single most carcinogenic chemical known to science).
Studies show that 40-70 percent of the dioxin in bleached coffee filters can leach into your coffee and dioxin found in paper milk cartons also leaches into the milk you drink. When you open the door of your dishwasher after washing, toxic volatised chlorine from dish detergent and tap water is released into the air.
These days there many ways to avoid chlorine and still disinfect your home, which are covered in the recipes section.
The main properties of detergents are to break down the surface tension of water. This allows the water containing other chemicals, like surfactants etc to enter into the fabric or pores of the item being cleaned. This allows the dislodging and removal of the dirt, stain or debris.
The body contains many sensitive mucous membranes, such as the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. These mucous membranes rely on a delicate balance between water content and other bodily fluids, such as sebum and enzymes. It follows that if any of these mucous membranes comes into contact with detergents, this delicate balance is severely disrupted. The moisture-retaining sebum is oily, and this is the first thing to be attacked by the detergents. This allows the moisture within the tissues to be washed away or contaminated. Following this, the tissues lose their natural elasticity and ability to hold their natural chemical balance. The result is that tissues become easily torn, or ruptured. This increases risk of infections.
It is easy to protect the most vulnerable parts of our body such as the hands, with gloves, however, many modern cleaning products come in spray bottles. Others require dilution in hot water. This leads to the potential of chemicals being sprayed in the air or being transmitted in hot, steamy fumes with the following risk of being inhaled into the lungs or reaching the eyes and other mucous membranes.
Many strong cleaning chemicals such as sodium hydroxide based oven cleaners carry a specific warning to use only in well-ventilated areas and to avoid any contact with skin or eyes. This only serves to demonstrate the manufacturers awareness of their potentially dangerous side-effects.
Formaldehyde is used in a wide variety of products found in our homes. It's a chemical used as a binder and preservative in literally hundreds of household products (including paper products like toilet rolls, sanitary protection and tissues) and building materials. It's also found in personal products like cosmetics, nail polish and deodorants. It has been shown to irritate the eyes, throat, skin, and lungs, cause nausea, nosebleeds, insomnia, headaches, coughing, wheezing, trigger asthma attacks, lower immunity, cause fatigue and skin rashes.
Research shows that formaldehyde is a carcinogen and neurotoxin causing gene mutations and chromosomal damage, which could lead to cancer. Cancers of the throat and nose have been firmly linked to formaldehyde exposure. Formaldehyde is one of the large family of chemical compounds called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as detailed below.
Levels of formaldehyde emitted from products rise with temperature and humidity, so bear this in mind if you use a disinfectant or floor cleaner containing formaldehyde which you add to a bucket of hot water.
Phosphates are minerals that help detergents clean by softening water, but they also promote rapid algae growth, which is why they are used in fertilizers as well. Therefore, when phosphates discharge into a brook, river, or ocean after being flushed down a drain, they can cause lots of trouble for the fish, aquatic vegetation, and life on the edge of the water because they introduce increased nutrient load.
Some areas in America have banned phosphates from laundry detergent and other cleaning products. Liquids used for the hand washing of dishes don't contain phosphates, and many cleaning products indicate that they are phosphate free on the side panel, so effective and safe alternatives are readily available for most products. However, phosphate is still a staple ingredient in automatic dishwashing detergent because that formulation is exempt from restrictions.
Many liquid cleaners and household products contain organic solvents such as ethanol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, and glycol ethers to name a few. These solvents release volatile organic vapors (VOCs) into the air. The term volatile means that the compounds vaporize, that is, become a gas, at normal room temperatures. Also, when they are sprayed (products that are in aerosol cans or pump sprays usually contain VOCs), they become small particles that are easily inhaled, and contribute to increased levels of ground level ozone.
These fumes can cause intoxication, drowsiness, breathing difficulties, asthma attacks, disorientation, and headaches. Long term exposure to some organic solvents such as methylene chloride, which is found in degreasing cleaners and some waxes, can damage the nervous system and may be carcinogenic. Many solvents can be skin and eye irritants. Still others produce vapors that can be flammable.
If you see the term 'volatile' on a label, then ventilating the area you are working in is crucial to reduce harmful inhalation. Volatile compounds also release vapours slowly while being stored, thus creating toxins in the air of your home on a constant basis.
A final word.
It is a fun and satisfying thing to make your own cleaners, but we need to take sensible precautions, as 'natural' doesn't automatically mean 'safe'. Therefore, think about the following, basic 'kitchen-chemistry' before you get mixing!
Only mix ingredients as directed by a reputable source. Avoid recipes with hazardous ingredients such as bleach, ammonia, alcohols, turpentine, etc.
Never mix products containing chlorine bleach and ammonia, or chlorine bleach and a strong acid, as they combine to form highly toxic gases. The mixture produces toxic chloramine gas, which destroys the oxygen content of air in enclosed spaces. Short term effects range from mild asthmatic symptoms to serious respiratory ailments.
When you store homemade cleaners, always mark your containers, saying what the product is for and what it contains. This is important in case a child should accidentally drink some of your concoction; you will need to know what they have swallowed in order to know how best to deal with the situation.
Keep all cleaning products out of reach of children.
Wear rubber gloves when using the recipes below, especially those using borax and washing soda.
If you are convinced to give home-made recipes a go and now want to get rid of your toxic household products, please don't pour them down the sink or put them out in the rubbish - remember that many household products are considered hazardous waste; so contact your local environment agency to find out about disposal of such products in your area.