By Dr. Mercola
Commercial cleaning products, even "green" ones like Simple Green, clean faster than soap and water can. But this is because they contain small amounts of the most powerful grease-cutting class of chemicals known -- glycol ethers.
Overexposure to glycol ethers can cause anemia, intoxication, and irritation of the eyes and nose.
In laboratory animals, low-level exposure to glycol ethers has caused birth defects and damage to sperm and testicles. The most commonly used glycol ether, 2-butoxyethanol, has been shown to cause liver cancer in animals. AlterNet reports:
"You are exposed to the glycol ethers when you inhale them as the cleaner is used ... Most glycol ethers can silently penetrate your skin and enter your bloodstream ... If that were not enough, the glycol ethers also go through natural rubber gloves and many types of plastic gloves without changing their appearance."
The typical American home contains 3-10 gallons of toxic materials, in the form of about 60 different kinds of hazardous household cleaning products. That's right, the very things you use to clean your house are actually the primary sources of toxins and indoor air pollution that Americans expose themselves to year after year. And many of the new "green" alternatives now being offered by major corporations are only green in name, as you will soon discover.
The Cost of Cleaning Your Home
Having a clean home should never cost you something as valuable as your health, but that's exactly what you're putting at risk when you use household cleaners and laundry detergents filled with many of the hazardous chemicals on the market today.
The problem is, when the chemicals in these common household products hit your skin and lungs, they go directly into your bloodstream, bypassing your body's natural defense system against toxins (the liver and kidneys).
This type of indoor pollution is particularly harmful to your health because just one application of a typical household cleaner can leave dangerous chemicals lingering in your indoor air for hours at a time. For people who spend a large amount of their day indoors, this can amount to a frequent chemical attacks on your lungs.
So, which Ingredients are Toxic?
Some of the ingredients in common household cleaners, laundry detergents, and even "green" cleaners that can create a toxic indoor environment include:
- Glycol ethers – Widespread use in paints, perfumes, soaps, cosmetics and foods. Cause fatigue, lethargy, nausea, and possible liver and kidney damage.
- Phthalates – Cause reproductive harm, endocrine disruption, cancer, organ damage.
- Perfumes – Cause headaches, sinus problems, asthma, may cause intoxication and "addiction."
- Phosphates - Manufacturers have reduced eliminated phosphates from laundry products, but no action has ever been taken on dishwasher detergents. Causes widespread environmental damage.
- Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a common ingredient in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, is banned in Europe, and known to be a potent endocrine disrupter. It's already thought to be the cause of male fish transforming into females in waterways around the world!
- Formaldehyde, found in spray and wick deodorizers, is a suspected carcinogen.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including 1,4-dichlorobenzene – Cause nose and throat irritation, dizziness, asthma.
- Petroleum solvents in floor cleaners may damage mucous membranes.
- Butyl cellosolve, found in many all-purpose and window cleaners. May damage your kidneys, bone marrow, liver and nervous system.
- Ammonia – irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs.
- Chlorine – irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs.
- Ethanolamines – irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - skin irritant, eye irritant, potential cancer causer.
Why "Green" Cleaning Products May NOT Necessarily be Green!
As more and more consumers are learning about the dangers of the products they use in their homes, "green" environmentally friendly options have sparked an industry revolution with a growing number of companies offering their own versions of eco-friendly cleaners. Some examples are Clorox Green Works Natural All-Purpose Cleaner, Simple Green, and Purex Natural Elements.
Unfortunately, the terms "green" and "natural" are nothing more than marketing terms; they're not rigid well accepted scientific terms, and they do not automatically equate to safety. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who is even slightly familiar with how multinational corporations use marketing to manipulate the image of their products.
If you want a real treat, please pick up and read a highly recommended book on this subject called Subliminal Persuasion: Influence & Marketing Secrets They Don't Want You To Know. This book reveals the systematic techniques used to form opinions or ideologies, in ways that we never suspect. Multinational corporations, like big drug companies, are using these techniques all the time to deceive you.
Many large corporations are chomping at the bit, eager to reach into the wallets of modern, environmentally concerned consumers searching for green alternatives to the toxic stew of chemicals found in conventional cleaning products. "Green" cleaning products are a growing niche market, with green cleaning product U.S. sales totaling $100 million in 2010.
But most "green" cleaning products like Simple Green are still loaded with glycol ethers, which are anything but good for your health when inhaled or when they touch your skin. Folks, the simple truth is that if a substance cuts through grease and dirt any faster than soap and water, then there are chemicals in there that most likely aren't very good for your health.
Why Glycol Ethers are BAD for You
Glycol ether is a generic term for over thirty solvents derived from crude oil, all with different properties, which are used in applications ranging from paints to inks to degreasing agents and cleaning products. Generally speaking, glycol ethers are hazardous when they get on your skin or when they get in your lungs. This is especially true with cleaning products, which are often applied indoors and without proper ventilation.
The glycol ether named ethylene glycol monoethyl ether may be linked to lower sperm count in men, and has caused low birth weight and reproductive abnormalities in animal studies. Pregnant women and small children in particular should avoid expose to glycol ethers, as these groups are more susceptible to damage.
Reading the Labels Won't Always Help
I always advocate reading the labels on the foods and cleaning products you buy, but in the case of household cleaners even the most meticulous eye for labels won't get you very far.
Because many of the most dangerous chemicals will not even be on the label. The manufacturers have conveniently lobbied the government to exempt them from this requirement and can omit any ingredient that is considered a secret formula from its label. Many of these non-disclosed ingredients are actually toxic and carcinogenic.
Household goods are still very much an unregulated market. And, cleaning product manufacturers -- even those that claim to be "green" -- are not required by law to disclose all of their ingredients on their labels. So while it's still better to read the label than not, be aware that a lack of ingredient on a label doesn't necessarily mean it's not in the product!
How to Clean and Sanitize Without Harmful Chemicals
Some common household items, such as vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice can get the job done just as well -- sometimes even better -- than their toxic counterparts. Here's a simple starter list of what you need to make your own natural cleaning products:
- Baking soda
- White vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Liquid castile soap
- Organic essential oils (optional)
- Mixing bowls
- Spray bottles
- Micro fiber cloths
For a great video on how to use these ingredients and other tips for cleaning your home without hazardous chemicals, please review the article: How to Keep Your Home Clean Naturally. For example, vinegar combined with hydrogen peroxide works exceptionally well as both a disinfectant and sanitizer.
Cleaning mirrors and windows is as easy as adding a quarter-cup of white vinegar per quart of water. Add a few drops of liquid dish soap to the mixture if windows or mirrors are really dirty, but be very careful not to use any that contain harmful antibacterial substances.
Most people know that baking soda is an ideal means to absorb odors in your refrigerator, but did you know it's also a real powerhouse when it comes to cleaning?
Half-a-Dozen Uses for Baking Soda
Here are half a dozen examples of how plain and simple baking soda can replace dangerous commercial cleaning products in your home:
- Use as a safe non-scratch scrub -- for metals and porcelain.
- To clean your oven -- simply sprinkle a cup or more of baking soda over the bottom of the oven, then cover the baking soda with enough water to make a thick paste. Let the mixture set overnight. The next morning the grease will be easy to wipe up because the grime will have loosened. When you have cleaned up the worst of the mess, dab a bit of liquid detergent or soap on a sponge, and wash the remaining residue from the oven.
- To unclog a drain -- pour 1/2 - 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, then slowly pour 1/2 - 1 cup of vinegar in after it. Cover the drain and let it sit for 15 minutes. If it bubbles like a volcano, it means it's working as planned. Flush with a gallon of boiling water.
- Deodorize dry carpets -- by sprinkling liberally with baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes, then vacuum.
- To rid your garbage disposal of foul smells -- add vinegar to water for ice cubes, then let a few of them get chopped by your disposal.
- To clean your silver -- boil 2-3 inches of water in a shallow pan with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and a sheet of aluminum foil. Totally submerge silver and boil for 2-3 minutes more. Remove silver from the pan and wipe away the tarnish with a clean cotton cloth.
Genuine Green Products are Out There!
Dr. Bronner has long made a natural castile soap free of toxic chemicals. This is just one of many truly "green" products available to consumers who are discerning and want to avoid the glycol ethers and phthalates found in most cleaning and laundry products.
For the past four years I have been researching a safe alternative to conventional laundry detergents that are typically chocked full of perfumes, solvents and bleaches that don't belong anywhere near your skin.
I am pleased to announce that I have been able to develop a product that cleans your clothes just as good as conventional laundry detergent, but uses plant and vegetable enzymes to get the job done.
Final Thoughts on Green Cleaners
Don't be fooled by the marketing, or by ingredients that are purposely left off of labels.
The toxic chemicals listed above are found in a wide variety of everyday cleaners and detergents and pose a significant health risk. We are starting to see that now with increased and unexplained cancers, increased infertility and difficulty in reproduction, exploding neurological disorders, ADHD and autism in our children.
These diseases are thought by many to be linked to environmental causes. And many of the toxic ingredients in cleaning products are among the suspected culprits.
Remember, if you have trouble finding safe alternatives, there is nothing wrong with natural soap and water for cleaning most surfaces. It will take a little more elbow grease, and you'll have to rinse the soap off, but the benefit of avoiding toxic chemicals far outweighs any extra effort you might have to put in.
Additionally, we are in the process of developing a full line of Greener Cleaners.