Squeaky Green: From Toxic to Clean(er)

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

I can remember it well, I was pregnant with my first born and worried about EVERYTHING! I worried about what I ate, I limited my caffeine intake (not with my second baby), I felt every little twinge or cramp as if it was a warning. I pretty much followed every “rule’ given to pregnant women, which is quite an extensive list. I was super anxious about it all but that because it wasn’t my first pregnancy. My first had ended in miscarriage and it tore me up, as you would imagine. The months after, leading to my next pregnancy would be the longest months of my life. 

I had just moved back to Mexico permanently and was not working, so I had all the time in the world to read, research and think about everything I could do to help me get pregnant again.  Looking back now, I know this was a super emotional time and may have gotten a bit obsessed but I learned a lot! 

Me, pregnant with my first born Violetta and my dog Nahla

One of the many things I learned was that switching to natural cleaners in my house would be a huge benefit to my health, my family’s health (including my dog’s) and the environment. I can never know with any certainty that my cleaning products or habits had anything to do with the journey to having a baby but it definitely led me towards a more natural, less-toxic household.

Cleaners at a local grocery store

I see it everywhere, TV ads and even on social media, ads for the next best thing in cleaning. I remember having a separate cleaner for my toilet, for my kitchen, for my sink, my windows, my wood floor, my tile floor and I could go on and on. My cleaning supplies would take up a whole cupboard.

 Next time you’re in a grocery store take a look at all cleaning supplies available. They likely take up one or two whole aisles where you can find a cleaner specific to any surface or room in your house and in every scent and colour you can imagine. 

Like so many products marketed these days, cleaners are promising you a simpler, easier, cleaner life without 99.9% of germs and bacteria. Yes, I understand why you would want your house free of germs and bacteria but most of these products contain chemicals (some not even listed in the ingredients) and require serious toxic warnings and often say “keep away from children” or “if swallowed, call poison control”. If these products are designed to kill everything living, how is that affecting those who live in your home?

The warnings, similar to these, are placed on products for good reason. By law, they are there to warn the user that these are toxic substances and should be used with caution. Have we just become accustomed to the symbols being on our products?  What does it mean for our health and for the health of the environment to have these toxic products readily available and widely used? 

I had so many questions?!?!?!?

“The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action.”

EWG’s Mission

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization based in Washington DC, USA, has created an extensive Guide to Healthy Cleaning.  Their scientists have analysed and compared the ingredients on thousands of products and have created a scoring system based on these ingredients found in our everyday household cleaners. These products were then given a score from “A” indicating a low hazardous score to “F” being highly hazardous. 

The findings from this study concluded that more than half of those products contained ingredients harmful to the lungs. One in five had ingredients that can trigger asthma, even in healthy individuals. Many cleaners were laced with known, probable and possible carcinogens and some chemicals have been known to cause issues with fertility and or the developing fetus in some cases depending on the level of exposure to these chemicals.

You can search the products you have in your cupboards and to find how they score. Even some products that claim to be “natural” or “green” may have a higher toxicity score than you would think.

Check it out out here:  EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning

Another study I found was by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). Also a non-profit organization, this one in Europe, was looking at how our environment affects our health. This organization found evidence that some chemicals in cleaners and other everyday exposures, are known as endocrine disruptors. These chemicals mimic or disrupt our own natural hormones and can be linked to several issues such cancers, fertility problems and even in hormone systems of babies in the womb.

These Human health issues need to be taken seriously. It’s all to common that human health and Environmental health go hand-in-hand. 

There are several issues when it comes to these chemicals being released into our Environment. These chemicals are washed down our drains and into the wastewater treatment systems. Often these systems can’t breakdown or filter all of the chemicals found in these cleaners.  They are then released into the environment along with treated water and pollute our streams and lakes. 

A Geological Survey found traces of detergent in 69% of streams tested and 66% contained disinfectants. 

Cleaning products mostly come in plastic containers. The lifecycle of these bottles and the products they hold can have harmful effects on our environment. From the energy, materials and processes needed in manufacturing the bottles, to their disposal. Some of these containers are recyclable but may not be accepted in all facilities. They can end up in landfills and can have traces of toxic-chemicals remaining in the bottles that can leach back into the environment.

Bleach bottles collected in a beach Clean-up 

There’s a lot of information now widely available on the health and environmental concerns when it comes to the chemicals found in our household cleaners, so what can we do to avoid these risks? 

If you’re ready to make changes to protect yourself, your family, your pets and your community, here are some tips to get started! 

First, take a look at cleaning habits:

  • Check out EWG Home Guide to Cleaners and Air Fresheners
  • If you’re curious about the toxicity of products you already use search for their rating on the EWG Guide to Healthy Cleaning. You may be surprised.
  • You may want to continue using the products you already have just to use them up. If so, use them with more caution:
    • Use less of the product at each cleaning so you’re exposed to less of the harsh chemicals. 
    • Open a window or make sure there’s good airflow so you don’t breath it all in.
    • Use protective gear like gloves or a mask.
  • If you want to discontinue using the product you have you can try to find somewhere to donate them.
  • If you don’t want to donate them, find out how to properly dispose of them from your local waste management facility.

Here’s a great article on what to do with your cleaners from recyclenation.com:

Taking the Mystery Out of Safely Disposing of Your Cleaning Products

Next, start FRESH! Create new cleaning habits:

  • DIY your own household cleaners! 
  • Honestly, there are thousands of recipes online. You can find a homemade recipe to replace any cleaner you use around the house. Check out the infographic below for examples. You can also find some other great DIY resources at the end of this blog.
  • Personally, I like to keep it simple. For the majority of my cleaning I use diluted vinegar in a spray bottle and baking soda as a scrub.
  • If this all sounds like just another chore to add to your ever growing to-do list, find ready made products that are safe or see if anyone in your community makes them. Ask around and check farmers markets or a local craft fair.
  • If you find you just can’t let go of the idea of the germ killing power of some bleaches or products, then just try to reduce the amount of times you use it. Maybe that bleach bottle will last a little longer and you will reduce your exposure to the harmful effects and how often it is released into our environment. Make sure to follow the tips of how to protect yourself and use it safely. 

I’ve made my own orange infused vinegar cleaner by collecting my orange peels in a jar and keeping the jar in the fridge until it fills up. I then fill the jar with vinegar and let it sit in the cupboard for a few weeks. It’s super easy! Try it!

Citrus infused Vinegar Cleaner

Earth Mama Charlotte adds essential oils to her diluted vinegar to add some natural scents and extra disinfecting power

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It always takes a bit of time and energy to change any habit but this is one habit change you will not regret. It feels good knowing my daughters, our dog and anyone who enters our home can play, eat and breathe safely.

Thanks for reading!

What’s your favourite natural cleaner recipe? Share your tips, we would love to hear from you!

Check out these resources if you want to learn more:

How Toxic are your Household Cleaning Supplies

How do household cleaning products affect the environment?

Home Cleaning Products Bombshell: Exposure Equivalent to Smoking 20 Cigarettes a Day, Study Says 

The Dirty Truth. How Toxic Cleaning Products are Putting Canadians at Risk (Environmental Defense) 

Greening Your Purchase of Cleaning Products: A Guide For Federal Purchasers (EPA)

Wellness Mama: Natural Cleaning

Wellness Mama: Chemicals in Your Closet

Homelization: Green Cleaning Recipes

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2 thoughts on “Squeaky Green: From Toxic to Clean(er)”

  1. Extremely well researched and articulated article Lindi. So much stuff out there that is not good for people or the environment. And the cumulative effect of those Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals really does play a part, seeing the different diseases and disorders on your infographic. Your orange infused vinegar cleaner is so simple and amazing. I must try. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    1. Thank you Carl,
      I really appreciate you reading this. There’s so much information and great research done on this and I was hoping to be able do it justice. I appreciate your comment. Try out the orange-vinegar recipe or any others you find. Super easy, cheap and well worth it.
      Thanks again, take care. Lindi

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