Cleaning Up the Way We Clean: Safe & Healthy Cleaning Solutions
December 12, 2012
By Allison Evans, co-founder of Branch Basics
There’s so much we can’t control when it comes to our children’s exposure to toxins outside the home. Almost daily their little lungs inhale pesticides, chemical-laden fragrances, harsh cleaning products…the list goes on. What can we do?
The good news is we have control over what we bring inside our homes. Our homes should be a safe haven for our families, a place of refuge and regeneration. (And thankfully it’s within these four walls that our children sleep, a time of repair and restoration – a natural detoxification from the day’s exposures and preparation for the one to come.)
As a healthy home consultant, I’ve found the easiest place to start in our efforts to create a healthy home environment is to clean up the way we “clean”. Ironically, after a home has been cleaned with conventional products, its air quality plummets. Many of these products contain complex mixtures of chemicals that have been linked to allergies, asthma, reproductive damage, neurological issues, psychological disorders, autoimmune disease and cancer. We stockpile products for just about every cleaning need imaginable: detergents, degreasers, scourers, softeners, bleaching agents, tile cleaners, jewelry cleaners and an array of scented candles, diffusers and plug-ins.
One of my favorite things to do is roll up my sleeves and join moms as they “clean house”. We schlep an ever-growing trash bag full of cleaning products from under sinks and in cabinets of their kitchen, laundry room, bathrooms and garage. I am elated (yet never surprised) to hear parents eagerly report of improvements in their family’s health from this one act alone. They’re baffled by the connection between products they had purchased to clean and various allergy-, skin-, sleep- and even temperament-related issues (for which medication and/or allergy shots seemed the only answers). It makes sense, they often conclude, when they think about the residues from the chemical-laden dryer sheets ingrained in the fibers of their kids’ clothes, towels and sheets! One husband recently commented to his wife, “We haven’t been to the doctor since that cleaning lady came!” Yes, I – the one who removed all the cleaning products – am the “cleaning lady”. And I love it
But, please, don’t gather but then put off tossing these toxic products, “waiting to see if the natural stuff really works” or stop lighting scented candles just to stick them in a drawer the kids can’t reach. Even if lids are closed or products go unused, the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) seep out on a parts-per-million/billion level, creating a “chemical soup” in the air. (Think about the strong smell of a grocery store’s cleaning aisle…and those products are sealed!)
Ok, I’ve purged, you’re thinking. Now what? Go back to basics. Pure soap (without synthetic ingredients) is a natural anti-bacterial and disinfectant that can further simplify the cleaning process. We don’t need hospital-grade disinfectants and sanitizers to maintain a safe, healthy home. In fact, many don’t realize that in order for a product to make claims like “kills germs”, “rids of bacteria”, or “sanitizes”, it must contain either an EPA-registered pesticide or at least 62% alcohol. Soap falls under neither of these categories, but is often just as effective. Products that contain baking soda and/or limestone (calcium carbonate) naturally de-odorize, soften clothes and act as powerful scouring agents. Look for cleaners free of sulfates, chlorine, phosphates, ammonia and parabens, and remember that “nontoxic” doesn’t necessarily mean human friendly. Seek out products with food-grade ingredients, safe enough for use around pregnant women and developing children
Scents deserve some undivided attention. Complex mixtures of chemicals can be masked under the single ingredients “fragrance” or “parfum” (both protected under the FDA’s “trade secret” law), and the EPA has reported their “possible mutagenic and genotoxic effects”. If a product has a scent, make sure it’s derived completely from pure essential oils. (If we want our home to smell like grandma’s hot apple pie, I suggest we start bakin’!
Just think: by cleaning up the way you clean, you can save money, de-clutter and significantly improve your family’s health. There’s nothing to lose besides a few hundred unpronounceable chemicals.
Oh, and a final reason to take the plunge? All this can happen without the kids even noticing!