Spring has sprung in my neighborhood, and I see a lot of people doing their spring cleaning routines: washing the outsides of the windows, deep cleaning rugs and carpeting, and decluttering and degriming the garage.
While there’s not a lot of research on cleaning product exposure, we do know that many are made from petroleum byproducts or contain chemicals that are considered hormone disruptors. Hormone disruptors can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or acting like them, which throws off the body’s hormonal balance. Because extra estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like estrogen. Plus, petroleum byproducts include chemicals such as benzene, which has been linked to cancer.
Even non-toxic chemicals in cleaning products can mix with other substances in the air and cause problems. For example, terpenes are a type of chemical found in pine, lemon, and orange oils. These oils are used in cleaning products as a solvent or to give the products a fresh, natural smell. Terpenes alone aren’t known to be toxic. But when they’re used in the presence of ozone, the two combine to produce very small particles that are similar to the particles in smog that are classified as carcinogens. Ozone forms when sunlight reacts with air that contains hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, the types of chemicals in engine and industrial plant exhaust. Ozone can come into our homes from polluted outdoor air. It’s also produced by office machines such as laser printers and copy machines. Some home air purifiers also release ozone.
So how do we keep things clean AND cut our exposure to potentially harmful chemicals? I’ve compiled some tips below. If you have others, please use the comment box to tell us all about them.
Read the ingredient list. Terms such as “natural,” “eco-safe,” “environmentally friendly,” and “green” are meaningless because no standards for them exist. Look for products labeled “petroleum-free,” “phosphate-free,” “solvent-free,” and “VOC-free.” Avoid products with alkylphenols (nonylphenolethoxylates and octylphenolethoxylates), which are hormone disruptors.
Never use commercial cleaning products at full-strength. This can dramatically increase your exposure to the chemicals in the cleaners. Always dilute them with water. You can dilute furniture polish with olive oil.
Don’t use spray carpet cleaners. Many of the chemicals in these cleaners can become trapped in carpet fibers. Instead, use a steam cleaner with just water and no detergent.
Open the windows when you clean. Keeping the room you’re cleaning in well-ventilated can reduce your exposure to any chemicals in the products.
Make your own cleaning products. It doesn’t take much time and you’ll know exactly what’s in the bottle.
- Clean windows with water and white vinegar. You can mix water and lemon juice to cut grease.
- Scrub sinks, bathtubs, toilet bowls, stoves, and laminate countertops with a paste of baking soda and water. If that’s not strong enough, try a mix of washing soda (sodium carbonate) and water. A good commercial option is Bon Ami powder cleanser, which contains feldspar, limestone, baking soda, and coconut oil.
- Always wear gloves when you’re using cleaning products.
- Polish furniture with a mix of one teaspoon of olive oil and a half cup of white vinegar.
- Polish silver with toothpaste. Make sure it’s a paste and not a gel.