Are You Cleaning Or Polluting?
Common household cleaning and garden products can make the air in and around your home thousands of times more polluted than the air outdoors in the world’s most polluted cities. These levels of pollution would trigger safety inspections in a workplace.
Detoxify Your Home and Garden
Some scientists worry that long-term low-level exposure to chemicals may be just as dangerous as short-term high-dose exposures, and that we don’t know enough about the effects of the chemical cocktails created by using several products at one time.
Before World War II, most households used relatively safe ingredients commonly found in homes for their cleaning and gardening needs. Even though, today, most people are accustomed to buying a wide range of products, most of these chores can be easily handled without toxic chemical solutions. Recognition of the hazards of many chemical ingredients is leading more consumers to search for less toxic products.
Should You Use It If You Can’t Pronounce It?
Ingredient labelling is a hit-or-miss proposition on home and garden products; some products offer a full list of ingredients, others do not. While it’s not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all toxic constituents, here are some you should watch for:
Acetone is neurotoxic and may cause liver and kidney damage.
Aerosol propellants may contain propane, formaldehyde (a carcinogen, neurotoxin and central nervous system depressant), methylene chloride (a carcinogen, neurotoxin and reproductive toxin), and nitrous oxide .
Ammonia is a severe eye and respiratory irritant that can also cause kidney and liver damage.
Bleach: see sodium hypochlorite
Diethanolamine (DEA) is a skin and respiratory toxicant and a severe eye irritant.
D-limonene is produced by cold-pressing orange peels. It is a sensitizer, a neurotoxin, a moderate eye and skin irritant, and can trigger respiratory distress when vapours are inhaled by some sensitive individuals. There is some evidence of carcinogenicity.
Ethoxylated nonyl phenol is a hormone disruptor and some versions contain traces of ethylene oxide, a known human carcinogen. They are eye and skin irritants.
Formaldehyde has caused cancer and damaged DNA in lab tests. Formaldehyde is also a sensitizer, with the potential to cause asthma and a central nervous system depressant that may cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness and loss of sleep.
Fragrance can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients, most of which are synthetic. Many compounds in fragrance are human toxins and suspected or proven carcinogens.
Methylene chloride is a carcinogen, a neurotoxin and a reproductive toxin. On inhalation, it can cause liver and brain damage, irregular heartbeat, and even heart attack. It is a severe skin and moderate eye irritant.
Monoethanolamine may cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage, as well as depression of the central nervous system. Inhalation of high concentrations – when cleaning an oven for example – can cause dizziness or even coma. The chemical can also be absorbed through the skin.
Morpholine can severely irritate and burn skin and eyes, and can even cause blindness if splashed in eyes. It can cause liver and kidney damage, and long-term exposure can result in bronchitis. It reacts with nitrites (added as a preservative in some products, or present as a contaminant) to form carcinogenic nitrosomines.
Naphthalene is a suspected carcinogen, and a reproductive toxin. It can cause liver and kidney damage, and corneal damage and cataracts.
Parabens (usually preceded by the prefixes methyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, or propyl) are hormone disruptors.
Paradichlorobenzene – This highly volatile registered pesticide is in the same chemical class as DDT. It is a suspected carcinogen, and may cause lung, liver and kidney damage.
Phosphoric acid can severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes. Breathing vapours can make the lungs ache, and it may be toxic to the central nervous system.
Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate is a severe eye, skin and respiratory irritant. It may cause liver and gastrointestinal damage, and may be toxic to the central nervous system. It will react with bleach to form poisonous chlorine gas that can cause burning and watering of eyes, as well as burning of the nose and mouth.
Sodium hypochlorite (bleach) is an eye, skin and respiratory irritant, as well as a sensitizer. It is especially hazardous to people with heart conditions or asthma, and can be fatal if swallowed. It may be a neurotoxin and toxic to the liver.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a known skin irritant. It also enhances the allergic response to other toxins and allergens. The U.S. government has warned manufacturers of unacceptable levels of dioxin formation in some products containing this ingredient. SLS can react with other ingredients to form cancer-causing nitrosamines
Toluene may cause liver, kidney and brain damage. It is also a reproductive toxin which can damage a developing fetus.
Turpentine can cause allergic sensitization, and kidney, bladder, and central nervous system damage and eye irritation.
Xylene has significant neurotoxic effects, including loss of memory. High exposure can lead to loss of consciousness and even death. It may damage liver, kidneys and the developing fetus. It is a severe eye and moderate skin irritant.
List of Less Toxic Ingredients
- White Vinegar
- Pickling Vinegar
- Castille Soap
- Baking Soda
- Washing Soda
- Fine Salt
- Coarse Salt
- Skim Milk
- Essential Oils
Formulas For Natural Home and Garden Products
- Glass – Vinegar, water (1:1) Spray on; wipe off with paper towel or recycled newspaper
- Floors – 1/4 cup washing soda,1 tablespoon liquid castile soap,1/4 cup vinegar, 8 litres hot water. Apply with mop or scrub brush; rinse with clean water.
- Vinyl Floor Polish – Skim milk. Apply with damp mop, let dry – does not produce sour smell.
- Wood Polish – 1/8 cup olive oil or other vegetable oil,1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon vodka. Apply with a cloth, wipe to remove excess.
- Air Freshener/Disinfectants – 1 tsp (5 ml) of baking soda, 2 cups (500 ml) of hot water, 1 tsp (5 ml) lemon juice, 5 drops Tea Tree Oil. Dissolve the baking soda in the water and lemon juice. Pour the solution into a spray bottle and spray as you would an air freshener. Add tea tree oil if you want a disinfectant.
- Kitchen Counters – 1 teaspoon liquid castile soap,1 teaspoon TSP,1 teaspoon borax,1 teaspoon vinegar, 1 litre hot water. Spray on, wipe off. Rinse with clean water.
- Cutting Boards – basking soda, vinegar. Spread baking soda on the cutting board and sprinkle with vinegar; it will bubble and disinfect. Rinse with water.
- Sink – 1 cup baking soda,1 cup borax,1 cup regular salt. Combine ingredients and keep in tightly closed container. Use as scouring powder.
- Drains – 1-1/2 cups vinegar, 2 tbsp baking soda. Pour the ingredients into the clogged drain. Wait 5 min, and turn on the hot water. Repeat if necessary .
- Oven – 2 tablespoons liquid castile soap, 2 teaspoons borax, warm water to fill bottle. Dissolve completely. Spray on, keeping nozzle close to oven surface. Even though these are natural ingredients, it is best to wear goggles and rubber gloves. Leave solution on for 20 minutes, then scrub with nylon scrub pad and baking soda. Rinse clean.
- Bath and Tile – 1 teaspoon liquid castile soap, 1 teaspoon TSP, 1 teaspoon borax, 1 teaspoon vinegar, 1 litre hot water. Spray on, wipe off. Rinse with clean water. Effective on mildew.
- Toilet – 1 cup of borax,1/4 cup vinegar. Pour into toilet and let sit overnight before scrubbing. Do not mix with commercial cleansers because the fumes can be toxic.
- Laundry Whiteners – Borax, Washing Soda. Add up to 1/2 cup of 20 Mule Team Borax or Arm & Hammer Washing Soda to washer.
- Fabric Softener – baking soda, vinegar. Add 1/4 cup of baking soda to wash cycle OR Add ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle in place of store bought fabric softener.
- Stain Removers – consult this article in Canadian Living
- Weed Killer – 2 cups pickling vinegar (7%), ½ cup salt, 2 tsp liquid castile soap. Spray on weeds in dry weather. May take 2 applications to kill well-established or large weeds. Non-selective – will kill any plant so use with care.
- Slug Bait – Beer. Pour beer into a shallow container like a jar lid. Slugs drown in the beer.
- Insect Repellant – 1/2 ounce citronella oil,1/4 ounce lavender oil,1/8 ounce pennyroyal oil,1/8 ounce tea tree oil, 1/8 ounce jojoba oil, 16 ounces of vodka. Pour into spray bottle; shake well before using.
- Poison Ivy Treatment – Dishwashing liquid. Rub dishwashing liquid onto skin area and within 15 to 20 minutes the itch should disappear. Do not wash off until the next morning and then reapply. Within a couple of days the skin area should clear. This is also good for mosquito bites.