How can you tell if “green” cleaning products are really safer?
You’ve probably seen, or even used, cleaning products, drain cleaners, and personal care products that make claims of being environmentally friendly, earth friendly, eco friendly, or some other benefit to the user and the planet. Unfortunately, not every “green” product is as friendly as another.
Back in 1960, the U.S. government passed the Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act, which required hazardous and potentially dangerous substances packaged for home use to have warning labels.
This sounds helpful, but at the same time, it allowed companies not to reveal dangerous ingredients in household products unless harmful side effects appeared immediately after improper use.
As an example, chlorine bleach must thus be labeled “poisonous” if swallowed, but not as hazardous when disposed.
Chlorine bleach, also known as sodium hyperchlorite, is toxic to fish and other aquatic life if it makes its way to a body of water. When bleach is mixed with ammonia, another chemical found in many cleaning products, highly toxic chloramines gas is created. Mix bleach with common toilet-bowl cleaners and you can create chlorine gas, which is also highly poisonous.
Chlorine is also the base compound found in organochlorines, which were used to develop several pesticides (including DDT, endrin, and chlordane) that are now banned because of their persistence in the environment, and possible linkage to cancer.
So which of the new so-called “green” products are truly safe for the environment and less toxic or non-toxic for the homeowner?
The answer is twofold:
1.) Ideally, homeowners can make most of their own cleaning products using safer, non-toxic ingredients found at their local department store, grocery store, or pharmacy. One easy example is using undiluted white vinegar as a drain cleaner instead of the strong acidic or basic commercial drain cleaners sold at stores. There are homemade recipes for virtually every household cleaner and polish.
2.) The second, but less preferred alternative is to buy products that have been proven to be safer than the common commercial products. This can be done by purchasing products that have achieved the United States Protection Agency (USEPA) Design for the Environment (DFE) program.
In this program, companies apply to the USEPA for partnership and prove their products meet EPA standards, which are that the ingredients used are the safest in the class of chemicals used.
This does not mean they are the safest product available – just that they are the safest in their class.
One web site with even more stringent standards requiring products that not only are non-toxic and non-corrosive, but free from carcinogens (as determined by five different major agencies), mutagens (as determined by the United Nations) and truly biodegradable (as certified by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) is Green Seal.
We can all make a difference in the environment by reducing the amount of toxins we use in our own homes.
Use cleaners with safe chemical compositions
Many of the commercial cleaning products available to homeowners today are made up of dangerous chemicals with formulas that would impress any chemical engineer. Examples of these include oven cleaners and toilet cleaners.
Since industries are heavily regulated, the handling of many of these same hazardous chemicals in an industrial setting would require some or all of the following:
- heavy-duty safety precautions
- plenty of personal protective clothing
- chemical resistant gloves
- safety goggles
- splash-proof clothing
- chemical resistant boots
- respiratory protection
Ironically, homeowners are not regulated in their use of these dangerous chemicals. However, they are expected by the manufacturers to read the all of the safety instructions, buy the protective equipment, and carefully handle these harsh chemicals. And the manufacturers think they will do all of this without any training.
For your own protection, we highly recommend you buy the safer green products that are becoming more available every day. The chemical composition varies for many of these hazardous household products used for cleaning, and the known health effects of exposing ourselves to these dangerous chemicals can be dramatic.
There are alternative cleaners: “green clean” products you can buy in the store; and home made cleaners you can make yourself.
Whether you make your own homemade cleaning products or buy green products that are safer, you will be ensuring that you and your family are not exposed to dangerous chemicals.
Are Your pets in danger of accidental poisoning from these common chemicals
There are many poisons in our homes, and some of them might surprise you.
Antifreeze for cars is highly toxic to humans and pets, as it it’s chemical composition is primarily ethylene glycol or propylene glycol.
Ethylene glycol does not have a distinct odor, but it has a sweet taste. Propylene glycol is practically odorless and tasteless. Our digestive systems turn these two chemicals into oxalic acid, which is highly poisonous.
If ethylene glycol or propylene glycol are swallowed in large quantities (less for a small pet), they can cause serious, irreversible damage to the kidneys, nervous system, lungs and heart. If you are a pet owner, you want your home to be a safe place for your pets.
Poisonous house and garden plants, like many lilies (Lily of the Valley is very toxic), rhubarb, and poinsettia and mistletoe are very poisonous, and are another danger to our furry friends.
A much more comprehensive list of poisonous plants can be found on the Cornell web site. One of the primary poisons in the plants listed above is oxalic acid, which is also the harmful chemical our bodies produce if we swallow antifreeze, either ethylene or propylene glycol.
Rat or mouse baits contain another poison some of our pets get into, either by finding the bait and eating it directly or by eating a rodent that has already eaten the poison.
The most common ingredient is rodent bait is warfarin, a blood thinner also known as Coumadin, which is prescribed in smaller doses to thin the blood of people at risk for heart attacks, blood clots, and strokes.
The best way to keep your pets safe from these poisons is to learn which poisons are in your house and garden and either remove them from where they can be eaten or fence the animal away from the poison. To avoid possible poisoning from rodent baits, use mechanical traps instead.