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Making Sense of “Green” Cleaning: Where to Start

January 13, 2019

Only buy organic. Throw away all the plastic in my kitchen. My mattress might be leaking fire retardants. Dryer sheets are the devil. I don’t know if I can trust my skin care, makeup… or tampons. Are these cleaning products going to kill me? ...Slightly dramatic?Perhaps. But honestly, these are the thoughts that run through my head when I come across another article or Instagram post about “detoxing your life and home.” It doesn’t take much convincing for me to want to detox my body via food, drink, and supplements.  Now the focus has shifted to detoxifying everything in our households and environment. Frankly, it feels extremely overwhelming.

 

 

 

I love a clean, organized home. Who doesn’t? However, I’m not prepared to throw away every single item we own just to replace them with trendy, expensive, “clean” replicas. In this article we will dig a little deeper to understand the 411 on our home care products, the chemicals they contain, and what to consider moving forward.

 

 

 

Our skin is our body’s largest organ and, because it is porous, it absorbs both beneficial things like vitamin D from the sun and potentially harmful things like pesticides. The average home contains around 500-1,000 chemicals most of which we cannot see, smell, or taste. For the most part, these chemicals can be tolerated individually and in small doses. Are they beneficial to our health? Of course not. However, our system should be equipped to handle most of them. Our bodies are pretty dang amazing. The trouble arises when chemicals combine and cause a reaction or allergy. Additional factors, like alcohol, drug-use, or immunodeficiencies can also create a toxic reaction when combined with specific chemicals.

 

What if I love my big brand home care products? If abundant toxins can and do lead to health problems, is the only solution to switch to all-natural home care products?

 

 

I enlisted the help of my good friend Rachel, a Product Researcher (and huge chemistry nerd) at Procter & Gamble, to help me understand what to look for in home care products and what big companies like P&G are working on in regards to toxicology and safety. It’s important to note that environmental sustainability is as important as ever, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll just be sticking to human safety.

 

A few things to consider before you ditch all your current products:

 

Don’t let the word “natural” fool you.

Just because something is called “natural”,  “green”, or “nontoxic” does not mean that it is safer to use. These terms are not regulated so they can be displayed on products, but they hold no weight at all. That, my friends, is a marketing tactic called “greenwashing.” In fact, companies that market products with those sexy buzzwords often have the same ingredients that the bigger corporation products have. The “natural” section at Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s doesn’t necessarily have specific requirements for the products you’ll find there. Even if products meet strict requirements, they won’t necessarily be in that area. Whoa! Just as we’ve slowly figured out that food packaging can falsely advertise “healthy” and “organic,” Rachel predicts that consumers will find the same with many home care products.

 

Ingredients: Are they listed?

The simple answer is no. Frustration level = 100! If you have an allergy or sensitivity, or if you’ve decided that you want to limit your exposure to a particular chemical, researching the product in question might be your best solution. Unfortunately, many household cleaners don’t disclose ingredients on the packages themselves because they have not been required to do so. It sounds obvious, but avoid products with warning or caution labels as those are considered slightly toxic. Additionally, you can always do a quick Google or SmartLabel search to get more details on active ingredients. Rachel pointed out that P&G is moving towards even more transparency in 2019 regarding ingredient disclosure. Look for more detailed ingredients on P&G packaging starting in January and hope that other companies follow suit.

 

Government regulations (!)

Introducing new, raw materials, for greener products is an extremely arduous process. According to Rachel, it can take several years to clear a new material, especially in North America and the EU which have the strictest requirements. The goal is to protect us all as consumers, but most of what we experience is frustration with the slow process. Some companies won’t (or can’t) spend the time and money to investigate, test, and clear new materials in an effort to shift towards greener products. When they do, it’s important that we, as health-conscious individuals, show up and buy the new products to ensure they stay on the shelves.

 

Okay, so not all big brand home care products are bad news.

That still leaves me with some work to do in terms of taking inventory of my current household products and deciding what swaps might be worth the time and money.

 

Here are six easy (and inexpensive) ways to start:

 

1. Choose “fragrance free” for everything: Fragrance can be made up hundreds of chemicals including phthalates which are linked to reproductive and developmental harm and synthetic musks which are linked to increased risk of breast cancer. Uh, buh-bye.

 

2. Ditch the air fresheners and scented candles: I bought a purely sourced, high quality essential oil here in Germany and asked for a diffuser for Christmas. We’ve also got a growing collection of plants which purify the air naturally and look #adorbs.

 

3. Use Environmental Working Group’s database to rate my personal care products: Who will survive? Stay tuned.

 

4. Vacuum and dust more often: I love to clean, so this isn’t going to be tough. However if cleaning is a real drag for you, it’s important to note that chemicals love dust! Hopefully this will make it even more of a priority.

 

5. Make my own all-purpose cleaner: I can combine safe, simple ingredients like soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, and a little lemon juice in a spray bottle. Another easy method is to use a product I trust, like Dawn, to make any number of cleaning solutions for my home. Check out all of these ingenious ideas!

 

 

 

And lastly…

 

6. Vote with my $: Green technology, chemistry, and toxicology are advancing in the big corporations. Our generation is full of smart, savvy consumers who are driving the marketplace. This is a winning combination that we’ve got to take advantage of right now. When I need the convenience and added power of commercial cleaning products, laundry, and dishwashing detergents, it’s totally up to us to learn what is in the product, assess it’s safety, and make the best purchase.

 

Happy cleaning, friends!

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