We all know about checking for the ingredients in our food or bodycare lotions and potions but how many of us think about looking at what is used to make common household cleaning products? What you use to clean your living environment can have as large an affect on your health as what you eat or put on your body.
Many common household cleaners contain toxic ingredients which are known carcinogens, suspected reproductive toxins or endocrine disrupters. The fumes from some cleaners have been linked to chest pains, breathing difficulties and wheezing.
Not friendly at all and if that is what can happen to humans then imagine what the effect is on the environment when these residues get flushed down the drains. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ingredients which can be potentially harmful to us and our environment.
High exposure to ammonia can cause lung damage, heart attack or even death. Mild exposure has been known to cause skin burns, pulmonary edema and irritation to eyes and mucous membranes. Ammonia is found in many all-in-one or cream cleaners.
Bleach( also known as Sodium hypochlorite):
Bleach is good right? Unfortunately, no. When bleach mixes with ammonia, it creates chloramine gas, a highly toxic substance. The chlorine in bleach can also form organochlorines when it binds with organic materials in the marine environment, yet more toxic compounds. Sodium hypochlorite is highly toxic to fish so if you consider yourself a ‘greeny’, bleach is one thing which definitely has to go.
What a mouthful! This tongue twister is a common ingredient in many room fresheners, toilet bowl deoderizers and urinal cakes as well as being used as an insecticide for moth control. It has been linked to a reduction in pulmonary function which in simple terms means it makes it difficult for you to breathe properly, strange ingredient for an air freshener don’t you think?
The above are but a few of the potentially harmful ingredients we unwittingly use in our living space on a regular basis, so what can we do to avoid this? When in doubt, take a look in your kitchen cupboard!
You clean with what?!
Some of the most unassuming kitchen cupboard staples can make powerful cleaning agents, I’m talking about the likes of lemon juice, baking soda and plain old vinegar.
This little wonder is not only good for your liver, it also does a really good job of removing stains, shining brass and copper and dissolving hard water deposits and soap scum. Mix it with olive oil for a fresh smelling furniture polish and combine it with baking soda to make a handy scrub for stubborn burnt on dishes and surfaces with cooking stains.
Lemon juice and water sprayed in a room, leaves a light scent which is highly appealing and pouring a little of it down the drain helps to prevent odours there also.
When you know you are going to need a bit more elbow grease to get rid of a stain or clean a surface, then bring in the natural abrasiveness of baking soda. It is also heaven scent (pun intended) for keeping your refrigerator free of foody smells, simply place a small, open container of baking soda in the refrigerator and freezer and say good-bye to the left-over smell.
Adding a teaspoon of baking soda to the water can also help keep your cut flowers fresh for longer and you can use it to repel cockroaches and ants by putting it under sinks and along basement windows. It is also perfectly safe to use as a fruit and vegetable wash and sprinkling it in the cat’s litter box is an eco-friendly alternative to using a chemical laden spray to mask the odours.
White distilled vinegar is readily available and easy on the pocket and best of all there are a myriad of ways to use it in the home. Limescale deposits in the kettle are a thing of the past, simply boil full strength white distilled vinegar for a few minutes, leave it to cool and then rinse with clean water. Brighten up cloudy glasses after washing by wrapping them in a cloth soaked in white distilled vinegar, leaving them to stand for a while and then rinsing clean.
In your bathroom and kitchen you can clean the bath, toilet bowl, shower, basin and sink as well as mop the floors, shine the glass and disinfect the surfaces with a mixture of white distilled vinegar and water. Make sure to test it on an inconspicuous area first as too strong a dilution could be too acidic and could damage grouting on tiles. Remember never to use vinegar on marble.
Vinegar also makes a wonderful fabric softener, good news for those with allergies, simply add half a cup of white distilled vinegar to the rinse cycle and enjoy more cuddly clothes!
What about the smell? Don’t worry, it goes away as soon as the vinegar dries.
A Note on Borax.
Many books on a greener lifestyle name Borax as a natural cleaning agent. While it is certainly true that Borax is natural, it is not necessarily that much safer than man-made chemicals and signs of chronic exposure can include seizures and kidney failure. Personally I choose not to use Borax, however, it is particularly useful for a variety of cleaning jobs, its up to you to weigh up the options.
Another chemical free option for cleaning is to use eco-friendly cloths, these are specially made to clean effectively with the use of micro-fibres, meaning you have to put in a bit more physical effort but you are minimizing the use of chemical compounds in your home. Wellness Warehouse stock these and on the international market there is a company called Enjo who manufacture a wide range of environmentally friendly cleaning products, using fibre technology originally pioneered in Austria in 1990. According to their brochures, these products cut down on water wastage and can cut your use of chemical cleaners by almost 90%.
Not a domestic goddess?
Love being green but still want things that come in a bottle? Well, luckily South Africa has a few local companies who are as passionate as you about the environment and eco-friendly cleaning products are becoming more readily available. Take a look at Shoporganic Profilers, Better Earth (www.shoporganic.co.za/better-earth). Pick and Pay’s green range is wonderfully effective and affordable to boot, it is not 100% organic yet but they are working on becoming more environmentally friendly each year so are definitely one to watch. They also stock Bloublommetjieskloof products, which are local and very ‘lekker’. Woolworths has an in-house range of natural cleaning products, with divine smells and also well priced. If you are looking for mostly organic products, try Wellness Warehouse, they stock a wide range including Better Earth, Enchantrix, Earthsap (all local) and various other brands such as LMD technologies and Ecover. Prefer to go directly to the farm? Then look online, Enchantrix and Better Earth have an excellent websites and Earthsap products are available via the web from Faithful to Nature.
With a little research it is perfectly possible to find cleaning products which do the job brilliantly, leaving your home clean and your conscience clear. Happy Spring Cleaning!
Useful websites and resources:
ENJO South Africa: www.enjo.net