How clean are our Cleaning Agents?

Photo: Brittney Bush Bollay

A wide array of chemicals are used in day to day household products. We have become so addicted to them that we look out for alternatives the moment we hear about these dangerous chemicals; however to find them may be easier than we think.

Did you know that there are endocrine disruptors hidden in your household air fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper or about the presence of neurotoxin in dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners? What about the humble liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps labeled “antibacterial” which actually promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria? Who would have thought about the presence of coal tar dyes derived from petrochemicals, and often contaminated with trace amounts of heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and lead are very common in household cleaners.

What it feels like to live in a world where the average home today contains more toxic chemicals than the average chemistry laboratory at the turn of the century?

A surprising number of the most harmful toxins ever created are found in our everyday household cleaning agents.  As consumers we buy commercial household cleaning products, expecting them to do one thing: Clean! soaps, detergents, bleaching agents, softeners, polishes are just a beginning of the wide array of cleaning agents. We assume they are safe. But in fact, many popular household cleaners which are actually designed to make life more convenient are dangerously toxic. . The labels DANGER, WARNING and POISON give only a very broad idea about the seriousness of the unknown and undeclared ingredients of the cleaning products.  When in fact the immediate effects of exposure to indoor pollutants can cause headaches, dizziness, watery eyes and chemical burns. Long-term effects include exacerbated symptoms of asthma, heart disease, and even cancer.

Indoor air pollution has been ranked among the top environmental dangers, much of which comes from indoor cleaning agents. The air in our homes is actually filled with vapors from petrochemical solvents which are added to cleaners in a hope to dilute the dirt. According to The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization focused on environment and public health, 53 percent of cleaning products under review contained lung-harming ingredients. Well-known carcinogens like formaldehyde and chloroform were also found.  Across the world, the governments do not regulate or assess the safety of the vast majority of cleaning products despite the severe consequences of exposure to indoor air pollutants.

We can minimize the negative effects of some chemical cleaners, by using inexpensive, easy-to-use natural alternatives as substitutes. For instance, baking soda – cleans, deodorizes, softens water, scours. Lemon, which contains one of the strongest food-acids, is highly effective against most household bacteria. Borax (sodium borate) cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors. White vinegar cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up. A simple search should be able to provide you abundance of such home remedies. Don’t forget that water is the best cleaner in the world.

A growing number of commercial non-toxic home cleaning products are also available, as healthier and environmentally responsible alternatives. One of the many such organizations who are now looking exploring alternatives to synthetic or chemical products is Krya. Based out of Chennai, Krya provides cruelty free and vegan options for everyday products like detergent, dish-wash, mosquito repellents, hair and body powders-all made from plants. Mitte Se in one of the other organizations that offers chemical free cleaning products.  Mitte Se deals in products all made from natural, unadulterated, chemical and cruelty free ingredients ranging from body care items to health products (with medicinal value), household and food items.

In the past, we have  gotten by for a long, long, time without hardcore chemical and toxin based cleaners, now with so many alternatives  it’s time we prioritize our options for a cleaner and healthier homes.





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