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Standard cleaning products contain chemicals that may affect ecosystems by contaminating soil and groundwater. Alternatively, natural, biodegradable household cleaners break down easily in the environment and rely on natural ingredients that protect the water and wildlife near your home. If you're more into the DIY route, you can also make your own natural cleaners at home.

Find it! Natural household cleaners

When shopping around for natural cleaners, the most important thing to look for is a product that will biodegrade rapidly in the environment. Look for products made with plant-based ingredients, and those that contain few additives and little, if any, fragrance. You may also want to look for cruelty-free options. To be sure that a cleaning product claiming to be natural truly is, look for third-party verification of a product's green claims.

Natural household cleaners are becoming more and more prevalent in local health food and grocery stores throughout the US. To learn more about the products available near you, or to order these products online, check out GY's recommended picks:

Choosing natural cleaning products helps you go green because...

  • They are biodegradable and therefore break down quickly, rather than persist, in the environment.
  • They avoid chemical cleaning agents that can pollute soil, waterways, and other ecosystems and may affect wildlife reproductive systems.
  • They do not contribute to hazardous waste upon disposal as conventional cleaners do.
  • They do not contain chemicals that may be skin irritants or carcinogens.

Conventional household cleaners often contain chemical cleaning agents that persist in the environment and can harm wildlife and human health. Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which are common in all purpose household cleaners and detergents, do not easily break down in sewage treatment facilities after they are washed down the drain. About half a million tons of APEs are produced annually.[1] The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified APEs as endocrine disruptors, which can affect the reproductive systems of birds and mammals and disrupt the ability of some fish to reproduce.

Measurable levels of APEs and other cleaning product chemicals have been found in US lakes and streams. A 2002 US Geological Survey (USGS) study of contaminants in American stream water found 69 percent of streams sampled contained traces of detergents, while 66 percent contained disinfectants.[2]

Household hazardous waste

The EPA lists drain cleaners, toilet cleaners, bleach, and shower cleaners on its list of common household items containing potentially hazardous ingredients. If these products are improperly disposed of—including pouring them down the drain or toilet or putting them out with the trash—they are considered to be household hazardous waste (HHW). Americans generate 1.6 million tons of HHW per year, which pollutes the environment and threatens human health.[3] The EPA recommends carefully monitoring the use, storage, and disposal of potentially hazardous substances in order to avoid the potential risks associated with HHW. Such products should be kept in their original containers and their labels should be consulted for instructions on proper disposal. Your local environmental, health, or solid waste agency can also give instructions on proper use and disposal of HHW products and provide information about local HHW drop-off programs and upcoming collection days.

Cruelty-free cleaners

Animals are just as much a part of our environment as rivers and streams, so you may also wish to buy cruelty-free, which means buying products that have not been tested on animals, when considering the green attributes of your cleaning products. Just keep in mind: a company may claim that they don’t employ animal testing for their products, but without third-party verification, it’s hard to know whether these statements are in fact completely true. Stick to those products certified as cruelty-free by looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo. You can rest assured that no bunnies (or monkeys or cats for that matter) were harmed in the making of these non-animal-tested products.

Related health issues

Products for household cleaning and maintenance that contain chemical solvents negatively affect indoor air quality in the home. Nitrobenzene, found in floor cleaners and polishes, can cause skin discoloration, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and is associated with cancer and birth defects. Floor cleaners also contain petroleum solvents that can damage mucous membranes. Nonylphenol ethoxylate, found in some all-purpose cleaners, is shown to biodegrade into compounds that are even more toxic than the original form.

In addition to the long-term health risks to wildlife and humans posed by chemicals in the environment, chemical household cleaners are responsible for many poisonings. According to the National Capital Poison Center, 89 percent of all poison exposures occur in the home, and most poisonings involve everyday household items, such as cleaning supplies, medicines, cosmetics, and personal care items.[4]

Controversies

In a recent study that shook the natural products industry, 100 “natural” and “organic” soaps, shampoos, dish liquids, lotions, and body washes were tested and nearly half contained 1,4-Dioxane, a carcinogenic chemical. This toxin has been found in conventional personal care products, but this study, commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), was the first to test green products.

  

In scientific studies, 1,4-Dioxane has caused cancer in animals; scientists have not yet confirmed the long-term effects on humans. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says current levels do not pose a hazard to consumers but they have advised manufacturers to lower amounts in cosmetics as much as possible. None of the products tested that were Certified Organic by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) contained 1,4-Dioxane. In response to this study, some of the affected companies have said they will work toward removing 1,4-Dioxane from their products.

Glossary

  • 1,4-dioxane: A petroleum-derived contaminant classified as a probable human carcinogen by the US EPA.

External links

Comments

03/04/2009
5:58pm
wizardofhomesnyc

Mrs. Meyers is a joy to use! I bought the All-Purpose concentrate with Lemon Scent. Wow, first of all, usually natural cleaners are more expensive. But my concentrate cost $7.99 and since it's a concentrate, it will last me 4 months (I predict). And I use it every day!
Secondly, it smells so good! I actually can't wait till I run out of this so I could try the other smells too :-D
Third, it works like a charm! Even my boyfriend said it's the best all-purpose cleaner I've brought to this house (I'm a sucker for cleaning supplies so I've brought a quite few LOL)
Fourth, as it says on a bottle, it's good for the nature and my health!

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