Think of all your cleaning products, cosmetics, and toiletries. Do you know what’s in them? Most of us don’t, yet we use these products every day. Some of these come into contact with our skin, are breathed in, and even touch our food.
Understandably, this makes many people nervous. This isn’t a bad thing as this nervousness can push us to investigate further. Website and apps like ThinkDirty now make it easy to discover how clean or toxic the items we use really are.
Products like your laundry detergent, body wash, and cleaners can cause allergies, skin irritation, and even breathing problems. In addition, using specific products together can create a harmful gas, and some common ingredients in household products have even been linked to cancer.
More chemicals and VOCs surround us than ever before. Volatile organic compounds are gasses that are emitted into the air. These can come off from everything from your bathroom cleaner to your memory foam pillow (read more on our blog on the Difference of Memory Foam to Latex Pillows). So, in addition to switching to a natural pillow like a buckwheat pillow, changing up your household products can potentially improve your health and give you peace of mind.
There are potentially dangerous chemicals found in almost every room. In your garage, you’ll discover antifreeze, motor oil, paint, and batteries. When not correctly handled, it can give off dangerous fumes, cause kidney damage, cancer and kill you if ingested. In your laundry room, you could have laundry soap containing cationic detergents. If ingested, they can cause vomiting, convulsions, and shock. Even the less toxic non-ionic detergence can trigger asthma and irritate your skin. In your kitchen, oven cleaners, dishwashing detergents, and antibacterial cleaners can cause irritation and be fatal if swallowed.
Your bathroom may have the most diverse list of toxic ingredients as many cosmetics and toiletries contain a high amount of questionable chemicals. According to the Environmental Working Group, chemicals and contaminants found in many of these products are linked to cancer. Yet, despite so many ingredients being linked to reproductive harm, congenital disabilities, and cancer, the government has very little oversight over personal care products.
The European Union banned many of these chemicals, and a ban was proposed with the California Assembly Bill 2762, the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, yet many of these ingredients are still in make-up, skincare products, hair dry and shampoo.
Switching to all-natural household goods can feel overwhelming if you try to do it all at once. Rather than throwing away everything you currently have, start slow. Unless you are presently experiencing irritation or allergies from your products, you can continue to use them until they are finished. Then, when you replace the item, choose a more natural alternative. This will save you both time and money as no products will be wasted.
What products do I need to switch?
Cleaning supplies should be your primary focus, as they are likely the most potent forms of chemicals you are working with. According to The American Lung Association, “many cleaning supplies or household products can irritate the eyes and throat, or cause headaches and other health problems, including cancer. In addition, some products release dangerous chemicals, including volatile organic compounds”.
The danger is using products like bleach and ammonia is substantially increased when they are mixed. For example, if you use a product that contains ammonia, like some glass cleaners, and it is mixed with bleach, it will release a toxic gas that, in extreme cases, could kill you.
The cleaners and cosmetics may be the most obvious offenders, but other items like your furniture, rugs, flooring, bedsheets, and pillows can also contain unpleasant chemicals.
These items give off VOCs that could cause nausea, light-headedness, respiratory irritation, and headaches. In addition, animal studies have found that long-term exposure to high levels affects the kidney, liver, and nervous system and caused cancer.
There are more regulations to reduce VOCs for items manufactured in the USA. Therefore, by purchasing home goods made in the US, you can reduce your risk. New products like a new mattress will give off the most, though, over time, it can lessen. You can also use natural fibers on your bed and pillow to avoid these. For example, a bamboo pillowcase on your buckwheat pillow or 100% organic cotton sheets are great for bedding.
When you have new flooring installed, whether that be hardwood or carpet, ask what materials are being used. Adhesives, stains, or sealants could pollute indoor air. In some cases, their use may be unavoidable, but you can reduce VOC pollution by ensuring you have proper ventilation. When you bring in new flooring or furniture, ventilate rooms and, if possible, allow them to air out (out of their packaging) in a garage or shed.
What products should I buy?
Switching to an all-natural or healthier alternative isn’t always as simple as it may seem. When looking for a new product, you need to be wary of “clean washing” and “greenwashing.” This is when a company uses language and marketing techniques to make a product seem more natural and eco-friendly than it really is. For example, if it says “contains natural ingredients” and comes in a green bottle, don’t be fooled. It could also contain a long list of ingredients that aren’t natural and potentially harmful.
If a product claims to be organic – don’t take it at face value. A company should be able to back up these claims with a USDA certification. Look for real certification rather than symbols and images that make it appear that way. For example, a strategically placed leaf, tree, or flower can give the illusion of a natural product, but it is a marketing ploy.
Of course, looking at the ingredients list will give you the most information. Though effective, there are thousands of different chemicals in cosmetics and standard household products, and it would be impossible to know what each one does and whether or not it’s safe. Instead, start learning about the most common offenders found in everyday goods. These include:
- Mineral Oil
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
Start by eliminating a few ingredients. To determine what elements you want to avoid, ask yourself why you are going all-natural. For example, do you want vegan, cruelty-free items because animal rights are important to you? Do you want your ingredients to have less of an environmental impact? Or are you concerned about hormones, cancer risk, and allergens?
You can also reference the Environmental Working Group (EWG’s) databases for both cosmetics and household products. They often have many products already listed with ingredients and can be downloaded as an easy-to-use app.
If you really want to know what’s in your products, you can make them yourself. There is an abundance of easy recipes that contain products you likely already have at home. For example, Good Housekeeping has a list of recipes for homemade cleaning products. For example, to make a heavy-duty scrub, mix half a lemon with ½ a cup of borax powder, and for glass cleaner, use 2 cups of water, ½ cup white vinegar, and ¼ cup rubbing alcohol. Making your own items saves you money but can be more time-consuming, so it may be easier to find a brand you trust.
There are brands that aren’t guilty of clean washing and focus on natural ingredients. As a result, the ingredients in their products will be safer and more recognizable. They are also often more transparent and have certification to back up any claims. Once you find a brand you trust, it can make shopping easier.
Should I clean less?
If cleaning products contain so many toxic chemicals, you may be wondering if you should cut back cleaning altogether. The answer is no. The other chemicals in your home from candles, room deodorizers, or even furniture can accumulate in the dust!
Dust mites aren’t the only thing you need to be concerned about when it comes to house cleaning. According to one study, 45 potentially harmful chemicals are found in the dust of 90% of homes in the United States. Veena Singla, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, said that “looking at the health hazards posed by chemicals in dust, we’re concerned that many chemicals hit the same systems – small exposures can add up, potentially leading to amplified health risks.”
Though making the switch to all-natural household products can feel overwhelming, it may be worth the effort, especially if you have pets, children, or older adults in your home. Research has found that young children, pregnant women, animals, and older adults are particularly at risk for household contaminants. Additionally, some medical conditions can make an individual more sensitive, and their body’s immune process may not be as strong. Dusting often, having proper ventilation, and minimizing the number of different chemicals you use on a daily basis will reduce the risk associated with these chemicals. You can start small and, over time, have a positive impact on you and your family’s health.