With the new year, there is often a renewed sense of focus on starting new projects or finishing up old ones. If you’re like me, you often get excited after the new year to declutter the house. It makes sense: you’re packing away your holiday goodies and cleaning up after the family, shelving your heavier holiday recipes for lighter fare. It’s the time of year to stress less by getting rid of the mess. And after you get rid of the mess, it’s time for a nice deep clean. The problem with so many conventional cleaners though is that so many of them are actually way more toxic and harmful than you’d realize. Even some brands that brag about being “natural” or “organic” are even hard to trust as many of these cleaners carefully sneak in dangerous chemicals that are toxic and extremely harmful to both us and the environment. It’s okay if you didn’t know this, it’s so hard to think of something that helps clean as also harmful. And if ditching all your old products for new earth- and human-friendly ones seems difficult or impossible, it’s okay: small steps work too. I hope the following few tips help inspire you to make changes towards living a healthier non-toxic lifestyle!
First, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there on what is safe and what isn’t. It would be nice if we could just read the ingredients list on the back of any product and feel comfortable using it. But unfortunately, there are no federal regulations that require manufacturers to list their ingredients used. Additionally, there are thousands of chemical components out there that are perfectly legal to use but have never actually been tested. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has compiled several lists to use as easy reference guides that rate household products based on their ingredients. There is also a really great app called Think Dirty that helps compare the ingredients in cosmetics and personal care items in order to help the consumer choose products that follow certain safety and toxicity standards.
Certain Ingredients to Avoid:
- FRAGRANCE: “Fragrance” is essentially a trojan horse that allows thousands of unspecified chemicals into a product. The FDA allows these because they’re seen essentially as a secret ingredient that is property to the company that is using them. There’s no way for the consumer to know or regulate what’s going into their products. So it’s best to avoid them altogether.
- TRICLOSAN: Triclosan is a super common antibacterial agent found in many kinds of toothpaste, deodorants, detergents, and toys. It’s been linked to antibiotic resistance (click here to read our previous blog post on that), is toxic to aquatic life, and has been found to irritate the skin.
- SODIUM LAURYL/LAURETH SULFATE: This is a foaming agent found in face wash/soaps, shampoos, detergents, etc. and it’s highly toxic to aquatic life.
- BUTYL CELLOSOLVE/GLYCOL: This cleaning agent is a neurotoxin when absorbed through the skin or inhaled and has been linked to reproductive system damage.
- PHTHALATES: Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to plasticize different components of many products such as nail polish, soap, toys, food packaging, hair spray, etc. It’s used in skincare products specifically to penetrate the top layer of skin and has been linked to fertility issues and birth defects. Different phthalates to look out for on cleaning labels include:
- DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
- DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
- DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
- DEP (diethyl phthalate)
- BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
- DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
- DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
- BPA (bisphenol A)
- BPS (bisphenol S)
What to use instead:
- Bon Ami: Bon Ami is a gentle yet effective household scrub that has been around forever. It can be used on everything from countertops, bathtubs, sinks, etc. Bon Ami’s ingredients include limestone, feldspar, soda ash, baking soda, and a surfactant called alkylbenzene sulfonic acid. It currently received an “A” rating from the EWG.
- Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner: All of the Dr. Bronner’s castile soap products are amazing and are true all-purpose products. The Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner is strong enough to clean everything from your floors, dishes, and car, but gentle enough to never even irritate your skin. This product is meant to be diluted and will actually last you forever even though it has so many uses. And unlike most other soaps, Dr. Bronner’s products don’t contain triclosan or fragrances, and all of their beautiful smelling products actually use essential oils for their fresh scents.
- Organic Wool Laundry Balls: Dryer sheets are some of the worst products found in our cleaning arsenals. They’re designed specifically to coat your clothes with chemicals that cause an artificial fragrance to linger for days. These chemicals have also been found to be dangerous for your health because they can mimic estrogen as well as trigger asthma. In fact, in a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where 5 name brand dryer sheets were tested, all were found to emit some or all of at least 15 endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs). EDCs have been shown to negatively affect reproductive and nervous system health, metabolism, and have been linked to cancer. Instead, you can use organic wool dryer balls with a sprinkle or two of your favorite essential oils.
- Vinegar: Where would we be without it? When in doubt (or a budget) the best all-purpose cleaner is vinegar. I have empty glass spray bottles at home that I fill up with white vinegar, water, and essential oils to keep my counters clean and fresh. But you can also use it for so many other things: floors, mirrors, windows, cutting boards, drains, refrigerators, etc.
At first, it may feel like making the large cleaning product purge and swap could be expensive. But really, this can be done one product at a time and many of the non-toxic options can last longer and be used as multi-purpose products so you can end up saving money in the long run and help declutter your cleaning cupboard! A win-win!