Could cleaning your home be damaging to your health?

Chemical Nasties, Domestic Goddess, Green & Gorgeous, Health — By on July 8, 2007 at 1:57 pm

Before you get too excited ladies, this isn’t a post about outsourcing your household cleaning.

In the April edition of ‘Beauty & Brains’ Bex Gold, creator of Cinderella household cleaning products gave a great introduction on how using conventional cleaning products can actually make your home a more toxic environment. Allergy and asthma suffers need not panic, there are alternatives, plant-based cleaning products contain no toxic elements. So, in continuing with the Gorgeous Things mantra of knowledge is power, let’s explore this subject further.

There are a couple of concepts and definitions to grasp before we wade into this subject so I’ll deal with those first.

VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds, these are found in petrochemical based cleaning products and synthethic fragrances, they are organic chemical compounds that have a vapour pressure (under normal circumstances) high enough to be released into the atmosphere. Now that might not sound too much of a problem, they’re ‘organic’ right? If you can remember back to High School chemistry, chemical compounds such as Formaldehyde are ‘organic’, so the term takes on the meaning of being a carbon-based compound. Left over toxic chemical compounds floating around you nice clean home, being breathed in and absorbed into your bloodstream…it just seems a bit unnatural and unhealthy. More info on VOCs

What’s the alternative to petrochemical based cleaners and synthetic fragrances? Of course there’s an alternative but first we need to understand what the petrochemicals are used for.

Surfactants – the largest part of active ingredients for household cleaning (and beauty) products. Surfactants are what help breakdown dirt and grime, they lower the surface tension of water enabling it to move into, and around whatever it is you are trying to clean up. They’re sometimes referred to as wetting agents. In general they are derived from petroleum by-products as this is the cheapest way to produce them. Common names of petrochemical-based surfactants used in many products are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate.

Plant-based Surfactants – usually derived from coconut or another renewable resource, works in the same way as petroleum-based surfactants but usually creates less of a foam. These are more expensive to produce and probably the biggest reason why most companies use petroleum-based surfactants in their cleaning and beauty products.

Synthetic Fragrances – well, you just have to smell the difference between, say a premium essential oil and one of those cheap synthetic ones you can buy at any bargain basement for $2. For that reason alone they should be avoided.

Now that we’ve got the concepts sorted, let’s look at it as a whole. On one hand you’ve got petroleum by-products, scented with synthetic fragrances that allow toxic chemical compounds to be released into the air inside your home. Not a very appealing prospect for a few reasons. If you or your children have asthma or you have allergies then these VOCs could be aggravating symptoms. If you’re pregnant , it’s unknown what effect they may have on an unborn child. If like me, you believe that reducing the amount of chemicals in your life just makes good old-fashioned common sense then thankfully there are a couple of alternatives to these products.

The first alternative is cleaning your home with things like baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and a lot of elbow grease. This is old-school cleaning at it’s best and you’ll be amazed with the wonderful results you get. Windows and mirrors sparkle after being cleaned with vinegar and newspaper. More info

The other alternative is to purchase from one of the chemical-free, plant-based cleaning ranges that are on the market now. There are numerous brands and I’ve tried the majority of them. Before you race out to where you buy your natural products just consider a few things. Is the product made in Australia? Is it really a natural plant-based product? How does it smell? Read the label, open it up and have a sniff and decide if you like it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how good some of these products smell and then maybe you’ll even come to finding cleaning not so much of a chore.

So, there is an alternative to cleaning with chemicals that release toxic gases into your home. The alternatives also have an added benefit of being derived from renewable resources, which is great news for the planet. In addition there’s also the benefit that we’ll never again be gassed in the bathroom by nasty smelling mould killers and we might even grow to enjoy cleaning our homes and them smelling of healthy, natural fragrances.

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