Do you have a different cleaning product for every room in the house? We use cleaners, fresheners, polishes, detergents, degreasers, soaps and sprays. Strong chemicals offer fast, powerful cleaning but most haven't been fully tested and verified for safe long-term, multiple-exposure use. A new mind-set on eco-friendly products invites us to question: are so-called ‘green’, ‘clean’ and ‘non-toxic’ products the answer?
Reading a label isn’t enough
In Canada, cleaning product manufacturers aren’t required to list ingredients or use a standardised terminology. The result is inconsistent labels and ‘greenwashing’ – marketing claims that can’t be proven. “‘Non-toxic’ doesn’t mean the same thing between brands or companies,” comments Lauren Millar, Assistant Brand Manager for Nature Clean. “With green products,” she continues, “we assume it does more; that what’s okay for the environment is okay for us. This isn’t always the case.” According to Janelle Witzel, Project Coordinator at Environmental Defence, “It’s up to the consumer to read the labels, to interpret what the ingredient list means to them.”
Sharon Godsell at Health Canada warns, “All chemical substances, whether natural or man-made, have the potential to cause harm to humans. Consumers are advised to read and follow manufacturer's directions for use and any safety warnings on the label before each use of a chemical product.” Anything can have a degree of toxicity, if you get enough of it, even ‘green’ products. Not every product carries the same toxic threat and doesn’t affect the environment and the body in the same way.
Surprisingly, ingredients might be harmless alone, but when combined, release noxious gases. Read labels, research to identify key ingredients and pay attention to any unusual physical symptoms.
Risk of exposure
Various studies show, increased exposure to some cleaning product ingredients may
impact health, immediately or long term:
• asthma; headaches; allergies; burning eyes; runny nose; fatigue; skin and respiratory irritation
• endocrine disruption; developmental, neurological and / or reproductive disorders; cancer
• increased chemical sensitivity; liver, kidney, nervous system and cardiac damage.
@EcotownCrier Cynthia Liedke
Tips to switch
The goal of switching from chemical based cleaners is to reduce the risk of immediate and cumulative chemical exposure, for you and the environment. Choose to buy products that aim for clean, green and natural. Change the products you use most to those that will lower your exposure risk.
1. With sensitive skin: start with laundry products.
2. Natural alternatives: biodegradable and phosphate free, bearing logos Terra Choice or EcoLogo.
3. Go back to cleaning basics: baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and essential oils.
4. Clean: use less product, wearing gloves in a well ventilated area.
“You will not eliminate all chemicals. Make small changes to reduce your risk,” says Witzel, “General rule: the fewer ingredients listed, the better.” H&L