Household Chemicals and Behavior

February 2012
Most of us choose cleaning products that will help keep our homes healthy and clean. But some of those products pose several health and environmental concerns. 
According to the U.S. Poison Control Centers, in 2010, cleaning products were responsible for about 9.2% of all toxic exposures.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that the toxic health hazards of cleaning ingredients vary from short-term effects, such as skin irritations, watery eyes, and respiratory infections, to chronic, long-term effects, like cancer.
Since many household cleaning products are considered hazardous, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises you to look for signal words, such as “caution,” “warning,” “danger,” or “poison,” that are required by law to be put on hazardous products.   Caution means that a product could irritate your skin, make you sick if you breathe in the fumes, or hurt your eyes if contact occurs. Warning, which is more serious than caution, means the product could make you become sick or seriously hurt with improper handling. The product can also easily catch on fire. Danger means that the product is extremely hazardous, flammable, corrosive, or highly toxic, and Poison means the product is highly toxic and could be fatal if swallowed.
In order to keep our homes safe for our families and pets, we need to find ways to reduce or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in the cleaning products we choose. One approach is to use ingredients that most of us already have in our homes. Most of our household cleaning needs can be met by using simple ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, castile soap, water, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda. 
According to the Household Products Database, from the National Library of Medicine, furniture polishes may cause eye, skin, or respiratory tract infections. They can also contain formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Instead, polish your furniture with a mix of one teaspoon olive oil and one-half cup vinegar.
The fragrance in air fresheners may contain tiny particles that can lodge in your lungs. Plus fragrances can trigger allergic and asthmatic reactions. Instead, open your windows and clean your home with outdoor air. Place bowls of baking soda around your home to keep it fresh.
Fragrances in detergents also contain phthalates, which are chemicals that have been linked to cancer. Some detergents contain alkyphenol ethoxylates, which are suspected hormone disruptors. Certain fragrances in fabric softeners may also contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer. Try cleaning your laundry with a mix of borax, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or washing soda. 
Chlorine bleach (sodium hydroxide) can burn skin and eyes and can be fatal if swallowed. Mixing bleach with products containing ammonia also creates a highly toxic chlorine gas. Many scouring powders, cleaning solutions and laundry products contain bleach.
Scrub sinks, tubs and countertops with a paste of water and baking soda or washing soda. Clean windows with a spray bottle mix of water and one cup vinegar. To disinfect kitchens and bathrooms, apply a mix of water and baking soda. Use warm water and plain soap instead of antibacterial soap.
Changes in the way we clean our homes and the ingredients we choose to clean them with can reduce our long-term exposures to toxic substances. Using natural, non-toxic ingredients will also save us money and make our homes safer for our families.
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