I’m a clean freak. There, I said it. I buy hand sanitizer in bulk. I’m usually within arm’s reach of disinfecting wipes. And I have a deep fondness for color-safe bleach. I spend the excruciating flu season wishing I were in a Hazmat suit. Friends and family have gibed me about this for years, though my ears are deaf to it. This is how I’m built. But am I a smart clean freak? Until recently, no.
Perusing the ingredients of my kitchen, bathroom, and laundry cleaning supplies, I discovered words I didn’t think semantically possible. Let these roll off your tongue: diethylene glycol; benzyl ammonium chloride; nonylphenol ethoxylate. Never heard of them? You should. We all should. They’re ingredients found in most cleaners that we employ regularly. And they could be making us sick.
Ammonia, found in most window cleaners, has been linked to kidney and liver damage. The ingredients found in toilet bowl cleaner can be harmful or fatal if swallowed and can damage skin and eyes. In fact, in 2006 the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that over 120,000 children under 5 were involved in incidents involving everyday household cleaners.
But there are alternatives for the health-conscious consumer.
Do your homework
Go to epa.gov to learn about the components of cleaning products and the risks associated with them.
Remember when our grandmothers swore by the cleaning authority of vinegar and lemons?? They were right—and ahead of their time. Vinegar, a natural byproduct of fruits, vegetables, and grains, is nontoxic, noncorrosive, and biodegradable. It’s also effective.
Make your own cleaner
There are dozens of websites—such as Keeper of the Home—that provide recipes for homemade cleaners.
Don’t want to fuss with making your own? Look into companies such as Seventh Generation that offer biodegradable, phosphate- and chlorine-free ingredients in their products.