Chemicals, Cleaning and Effectiveness

Queen of Green's Spring BreakupIt’s Enviro-Mama Thursday, and today I’m talking cleaning products. I’ve been inspired by Lindsay Coulter, a.k.a. David Suzuki’s Queen of Green. Throughout the month of April she’s running the Spring Breakup. The message is simple: there are toxins in most home cleaning products, and those toxins aren’t good for us or for our children. She’s challenging people to ditch their current cleaners for less-toxic options.

One of the biggest complaints many of us have with “green” cleaners and personal care products is their effectiveness. Sure, you feel good buying them, but they just don’t work the same way. I can’t be the only one who’s had less-than-stellar results from organic deodorants and environmentally-friendly dishwasher detergent.

Earlier this week I had the chance to meet Gillian Deacon, author of There’s Lead in Your Lipstick. It was a blogger event, sponsored by Seventh Generation and hosted by Whole Foods in Vancouver. Among many other things, Gillian discussed the optical brighteners found in many laundry soaps. These are chemicals that reflect blue light, which makes materials appear brighter. Tthey make your clothes look cleaner, but they don’t actually clean them. Plus, there are some concerns that they can irritate skin and accumulate in fish.

Green Cleaning Seventh Generation Gillian Deacon
Gillian reads the label on a bottle of laundry detergent

While conventional cleaning agents may appear to work better, much of it is an illusion, and that illusion comes at a cost. In addition to optical brighteners they contain artificial colours and fragrances, and a whole lot of other chemicals. Many of those chemicals are about creating the illusion of cleanliness, by making things smell nice or look brighter. We’ve been conditioned to think, for instance, that clean clothes should smell like “summer breeze” dryer sheets. This is why I believe that, at least in part, we need to change our definition of clean as we ditch the toxic cleaners.

I used to use heavily-scented laundry soap and dryer sheets. It took me a little while to get past the fact that my clothes didn’t smell the same way when I ditched those products. In pretty short order, though, I found that my sensitivity to artificial fragrance changed. When I was standing near someone who’d recently washed their clothes using heavily-scented products, I found the scent very noticeable. In fact, it surprised me a little to think that I’d smelled like that for years without noticing it, but I had. I’ve changed what I expect clean clothes to smell like, and I haven’t actually sacrificed cleanliness, I’ve just reduced my exposure to toxic chemicals.

Green Cleaning Seventh Generation Spring Breakup Queen of Green Gillian Deacon
Jacob and I talk non-toxic cleaning with Gillian Deacon

Purchasing less-toxic cleaning products is an easy, low-pressure way to green your home. If you really want to up the ante, though, you may want to consider making your own cleaning products. Using some basic ingredients like baking soda, borax, castile soap, washing soda and vinegar, you can make your own laundry soap, furniture polish, glass cleaner and all-purpose spray. The Queen of Green has some great cleaning product recipes you can download. Making your own products gives you total control over what you’re using, and helps you to reduce the amount of packaging, because you’re not buying a new bottle every time you need laundry detergent.

The good news is that many of the toxins you’re exposed to in your cleaning products break down and leave your body quite quickly. This means that if you take up the challenge, you will be reducing your personal chemical burden within a matter of days. It’s never too late to make a change, and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been using toxic cleaning products for. By getting rid of them, you’re making a tangible step to improve your family’s health. That’s worth a little bit of adjustment time while you find an effective alternative, don’t you think?

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  1. I’ve noticed the artificial scent thing, too, even though I didn’t for years. Now if my laundry smells like nothing, I’m confident it’s clean.
    Lauren @ Hobo Mama’s last post … Poetic children’s booksMy Profile

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