There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes after the entire house has been cleaned — propping your feet up as you admire the shining countertops, crumb-free floors, empty laundry basket, and windows so clear that the sunlight streams through unimpeded.
But products as seemingly innocent as laundry detergent and glass cleaner are polluting our homes with chemicals that stress our livers and detox pathways, throw off our hormones, and increase our risk of cancer and chronic lung disease. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 21 commonly used cleaning products collectively emitted more than 450 chemicals, a number of which have been linked to asthma, developmental and reproductive harm, or cancer. These chemicals don’t just pollute our homes and compromise our personal health; they also harm the environment and the health of wildlife.
This number is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Of the more than 80,000 chemicals used in commerce today, 20 percent are kept as trade secrets, and only about 200 have been tested for safety. Legal loopholes have allowed companies to use almost any chemical in their products without first providing any safety data. This means that each day we unknowingly use products that are filled with unhealthy ingredients.
As a result, indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.” With the average person spending about 90 percent of their time indoors, this is certainly alarming. In fact, the EPA and its Science Advisory Board consistently label indoor air pollution as one of their top five environmental health risks.
Making things more difficult is the fact that cleaning product manufacturers aren’t legally required to list ingredients on packaging or elsewhere. So, in most cases, we don’t know exactly which chemicals we’re inviting into our homes via our cleaning products. Though some companies do voluntarily disclose their product ingredients, only about 7 percent include complete ingredient information. Others may use grab-bag terms, such as “fragrance,” “surfactant,” or “preservative,” each of which can represent dozens of different toxic chemicals.
But there’s good news: Armed with the right information, you can easily make your own cleaning products or purchase safe options. We’ve covered homemade cleaning products in-depth in past issues, and you can peruse our entire collection of favorite recipes online at www.MotherEarthLiving.com/cleaning-products.
For readers who are tight on time and prefer to purchase cleaning products, we’ve turned to the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning database to narrow in on the safest options (www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners). The companies in this database disclose all of their ingredients so we know exactly what we’re bringing into our homes. Products are scored from A — the safest, least-toxic options — to F — the most toxic. Each product’s individual ingredients are analyzed and ranked according to their potential effects on asthma and respiratory health, skin allergies and irritation, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, and the environment.
Although some popular cleaning brands, such as Mrs. Meyer’s, don’t have a single A rating, other popular brands have dozens of products that do score at the top. Even better news? These safer products aren’t just in small natural health stores or on obscure websites; they’re available in many common stores nationwide.
Let’s take a look at those products with an A rating that are also the most widely available — either in stores such as Target, Walmart, and your local grocer, or from online stores such as Amazon, ThriveMarket, iHerb, Vitacost, and Jet — so you can easily start to detox your home-cleaning lineup.
If swapping out all of your products at once won’t fit within your budget, take it one step at a time. Start by looking up the cleaning products you currently use in the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to see how they rank. Replace those ranked D and F with safer alternatives, because those rankings indicate the most toxic and unhealthy products. Some water-soluble products, such as detergents and disinfectants, can be rinsed down the drain with running water. However, not everything should be disposed of in this way. Try contacting your Department of Public Works to see what hazardous waste collection programs are in your area. And don’t forget to recycle whichever containers you can!
You may choose to continue using your B- or C-ranked products until they’re done, though I would personally recommend replacing those with C rankings as well. Keep in mind that one all-purpose cleaner may be able to replace quite a few of your current cleaning products.
Making this small change will have a big impact on the health of your home and your family.
Products That Receive an A+
Note: Product names don’t always appear verbatim in the Guide to Healthy Cleaning database. For example, you must search “green shield” for Greenshield.
• Seventh Generation All-Purpose Natural Cleaner
• Greenshield Organic All-Purpose Cleaner, Fresh Lemon
• DIY tip: Combine 1 cup water with 1 cup distilled white vinegar and 10 drops essential oil of your choice.
Liquid Concentrated Cleaner:
• Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner
• Bon Ami Powder Cleanser
• Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
Window and Glass Spray:
• Home Solv Window & Glass Cleaner
• Greenshield Organic Glass Cleaner, Fresh Mint
• DIY Tip: Combine 1 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 cup water.
• Biokleen Carpet & Rug Shampoo
• Aunt Fannie’s Vinegar Wash Floor Cleaner (Eucalyptus, Fresh Lime Mint, Lavender, or Sweet Mandarin)
• Attitude Bathroom Cleaner
• Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Natural Cleaner, Emerald Cypress & Fir
• ECOS Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Cedar
Liquid Laundry Detergent:
• Fit Organic Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear
• Better Life Laundry Detergent, Unscented or Lavender Grapefruit
• Greenshield Organic Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear
Powdered Laundry Detergent:
• Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder, Unscented
• Meliora Cleaning Products Laundry Powder, Unscented
• The Honest Co. Laundry Packs, Free & Clear
• Attitude Little Ones Laundry Stain Remover, Fragrance-Free
• ECOS Dishmate Hypoallergenic Dish Soap, Free & Clear
• Better Life Naturally Grease-Kicking Dish Soap, Unscented
• The Honest Co. Dish Soap (Coastal Surf, Free & Clear, Grapefruit Grove, or Lavender Field)
Liquid Dishwasher Detergent:
• ECOS Wave Dishwasher Gel, Free & Clear or Lavender
• Better Life Naturally Crumb-Crushing Dishwasher Gel
Dishwasher Detergent Tablets:
• Seventh Generation Dishwasher Packs, Free & Clear
Powdered Dishwasher Detergent:
• Seventh Generation Dishwasher Powder Detergent, Free & Clear
• Eco-Me Wood Polish, Lemon Fresh
• ECOS Stain + Odor Remover
Spray Air Freshener:
• Aura Cacia Aromatherapy Mist (Eucalyptus Harvest, Ginger & Mint, Lavender Harvest, Peppermint Harvest, Tangerine & Grapefruit, or Tea Tree Harvest)
• Pure baking soda
• Activated charcoal
Must-Have Tools for Clear Drains
Chemical drain cleaners are some of the most caustic, dangerous cleaning products available. They not only pollute your home, but also your waterways and the environment.
While you may have heard of the DIY solution involving baking soda and vinegar, you might not want to recreate a science experiment in your bathtub. That, and it doesn’t always work the way you need it to. Fortunately, a number of tools can help you keep drains clear and remove clogs without any chemicals or frustration. Here are my two favorites:
Drain Millipede or Snake: These tools are long, thin, flexible pieces of plastic with small prongs along the edges that allow them to catch any debris that may be clogging the drain. When you pull the tool back out of the drain, the debris comes out along with it. It’s not a mess-free process, but it’s simple and highly effective. These tools are also reusable and can last for years, making them an eco-friendly option.
TubShroom: This gadget works by catching the most common clogged-drain culprit: hair. All you need to do is remove your current bathtub drain cover (if you have one) and put the TubShroom in its place. Then, when you finish a shower, simply take the TubShroom out and remove the trapped hair so it won’t accumulate and slow water flow. This handy device fits any standard tub drain.
Invest in Reusable Dryer Balls
Cut down on dryer time and energy usage with wool dryer balls — an eco-friendly laundry room addition! These soft, tennis-ball-sized woolen rounds (usually used in sets of 3 to 4) help reduce the drying time of laundry by increasing the airflow between clothes and linens. They also help reduce static, making them the perfect replacement for one-and-done dryer sheets.
Buy Molly’s Suds Wool Dryer Balls, or see the “Make Your Own Wool Dryer Balls” article.
Nadia Neumann is a nutritional therapy practitioner, nontoxic-living advocate, author of The Complete Home Detox Guide, and founder of the healthy living website Body Unburdened.