When customers buy cleaning products, one would expect them to only have one thing on their minds, and that’s cleaning! We use a wide range of products, including soaps, detergents, bleaching agents, softeners, polishes, and specialized cleaners to help keep our homes well maintained and clean. But while the chemicals in cleaners help make our homes smell fresh and look polished, several also contribute to indoor air pollution, can be poisonous if ingested, and are dangerous if inhaled or touched. In fact, some of the cleaners are amongst the most toxic products in your home. In the year 2000, cleaning products within the home were accountable for almost 10% of all toxic exposure. A Frightening portion of that were children who ended up swallowing pills and cleaning products left out in the open!
Cleaning ingredients vary in the type of health hazard they pose. Some cause immediate health hazards such as respiratory problems and skin irritation, while others can be the cause of long term exposure within the house, damaging your health without you even noticing!
The most hazardous cleaning products are corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acidic toilet bowl cleaners, corrosive chemicals may cause severe burns on eyes, skin and, if ingested, in the throat and oesophagus. Most of these chemicals contain chlorine bleach and ammonia, which create fumes that are highly irritating to eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and should not be used by people with asthma or lung or heart problems. These two chemicals pose an added threat in that they can react with each other or other chemicals that produce lung damaging gases. Chlorine combined with some acids (commonly used in toilet bowl cleaners) forms toxic chlorine gas, which can be deadly.
Fragrances and scents added to many cleaners, especially laundry detergents and fabric softeners, may have delicate effects such as respiratory irritation, headache, sneezing, and watery eyes in sensitive individuals or allergy and asthma sufferers. One third of fragrances in industry are toxic! However companies aren’t even required to list their ingredients but merely label them as containing “fragrance.”
Other ingredients in cleaners may have low toxicity but add to long-term health effects, such as cancer or hormone interference. A number of all-purpose cleaners contain the sudsing agents, diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA). When these substances make contact with nitrites, often present as hidden preservatives or contaminants, they react to form nitrosamines – carcinogens that penetrate the skin. 1,4-dioxane, another suspected carcinogen, may be present in cleaners made with ethoxylated alcohols. Butyl cellosolve (also known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether), may contain neurotoxins (cause damage to the brain and nervous system), which is also present in various cleaners.
Chemicals that are hormone disruptors can interfere with the body’s normal chemical messages, either by blocking or mimicking the behaviour of hormones. Potential health effects consist of decreased sperm counts, increased rates of male birth defects such as cryptorchidism and hypospadias, and increased rates of various cancers. Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) is used in some detergents and cleaners and has been known to mimic the hormone estrogen; one APE, p-nonylphenol, has caused estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells to develop in test tube studies.
A few safe, simple ingredients valued by Virtus, like soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and borax, supported by a coarse sponge for scrubbing, can take care of most household cleaning needs. And they can save you tons of money which would be wasted on needless, dangerous, specialized cleaners! However there are ways to still be able to buy your commercial products, while still taking precaution and care of what chemicals you are bringing into your house. When looking at labels make sure you take note of the signal words, such as Danger, Warning or Caution, products labelled danger are typically the most hazardous, and contain some kind of poison. The caution label usually indicates the product is slightly less toxic; you should obviously aim to buy the least toxic product you can get! You should look to avoid chemicals such as ammonia and sodium hypochlorite, if manufacturers voluntarily list the ingredients at the back.
Another thing to look out for is whether the product you are getting is biodegradable, some products will say “biodegradable in X days”, which is of higher value to us than products that just say “biodegradable”, as we would have no idea how long it takes, most substances will break down eventually if given enough time, so the label is meaningless!, the same goes for labels like “ecologically-friendly” or “natural”, which are too vague, whereas labels such as “no solvents” or “plant based” are much more meaningful. Also don’t be fooled by clever labels such as “organic” and “non toxic”, as they don’t have official definitions or are entirely unclear to what they mean. It’s not the same as organic food! And lastly some products have labels such as “No CFCs” (chlorofluorocarbons) which make them seem more eco-friendly, when in reality CFCs aren’t even used in aerosols anymore!
Virtus, Your London Cleaning Company.