The hidden cost of household cleaners

Since the 1940s, chemical companies have been trying to convince us that they have created the perfect cleaner for whatever greasy, grimy job we might come with. It's a ''cleaning buddy'' designed to take the drudgery out of the job, taking up less of our precious free time with cleaning jobs! ''Better living through chemistry,'' was an advertising slogan we grew up with in the fifties.

Unfortunately, few people questioned the cost beyond the dollar amount. The long and short of it is we have been sold an ''easier life'' at a very high price. The hidden costs are now everywhere in the form of poor water and air quality, contaminated superfund sites with no money for clean up, and the catastrophic insurance bills from soaring medical costs.

Lets look at the chemical make up of some of our so-called friendly household cleaners. Petrochemicals found in furniture polishes, paneling sprays, and car cleaners of all kinds granted, are derived from natural substances, but do not occur in nature and are not found naturally in our environment. Rarely, in nature do we find petroleum on the surface of the earth's crust and there are no naturally-occurring or good manmade enzymes to break down these petrochemicals. Therefore, they live in our air and water for life times after we have used them to clean our coffee tables.

Chlorine bleach, found under American's kitchen sink and in every laundry room is also considered a synthetic organic chemical -- strange wording, not mine! Overused because it is thought to be safe, chlorine used in the process of paper bleaching leaves behind 75 very dangerous chemical compounds known as dioxins.

One of chlorine's properties is that it acts as chemical glue capable of bonding other chemical elements together. These powerful bonds are not easily dissolved by anything in nature. They leave behind toxic residues that poison our waters, our fish and us. One study done by researchers at Seventh Generation report that because organochlorine molecules are shaped like hormone molecules, they can slip into cells in place of our hormones and cause terrible effects, even in very minute amounts.

In our efforts to save energy with energy efficient windows and airtight homes, we have further increased our risk of exposure to petrochemicals and organochlorine compounds. The EPA found the air in an average American home to contain 20-150 more chemical contaminants than outdoor air.

Most of us continue to buy and use these dangerous chemical compounds because we, as the consumer, are uneducated about their dangers and, not offered safe alternatives. Of course even natural cleaners have their impact on the environment, however, their impact is less intense at every level.

Natural cleaners are plant-based, containing vegetable oils, rather than petrochemicals, fruit acids, herbs, and essential oils. These natural cleaners also eschew unnecessary unnatural bleaches, colors, dyes or perfumes and are biodegradable. Another BIG asset to natural products -- NO animal testing!

There are several natural cleaners showing up on the shelves. Two that come to mind are Clean Green and Citra-solve. Clean Green can be used in place of glass and surface cleaners including the tub, stool and sink. Citra-solve made from the peels of citrus fruit can be used in a multitude of places, including the laundry. Be sure to read the labels of natural cleaners to make sure you're not being sold unwanted chemicals.

Other old time standbies such as baking soda can be used to eliminate odors inside the fridge. Sprinkle baking soda on the carpet instead of perfumy cover-ups to eliminate, not hide, pet odors. Use vinegar for windows, floors and mirrors. Hydrogen peroxide can be used safely in place of disinfectants for counter tops, cutting boards and the like.

One of my personal favorites is Tea Tree Oil. This oil purchased as an essential or aromatherapy oil is pure antiseptic. A few drops in water will leave your bathroom clean and safe.

Let your grocery store manager know you're looking for more natural products for cleaning. They are usually very receptive to new ideas and new ways to draw people into their stores. If you don't find what you're looking for there, check with your local health food store or co-op.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online February 27, 2001

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