By Alyce Kirk
When my firstborn started crawling I did what every responsible new parent does and spent each morning giving the house a “clean”. I’d spray and wipe the surfaces at her height, I’d get out my heavy duty floor cleaner and give the floor boards a quick wash and the toys that made it into her mouth were given a scrub down with yet another cleaning product. I’d buy the “greener alternative” products or the ones labelled with “natural ingredients”.
Only after my daughter developed a rash that was identified as being caused by coming into contact with something in her environment, did I start reading the labels. You know what? I could barely pronounce half of the ingredients listed.
How could this have happened? After all I carefully selected products which claimed to be safe for my family, right? And so I discovered the world of Green Washing.
WHAT IS GREEN WASHING?
It’s easy for companies to give consumers the impression that they are environmentally friendly. They will often use words such as Green, Eco-friendly, Biodegradable, Compostable, and sustainable. Packaging will often show pictures of nature, green plants and animals. However, more often than not, they don’t actually have the certifications to back up their claims.
In Australia products can be certified as a Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) product. They look at not only the impact on the environment, but also ethical production practices and consider human health effects from toxic chemicals used in products. Looking for this label can take a lot of the guess work out of if a product is “green” or not.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
Toxic Chemicals are silently creeping into our homes. Once I was aware of the number of chemicals in everyday products I became overwhelmed with what to actually buy to keep my family safe. While these days I make my own cleaning products, I started the transition with educating myself on what Chemicals were actually in the products I had been using. Did you know that only a teeny tiny number of chemicals in common household products has actually been tested for their effects on human health? So many more we have literally no idea the health impacts they have on us. Here are a few of the most common ones to look out for:
Phthalates: These are a man-made chemical found in personal care products, cleaning products and food. Often they will be listed on product labels simply as “fragrance” which can make identifying them tricky. This class of chemical has been identified as endocrine disrupters, basically they interfere with hormone systems which can lead to a plethora of reproductive defects. Asthma, migraines, breast cancer, and ADHD have also been linked to Phthalates.
Triclosan: Found in products labelled “antibacterial”, such as soaps, dishwashing liquids and toothpastes. Studies have not been able to prove that these products help keep people safer. So, what is the concern? Well, they help promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. This becomes a problem because it also makes the bacteria resistant to actual antibiotics we need when we’re sick.
Quarternary Ammonium Compounds: Also known as QUATS. Similar to Triclosan, they are found in many products with “antibacterial” on the label such as household cleaners. QUATS, as well as breeding bacteria that is antibiotic resistant, have also been linked to skin irritations.
2-Butoxyethanol: Found in lots of multipurpose cleaners, particularly window cleaners. This class of chemical can give you a sore throat when inhaled. If expose to high levels 2-Butoxyethanol can also cause kidney and liver damage.
Chlorine: Commonly used for in cleaning for its whitening properties, such as toilet cleaners, bleach, and in laundry whitening products. Often people are exposed via the fumes or directly through the skin. Chlorine is a skin irritant as well as a respiratory irritant.
Ammonia: Ammonia does not leave streaks when it dries, so is a popular ingredient in window cleaners. Ammonia is another chemical that is inhaled causing respiratory irritation. If Ammonia is mixed with bleach, it can also produce a poisonous gas.
Aside from the obvious Health impacts, hundreds of thousands of chemicals make their way into waterways. From there they can end up in the food chain. Additionally, waste associated with cleaning product packaging is often not recycled and ends up in landfills.
SO WHAT TO USE INSTEAD?
A quick google will bring up dozens of homemade natural cleaning recipes. It took me a bit of trial and error to find ones that worked well for my home. Almost all the cleaning products I make these days come from just a few items. These are my go to ingredients, all cheap and easy to get from most supermarkets:
Bicarbonate of Soda: Also known as Baking Soda, naturally deodorizes and scours away grime/stains. Good for shinning stainless steel sinks.
Vinegar: Versatile cleaning product, can dissolve bacteria, dirt and grease. Also good for mildew and mould.
Castile Soap: An all purpose cleaner, useful in a lot of homemade products. It’s made with a vegetable based soap, it’s not toxic and biodegradable. Great to use for dish soap, window/floor cleaner, and hand soap.
Lemon juice: Naturally antibacterial, lemon juice can kill bacteria. It also has a natural bleaching agent so can whiten and removes stains.
Essential Oils: My favourites are Lemon essential oil (antibacterial properties and it smells great!), Tea tree oil (antifungal and antibacterial properties), Eucalyptus oil (good for mildew and mould), peppermint oil (pest repellent) and lavender (good for homemade laundry products and air fresheners).
What are you waiting for? Detox your home today.
About the author
Alyce Kirk, is Banish's resident Parenting Editor and mum of two girls who is trying to reduce her footprint and empower her kids to make the best choices for our beautiful planet.