What’s in your household cleaner?

Cleaning is an essential part of modern, urban living, designed and promoted as a fundamental way to protect our health in our homes, schools and workplaces. So it’s antithetical to now be told from multiple sources that the very same products that we’ve been relying on to keep our homes and offices clean, free from harmful bacteria and therefore healthy, are products we need to watch out for. Preferably, eliminate from our homes altogether. Here are some facts to give you a better perspective on this.

  • In an article about the toxicity in cleaning products, the Organic Consumers Association states, “In the year 2000, cleaning products were responsible for nearly 10% of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers, accounting for 206,636 calls. Of these, 120,434 exposures involved children under six, who can swallow or spill cleaners stored or left open inside the home.”
  • In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report on antimicrobial resistance establishing chemicals in household cleaners as a contributing factor, and stated, “this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world.”
  • In 2017, The WHO issued a stringent warning that superbugs and drug-resistant bacteria/pathogens are presently one of the biggest threats to human health across the world.
  • The NCBI, in a paper on the global rise of obesity, states hypervigilant cleaning as a growing cause, as it strips our environment of all microbes, including many that are responsible for regulating essential functions in our body like digestion, nutrient absorption and building immunity.
  • But that is not all. Clean homes are contributing to unclean drainage systems the world over, adding a massive amount of untreated, chemical-laden wastewater to our waterways and environment.
  • Closer home, contaminated water is a leading factor for the unchecked spread of sometimes fatal diarrhoea that claims the lives of 1 in every 5 children (According to the WHO).
  • We are exposed to and come in contact with an average of about 62 chemicals, through the array of basic household cleaners in our immediate living environment, many of which are now known to cause health issues such as asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders and several hormonal imbalances.

Here’s a look at some of these chemicals lurking in your cleaners, making a good case for you to turn to safe cleaning.

1. Phthalates: typically found in fragranced products, absorbed through inhalation, although can also happen through the skin, from scented soaps and other cleaning applications. Known to have endocrine disrupting properties, which hampers the way in which several other bodily functions may endure. In men, sustained exposure to phthalates has led to a drop in sperm counts.

2. Triclosans and triclocarbons: these are antimicrobial agents used as widely as in dish liquid, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and even antimicrobial mops and other surfaces. They affect microbial balance as well as harmful cellular and endocrine changes.

3. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): harmful gases emitted from some chemical liquids or solids that are today leading sources of poor indoor air quality. They can cause issues with ENT function, irritation in respiratory organs, headaches, digestive imbalances, loss of appetite and nausea, as well as a build-up of cancerous cells in some.

4. Benzalkonium chlorides: a set of biocides used in disinfectants known to promote and contribute to antibiotic resistance.

5. Hydrochloric acid: highly corrosive acid that though naturally produced in the body to aid digestion, can cause harm when synthesised chemically. This is widely used and can be found in most toilet cleaners. Splashes can cause eye damage, or blindness and ingestion can lead to severe injury to the mouth, throat, oesophagus and stomach.

6. Sulphuric acid: typically present in toilet cleaners and drain-uncloggers, and sometimes in detergents too. It is severely corrosive and can cause burns.

7. Ammonia: present in products that promise sparkling surfaces like polishes, glass cleaners and fine cleaners. Has a pungent smell and is an immediate irritant for most people. Particularly triggered are those who have asthma or other lung issues and breathing problems. Consistent exposure can cause chronic bronchitis and asthma.

8. Chlorine bleach: Present in soap powders, whitening cleaners, and toilet cleaners. Can be contacted through the skin as well as inhalation, and has risks ranging from irritation in the respiratory tract and organs to thyroid disruption.

9. Perc: Perchloroethylene is found in dry-cleaners or spot cleaning products. It is an established neurotoxin, and the EPA classifies Perc as a possible carcinogen as well, with prolonged exposure causing spells of dizziness, loss of coordination and dulled senses.

10. 2-Butoxyethanol: This is a form of glycol ether that is found in glass cleaners. Minor exposure can cause sore throats while sustained exposure is linked with some forms of narcosis, pulmonary edema as well as liver and kidney damage too.

11. Phenols: Found in phenolic disinfectants which are slower to evaporate than water, so are often left behind even post-cleaning, causing burns over sustained periods of time.

12. QUATs: found in antibacterial fabric cleaners and softeners, and therefore as harmful as other antibacterials like triclosan and triclocabon, in that they can strip away essential microbes and contribute to antibiotic resistance too.

The truth is that many household cleaning products – not limited to floor and bathroom cleaners alone, including others like body soap, cosmetics and air fresheners – are quite heavily loaded with combinations of these harmful chemicals that have proven ill-effects on human and animal health, and in some cases an adverse impact on the environment too. The case for safe cleaning has never been stronger, with more and more ascertainable links between cleaning products and ill-health now being made.

If you’ve been vigilant about reading labels on the packaged foods that you purchase for your family, the time has now come to begin inspecting labels on cleaning products as well. Some of the most commonly used ingredients such as parabens, ammonia, chlorine bleach, QUATS, triclosan, and triclocarban, are amongst the most harmful of chemicals proven to have ill-effects once inside the body. Usually absorbed through the skin, some inhaled and some through contamination of food, they begin to tamper very slowly with our internal systems, destabilising the microbial balance that is essential for smooth and normal bodily function. This adversely impacts digestion and cripples our immune systems over time – attacking the two most fundamental pillars of good health.

Post by Natasha Kamat

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