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Simply Sustainable: Cleaning Products - Environmental and Health Impacts

Especially during a global pandemic, cleaning products are extremely important. Maintaining clean conditions is crucial to having a healthy indoor environment to keep you and loved ones safe. But cleaning products are not always as "safe" as one might think. They can present numerous health and environmental impacts.

It's no secret that cleaning products like bleach etc. have warnings -- and for good reasons, but it is NOT required by law for cleaning products to disclose their ingredients unless they have active or obviously dangerous ingredients. 

Many cleaning products are associated with eye, skin, and even respiratory irritation because they are typically made with such concentrated formulas, many can be very hazardous. Not to mention they are major contributors to the single-use plastic pollution.

Environmental Risks:

When in use, cleaning products can be released into the environment through evaporation, being rinsed down the drain, etc. Typical sewage treatments can reduce and sometimes even remove leftover particles but are never full-proof and some areas don't even receive proper treatments. This can be toxic to aquatic ecosystems and species, many posing threats like endocrine disruption. Some ingredients like surfactants can actually become more toxic as they combine with other chemicals resulting in major bioaccumulation. 

Cleaning products also can have negative impacts on peoples health. Many have to linked to asthma -- either triggering it in already prone people or causing the development of asthma in otherwise healthy individuals. Cleaning products also often contain the ingredients 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogenic that also can negatively react when combined with other chemicals. Some cleaning products are also associated with low-levels of formaldehyde releasing elements. 

Many states in the US have taken action to start putting restrictions on certain ingredients like phosphate. Phosphate is a known pollutant to aquatic ecosystems and can be very costly to remove from drinking water sources once they are contaminated. California Air Quality laws regulate the ingredients that contribute to smog. And other states have even worked towards making sure only certified green cleaning products are used in schools and state buildings. 

How to avoid:

The great thing is you can make your own safe and green cleaning products without breaking the bank! Yes the upfront cost might seem more expensive but saves you time and money down the road. 

Shop for cleaner products, but watch out for greenwashing. Make sure the products/companies you support are fully transparent about their ingredients and overall message. 

Avoid scented products, unless naturally scented. Although the scents may be tempting, they are often just combinations of thousands of unregulated chemicals and fragrances that are often irritants on their own. 

Make your own! Castile soap is a great household essential that can be used to make countless cleaning products. Dr. Bronner's is a great brand that is available at many stores, and receives a 1 rating from EWG! You can make everything from laundry detergent, counter spray, floor cleaner, you name it! 

Be more conscious about the products you buy, check labels and don't be fooled by greenwashing. 

Sources:
https://www.epa.gov/greenerproducts/identifying-greener-cleaning-products
https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/cleaners_and_health/#:~:text=EWG%20concludes%20that%3A,asthma%20and%20other%20respiratory%20problems.
https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/weak_regulation/

 

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