3 Questions to ask that will Help You Choose a Less Toxic Cleaner


1. Do we really need pesticides in our hand soap?

Nope. Apparently, we don’t even need “anti-bacterial” in our hand soap, unless we are in a hospital. A commonly used pesticide-turned-anti-bacterial called Triclosan was recently banned from hand soaps, but not from other household products.  Concerns arose that it might be involved in hormone disruption and development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, which could impact human health. It then goes on to endanger aquatic life after being “disposed of,” i.e., leaving the home or industrial site and entering the food chain or waterways.  Chemicals don’t disappear when we are done with them…they just go somewhere else!

The solution? Good old soap and water! There is no real evidence that anti-bacterial soaps prevent illness better than soap and water, but there is plenty of evidence that wastewater treatment doesn’t remove all the antibacterial ingredients and they are showing up in our lakes and streams where they are toxic to wildlife. Sometimes, simple is good!

2. What are neurotoxins, and how harmful are they?

Neurotoxins are defined as substances that kill brain cells, interfere with the function of nerve cells, or disrupt the communication between nerve cells. They are mentioned often in research on the effects of household chemicals on our sensitive and complex nervous system.

Of course, qualifiers mention that the effects of neurotoxins depend upon the frequency of exposure, quantity of material inhaled or absorbed through the skin (the most likely routes of contact when using household cleaners) and overall health of the individual. However, why should we go out of our way to increase our exposure by buying things we know could be problematic?

There are a whole host of neurotoxic possibilities in life. After a big night out, we may be nursing a bit of a hangover headache (yes, that is a type of neurotoxicity that is generally temporary). Brain damage to children from lead paint is another form of neurotoxicity that fortunately has been recognized and outlawed. But, modern household products are fairly new and not well regulated. Many of them are quite chemically complex and utilize known toxic ingredients. We touch and inhale them on a regular basis. Concern is mounting that our overall exposure is more than we think, and the influence on our brains, organs and hormones could be more profound than we currently suspect. Without question, toxic residues can be found in our waterways and in wildlife.

Common symptoms of neurotoxicity include headaches, confusion, dizziness, short term memory loss and mood swings.

3. What happens if these chemicals affect our hormonal systems?

You may not know that chemicals in common cleaners can affect our hormonal systems and they are called hormone disrupters.

In the world of invention, “change agents, disruptors and innovators” can be highly sought after, but in the carefully calibrated world of our inner hormonal system, disruption spells trouble. One of the main chemicals in fragrances, known as Phthalates, has been connected to endocrine, or hormone, disruption. Here’s an interesting quote from the Environmental Working Group pointing to the trouble with hormone disruption:

“Did you know that a specific signal programs cells in our bodies to die? It’s totally normal and healthy for 50 billion cells in your body to die every day! But studies have shown that chemicals called phthalates can trigger what’s known as “death-inducing signaling” in testicular cells, making them die earlier than they should. Yep, that’s cell death – in your man parts. If that’s not enough, studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities.”

Phthalates can be found in fragrances….which can be found in a lot of home care products!

What can you do?

Take a few minutes to invest in enlightened decision making…

  • When ingredients are listed, choose products made with plant-based, instead of petroleum-based, ingredients.
  • Reduce packaging waste by choosing cleaners in the largest container size you can manage, and select products in bottles made with at least some recycled plastic.
  • Choose concentrated formulas. Dilution with water can be done at home instead of the factory. Concentrated cleaners require less packaging and fuels for shipping.
  • Protect water and aquatic life by avoiding products with phosphates, which cause overgrowth of algae, which cuts off oxygen and light to the rest of the aquatic environment.
  • Look for natural fragrance, or fragrance free, products.
  • Be mindful of warning labels.