Cleaning the green way

April is earth month and during April the Observer On Sunday will be looking at ways that you can make changes to your lifestyle to help the environment. This week we look at swapping ordinary household cleaners for green alternatives.

There are two very good reasons why it is better to switch from everyday cleaning products to green household cleaning products. One, is that they contain harmful solvents and chemicals that we breathe in and absorb through our skins,the other is that they are harmful to the environment.

Chris Hew from Hews Janitorial cleaning services, switched to using green products many years ago after realising how much bleach and other chemicals were going into the groundwater and feeding into the oceans and plants.

He was also concerned about the effect harmful chemicals would have on his staff from using them every day.

He says it is worrying when you look at the number of different cleaners that most people have in their homes.”The scary part is that they if you use two of them together they can be dangerous. Also bleach is one of the worst cleaners. It does not disinfect, it removes colour from a surface. If you go into your bathroom and see grout dark with mould, you use bleach and yes, it turns it white and you think “I’ve killed it” but all you have killed is on the surface not behind it. You have not solved the problem.”He also adds that bleach over time will destroy the porcelain on sinks and toilets.

So if thinking about what the list of chemicals in the average household cleaner spurs you on to change  how do you choose the best green products that will clean and are genuinely chemical free?

Chris says that you really do have to do your research as what is classified as “green” nowadays is a lot less stringent than it used to be. His further advice is to identify what you are trying to accomplish.

“Most people go to the store and buy an array of cleaners but don’t think what am I going to use them for? Identify the purpose of your cleaner and then you can choose one that is right for the job.”

Picking your green cleaner
Although most cleaners don’t list individual ingredients,  if a label bear a signal word, such as Danger, Warning or Caution, that provides some indication of a product’s toxicity. Also if it lists things it can do to you such as skin irritations, respiratory problems etc –steer clear.

Here on Cayman the supermarkets carry different brands of washing powder and cleaners that are more eco friendly.Most good eco cleaners have a list of their ingredients on the label and some tend to be more “eco”friendly than others.

Choose one that preferably has plant based materials. Green Works, distributed by Maedac Supply Co. Ltd on island, is a brand that does this. They also use recycled plastics in their packaging. Jocelyn Da Costa

from Maedac, says, “Remember it is not just about us it’s about what we are passing on to future generations.” She suggests involving your children when you are sourcing your green cleaners. “Make it a fun time with kids…educational even by asking them to read the labels and compare what they think is a better product for mother earth.”

Other point about green cleaners.
Make sure the ingredients include no petroleum-based surfactants, chlorine or phosphates. Also look for the words “nontoxic” and “biodegradable.”

In terms of ecological claims, look for specifics. For example, “biodegradable in 3 to 5 days” holds a lot more meaning than just “biodegradable,”. And claims like “no solvents,” “no phosphates,” or “plant-based” are more meaningful than vague terms like “ecologically-friendly” or “natural.”‘

The scary chemicals in household cleaners
If you think it’s just too much bother changing, then the following information just might persuade you.

There are  over 100 chemicals commonly found in the home that  have been linked to cancer, allergies, skin reactions, asthma, headaches and respiratory problems. The list of ailments is endless.

These 100 chemicals also eventually find their way into the environment either through air pollution or waste water. Phosphates which are an ingredient of many washing powders and cleaning products are one of the biggest culprits in ocean pollution. High sulphate content produces algae bloom which suffocates marine life. Anyone who wants to do their bit to preserve the marine life and coral reefs of Cayman should use washing powder that does not contain phosphates.

There is also the risk to children to consider, not just the fact that you are exposing them to hazardous chemicals which they are inhaling, but that they are poisons that they could ingest.

The following are some of the types of chemicals found in household cleaners and their links to ill health and pollution of the environment.

Types of harmful   chemicals
Carcinogens, volatile organic compounds and phosphates are three types of problematic chemicals. They are found in various household items such as oven cleaners, floor wax, air fresheners and laundry detergent Each type of chemical is related to different health risks and environmental damage.

Carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, nitrilotriacetic acid and carbon tetrachloride are chemicals known to cause cancer in humans and other animals.

Volatile organic compounds
Volatile organic compounds such as methane, trichloroethylene and chloroform react with nitrogen and sunlight to create ozone. High amounts of ozone will increase the rate of asthma attacks and aggravate systems of pulmonary diseases. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming

Phosphates such as sodium tripolyphosphate are used in most detergents. As mentioned already phosphates have a poisonous effect on aquatic life.

Another environmental concern with cleaning products is that many use chemicals that are petroleum-based, a non-renewable resource and creating a dependence on oil.

Forms of Harmful Chemicals in Cleaning Products
Many types of chemicals are found in aerosol form. Aerosols or sprays break down the chemicals, which makes them easier to breathe into your lungs and get in your eyes or on your skin. Using liquids, powders or pastes with harmful chemical ingredients is slightly safer than aerosols, although it depends on the concentration of the chemicals and the level of your exposure to the chemicals.

The following are just some of the chemicals that appear in many household cleaners that are linked with health problems.

Chlorinated phenols found in toilet bowl cleaners are toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems.

Diethylene glycol found in window cleaners depresses the nervous system.

Phenols found in disinfectants are toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems.

Nonylphenol ethoxylate, a common surfactant (detergent) found in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, is banned in Europe; it has been shown to biodegrade slowly into even more toxic compounds

Formaldehyde found in spray and wick deodorizers is a respiratory irritant and suspected carcinogen.

Perchloroethylene, a spot remover, is linked with liver and kidney damage.

Butyl cellosolve, common in all-purpose, window and other types of cleaners, damages bone marrow, the nervous system, kidneys and the liver.

Of course before the advent of modern cleaners people found natural alternatives and used a bit more elbow grease. Chris Hew says “if you really investigate the best cleaner on earth, it’s water!”So   if you want to be really sure that you are protecting you and your families’ health then you could have a go at making your own cleaners.

Natural cleaners
Powdered Laundry Soap

1 bar soap, grated

2 cups Borax

2 cups washing soda

1 cup baking soda

Combine all of the ingredients and store in a covered jar. Use ¼ cup per load.

2. Lavender Laundry Softener

1 cup dried lavender buds

1 quart white vinegar

2-4 drops lavender essential oil

Combine the mixture and let it sit for a week.

3. All-purpose cleaner

1 tbsp white vinegar

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp soap

1 tbsp Borax

Combine all the ingredients and add to a spray bottle.

4. Tub Scrub

1 cup baking soda

¼ cup salt

10 drops citrus essential oil

5 drops tea tree essential oil

Combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight tub.

5. Carpet Deodorizer

1 cup Borax

1 cup baking soda

10 drops essential oils

Combine and store in an airtight tub.

6. Oven Cleaner

1 small box baking soda

1 cup liquid Castile Soap

Combine ingredients and mix until smooth. Apply to a cloth and wipe clean.

7. Dusting Spray

1 cup distilled water

3 drops essential oils

Combine in a spray bottle and use with a cotton cloth.

8. Citrus Degreaser

½ cup lemon juice

¼ cup baking soda

5 to 10 drops citrus essential oils

Combine to make a paste and use a damp cloth to wipe off.

There are over 100 chemicals commonly found in the home that have been linked to cancer, allergies, skin reactions, asthma, headaches and respiratory problems.

People  tend to use far more cleaners than they really need.