Can You Be Too Clean?

By:  Dr. Michelle Zarrillo

I use coupons. I shop based on store specials and plan my menu accordingly. Each week, I am more and more annoyed at the advertisements and specials taking the place of useful food sales for cleaning supplies. I especially hate air freshener ads. I have been in houses that try to mask their filth with air freshener smells. I do not advocate slovenliness, but I think most cleaning supplies are unnecessary and many are downright dangerous and harmful. Did you know that it is less expensive and healthier to clean with natural products?

First, the dangers are real and cumulative. Check your product labels for certain key words. The words are CAUTION, WARNING or DANGER. Caution means that an ounce to a pint may be fatal or harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin by an adult 180-pound man. Warning means that a teaspoon to an ounce may be fatal or harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin by an adult 180-pound man. Danger means that a taste to a teaspoon is fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin by an adult 180-pound man. If you look on most bathroom and kitchen cleaners, you will find one of these words. Now the products sold at stores are deemed “generally safe” but many are harmful, some even carcinogenic or fatal. Also, do I dare mention the toxic soup of multiple chemicals combined? It is also important to not let words like “natural,” or “lemon” or “orange” fool you into thinking you are using the like to do the cleaning. Often, it is just marketing. One other danger is “industrial strength” cleaners, which are designed for industry, not our homes.

Most cleaners don’t list ingredients. If a product claims to be biodegradable, it really does not tell you much, as almost everything breaks down, if given enough time. Claims like “no solvents,” “no phosphates,” or “plant-based” are more meaningful than vague terms like “ecologically-friendly” or “natural.”‘ Labels can really be deceiving. For example, many aerosol spray cans are labeled “no CFCs” (or chlorofluorocarbons, which are accused of “depleting” the ozone layer), and people will buy it thinking it is a safer product. In reality, CFCs have been banned from aerosols since 1978, so none are permitted to contain CFCs. Look for the legally required key words…caution, warning or danger.

My personal soap box is with air fresheners. A clean home and a cooking dinner smells so much better. Plus, air fresheners interfere with your ability to smell by releasing nerve-deadening agents or coating nasal passages with an oil film, usually methoxychlor, a pesticide that accumulates in fat cells. Other known toxic chemicals found in an air freshener are formaldehyde, a highly toxic, known carcinogen, and phenol. When phenol touches your skin it can cause it to swell, burn, peel, and break out in hives.

Way too often, consumers think anything sold must be safe. Wrong. Since World War 2, more than 80,000 synthetic chemicals have been invented. Most have been created from petroleum and coal tar for the purposes of chemical warfare. Very few of these substances have been tested for safety, but have been added to our food, water and cleaning products without our consent and most often without informing us of any dangers and there are approximately 1000 new chemicals added each year. According to the National Research Council, “no toxic information is available for more than 80% of the chemicals in everyday-use products. Less than 20% have been tested for acute effects and less than 10% have been tested for chronic, reproductive or mutagenic effects.” Also, there is ,again, the chemical soup that has never been tested.

Safe, simple ingredients like soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and borax, with a little elbow grease and a coarse sponge, can take care of most household cleaning needs. And they can save you lots of money wasted on unnecessary, specialized cleaners! If you need a harsher chemical, use them according to the directions and use caution in the frequency of their use. We clean our homes for our families’ health and safety. Watch your cleaners, so you don’t do more harm than good. 🙂


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