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Spring Cleaning: Is Your Home Toxic?

Spring is in the air! And with it comes the urge to throw open the curtains, put away the heavy blankets, and generally lighten things up. Spring cleaning is a time-honored practice that includes taking stock of what you have, reducing clutter, and giving everything a thorough scrubbing. But what if what you use to clean your space is NOT doing your body any favors? Now is a great time to take a close look at what chemicals you may be adding to your environment with the products you have around your home.

If you are like many Americans, cleaning the house means turning to a cabinetful of chemical cleaners, sprays, scrubs, and powders that are harmful to the body. In fact, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that over 2000 cleaning supplies in the United States can lead to a host of health issues, including asthma, allergies, migraines, cancer, birth defects, and more. And you may be surprised to know that there is no federal regulation of chemicals in household products. Rebecca Sutton, PhD, a senior scientist at the EWG, explains, “In terms of household cleaners, neither ingredients nor products must meet any sort of safety standard, nor is any testing data or notification required before bringing a product to market.”

So in the spirit of personal responsibility, you get to regulate what enters your home and body. For many, a good home "detox" may be in order.

Take a moment to look at the products beneath your sink -- what do you find there? This inventory is the first step in reducing your body's toxic burden. Since the average household contains roughly 62 toxic chemicals, every little change counts. As you look take stock, pay special attention to the most prevalent chemicals in cleaners, which are listed below. If they are there, consider swapping them out for a non-toxic alternative. As Marilee Nelson, founder of Branch Basics, says, "Know that every single item you remove will result in an improvement in your home environment, and thus your family’s health."

Triclosan: Found in most liquid dish detergents, hand soaps, and hand sanitizers labeled "antibacterial." While triclosan and 18 other chemicals were banned in soaps by the FDA a few years ago, triclosan can still be added to toothpaste. Note that many restaurants and pubic places have extra antibacterial soaps in their inventory and are still regularly putting them out for use. This substance may promote growth of drug-resistant bacteria, is a possible carcinogen, and an endocrine disruptor.

Phthalates: Most often in air fresheners, fragrances, toilet paper, dish soap, and more. If the label simply lists "fragrance," stay away! Phthalates can cause allergies and asthma, cancer, and are known endocrine disruptors.

Sodium Hydroxide: Also known as lye, sodium hydroxide is found in oven cleaners and drain openers and is extremely corrosive. Skin or eye contact produced severe burns and inhalation can cause a long-lasting sore throat.

Butyl Cellosolve (Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether): This substance is in all-purpose window cleaning solutions. It easily absorbs through the skin and is known to damage bone marrow, is neurotoxic, and can cause kidney and liver toxicity.

2-Butoxyethanol: Can be found in window, kitchen, and multipurpose cleaners, including some "green" brands. Note that this substance may not be listed on ingredient labels, as it is not required by law (is banned in Europe), and can lead to kidney and liver damage.

Perchloroethylene (PERC): Found in dry cleaning solutions, spot removers, carpet cleaners, and upholstery cleaners and is a known neurotoxin and carcinogen (increases risk of breast cancer).

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QUATS): Promotes drug-resistant bacteria and skin and respiratory irritation. QUATS can be found in fabric softener (liquid and sheets) and "antibacterial" items.

Chlorine: Found in toilet bowl cleaners, laundry whiteners, mildew removers, and tap water, chlorine is a known respiratory irritant and thyroid disruptor.

Diethylene glycol: Found in window cleaners and is a known nervous system depressant.

Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APE): These can lurk in laundry detergents, disinfectants, laundry stain removers, and citrus cleaner/degreasers. Increases toxicity when biodegraded into chemicals that mimic estrogen. APEs have been associated with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer.

Ammonia: This substance can be found in polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks, and jewelry, as well as in glass cleaner. Ammonia is a strong irritant and those with compromised lung capacity are at highest risk for problems sue to ammonia exposure. Ammonia can create a poisonous gas when combined with bleach.

Now that you've read this list, you may be wondering about alternatives. The good news is that you can greatly improve your home's toxic burden and air quality with a few simple swaps. Stay tuned for our next post, which reviews some great natural cleaning ingredients, plus recipes for basics such as glass cleaner, bathroom cleaner, laundry tips, and air freshening suggestions!

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