Spring Cleaning

The Problem With Cleaning Products



When the earth is tilted so that the sun is directly over the equator at high noon, this is the vernal equinox. In this momentary balance of light and dark, we are halfway between summer and winter, we are in the spring. Mid-points have been celebrated through out the ages and around the world. In ancient Babylon, the New Year occurred at the spring equinox. The ancients of America oriented their giant earthwork mounds to equinox sunrise points. Celtic Pagans lit fires at dawn to cure ills, renew life and protect crops. Today, we party in Cancun.

Or we clean.

This season of renewal brings with it the tradition of spring cleaning, making now as good a time as any to switch to all things natural. I’m talking about cleaning products — for your home and your body. All types of non-toxic cleaners for your home are now available in conventional supermarkets: glass, drain, dishwasher, dish soap, laundry, shower, even toilet bowl cleaners. Most are competitively priced or cost just a tad bit more than chemical-based cleaners. Theses natural cleaners are conveniently located right next to the toxic ones, or maybe on a shelf not quite at eye level.

Instead of the toxic, nonrenewable or harmful-to-the-environment ingredients like petroleum, butyl cellosolve, chlorine bleach, and the cancer-causing fragrance ingredient phthalates, the new non-toxic cleaners are made from ingredients like corn, grain alcohol, palm kernel, and citrus and coconut oils. And they really work. Hypo-allergenic, with no perfumes or dyes, they smell nice too. To my nose, they smell way, way better.

Why make the switch? VOCs — Volatile organic compounds — are gases emitted from some liquid or solid chemicals. VOCs are emitted from the very same chemicals that are included in many cleaning products, disinfectants and air fresheners. They’re in your dry cleaning too. Not to mention their presence in other common household products like paint, varnish, craft and hobby materials. They’re also found in scads of personal care products like cosmetics, body soaps and shampoos, and baby products. [Today I’m just talkin’ cleaning. But be forewarned: In the future I’ll do an in-depth report about all types of personal care products and cosmetics. It’s bad news. Very, very, bad.]

Open the windows! (Seriously.)

The EPA estimates that VOCs are present in the air indoors, that is, in your home, in concentrations up to 10 times higher than outdoors. These toxic gases have short- and long-term negative health effects including headaches, irritation to eyes, nose and throat, nausea and most alarmingly, damage to your central nervous system, liver and kidneys.

Do I have to go on? OK: fatigue, dizziness, allergic skin reaction, difficulty breathing, declines in cholinesterase levels (an enzyme found in the heart, brain, and blood and at nerve endings, which hydrolyzes acetylcholine to acetic acid and choline — so there). Several of the toxic VOCs found in cleaning products are definitely known to cause cancer in animals and are suspected to be carcinogenic in humans too.

As far back as last century, a study published in New Scientist found that in households in which a lot of air fresheners were used, pregnant women experienced 25 percent more headaches and their newborn babies had a 30 percent higher rate of ear infections than in homes that didn’t use air fresheners. This was a big study too, involving 1,400 women.

It’s tricky to know which products to buy because the laws work against us. No safety standards are set for non-commercial levels of VOCs, and federal law doesn’t require the listing of all chemicals in non-food products. Laundry soaps such as Tide and Cheer may have as many as 300 ingredients, but only a few are actually listed on the label.


“Green” company Seventh Generation’s bathroom cleaner contains only five ingredients: hydrogen peroxide (the active stain removal agent), biodegradable surfactants (for soil removal), citrus oil (for grease removal), food-grade, non-toxic oxygen stabilizers (to help the hydrogen peroxide last longer), and water. It removes soap scum. Do you really need another 295 other secret, non-listed ingredients? I think not.

When go shopping, you have to be seriously careful about the new trend of greenwashing by manufacturers and admen. They use words like non-toxic, eco-safe, natural, environmentally friendly and organic. Unfortunately when used to describe (or sell) non-food items these phrases, have absolutely no regulation as to their meaning. So, assume they mean absolutely nothing. “Fragrance-free” however does generally mean, fragrance free. I’d say, go for it.

Throw away the notion that if your mom used it it’s gotta be good (sorry Mom) and begin instead with the concept that if you can’t pronounce it, don’t use it. A best bet would be to use a cleaning product with the Green Seal (it’s actually blue with a green check-mark). Green Seal is a great non-profit out of Washington, DC that investigates products and services and certifies them for environmental safety and sustainability. And remember, this is your house, not a hospital — so maybe use less of that cleaning product and clean a little less often (sorry again Mom).

And while we’re at it, why increase the chemical overload on your body by applying toxic chemicals to it? Switch to natural personal care products, too.

Toothpaste: it’s a cleaning product you actually put straight into your mouth. So why use one made with added colorants, thickeners, preservatives and harsh cleaning chemicals? And sweeteners — do you really need to brush your teeth with a product that contains artificial sugar?

Traditional toothpastes have creepy, mysterious ingredients like sodium hexametaphosphate, which is defined as “sodium phosphate glass.” I don’t know what the hell that is or what it does, and I don’t even want to know, since I can buy a perfectly good product without it.

On the shelf next to the toothpastes made with saccharin, preservatives, artificial flavors and colorings, you’ll find toothpaste made from all-natural flavors with out additives. They taste better too. Tom’s of Main is the brand I use, and it comes in about a bazillion options and flavors.

Oh my lack of god, I just looked at the toxicity report for Revlon Aquamarine Shampoo. The bottle boasts extra body, fresh scent and 21 ingredients. It doesn’t tell you that of those 21 ingredients, 13 raise health concerns; six have violations, restrictions, and warnings attached to them; and one proprietary ingredient has an identity unknown. Nine ingredients have not been assessed by the cosmetics industry at all and 13 have data gaps. All this info thanks to an exhaustive study conducted by the watchdog non-profit, Environmental Working Group. And this is a shampoo that’s ranked as being of moderate concern. I’ll spare you news about the products of high concern and just advise: skip ‘em all and go natural.

Unfortunately, non-toxic personal cleaners like shampoo and body soap have not made the leap into many conventional supermarkets and drug stores. Indeed, you might have to (gasp!) pay a visit to a health food store. Whole Foods, generally a pricey chain, actually has some excellent, inexpensive shampoos and soaps. They’re nonperishable so you can stock up on ’em, and always have some on hand. And review my previous article about antibacterial soaps.

Go zen.

While you’re doing all this cleaning, cut down on material possessions. It’s called junk for a reason, people — give away the stuff you no longer use or need and don’t buy new stuff. You’ll have less to clean.

You can save money and make your own green cleaning products. “They” say these really work. What? You figure I probably make all my own cleaning products. Hell yeah I would, but I don’t actually do any cleaning. Mr. Fiend takes care of all that. (Ok, I’m a spoiled bitch. I cook, he cleans.)

Share with us your own special green cleaning tips or try some of these out and report back here how they work.

Category: Sustainable living, Environment, Natural Cleaning Products

Sources and For More Information:

Environmental Protection Agency

Common Dreams Org

Green Certification


Seventh Generation

Sun and Earth

Make Your Own Cleaners

One Response to “Spring Cleaning Written by Elizabeth Fiend”

  1. Ray Says:

    Hope all is well with you. I`m no loud mouth or anything. Simply a comment(cute little show there). I drive a big truck for a living. Let me tell you,I`m for one just fine with being neater or whatever is the fad. I can say though this enviro move has nearly got me out of buisness. As have many of my fellow workers. Luckily they can retire. Everyone says “Go Green” whats my option? Use bio diesel (takes ethenol to make properly) and it voids the warrenties. Costs me even more. Where I`m going here is, green products and the like have less “stuff”in them, and economically speaking can`t cost more to make. Like diesel fuel (which if you look at an actual emissins test, My 600 cubic inch Diesel emmits less CO2 than a Prius.The difference is how it`s burned its visible, without Catalytic converters. See I have no options. If I stop delivering, domino,you folks will literally have nothing, no stores,no Veggie delivery,no tractors on the farms,etc. I don`t believe People understand the long term effects of this fad. I do know we have nothing to do with earth warming, before humans in the soil,they have found CO2 3 times higher than now. No one will ever sell me that, it`s a load. Look it up.I`m not one to argue, so I won`t you have your opion I have mine. All I ask,and I will write back. Take a few minutes(as I did for your show) look outside your box, maybe look up information about what I told you. I`m sure there is a happy medium. Like oil,we can`t drill off of our own shores (Florida) so we lose economically, we are (already are) buying our own oil from CHINA? We pay for it twice, wonder if that effects pump prices. By the way I own a Flex Fuel Ford, On ethonal I lose 6 MPG (it guzzles ) I buy it more and so it can run Ethenol it by passes most emission control devices ( and yes it emits more on Corn fuel. I`m sure you`ve heard some of this from angry mouths or some such. I`m not,trying to see it both ways, we all as a whole have to,we all know full well we are never going to get our way 100% I always hear don`t this don`t that etc, nothing that actually works real world for a guy struggling to keep you all fed, clothed etc. Heck heated cooled, watered. I guess I feel kinda forgotton about I`m one of the people. I want to live too, some views are so extreme they would literally shut our economy down. I do worry about that, I have three little ones.
    Anyway Hope I didn`t run your ear off,If you got this far I appreciate you listening.
    Ray,Phoenix Az

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