No more skull-and-crossbones

By: Michelle Morra-Carlisle Apr 29, 2011
  Article
green products, eco-friendly products, green cleaning products, eco-friendly cleaning products

How to rid your home of toxic cleaning chemicals

Consumers still have misconceptions about eco-friendly or "green" cleaning products. It's time to get over the mindset that products must be harsh-smelling and corrosive to keep our homes clean.

"Some people think, 'It's green and that's great, but it costs more and I don't think it works as well,'" says Lise Beutel, a consultant with environmental marketing firm Terra Choice.

If you have a nostalgic attachment to the scent of bleach, know that its main ingredient, chlorine, has been linked to cancer, miscarriages and birth defects. Formaldehyde, another common cleaning chemical, causes headaches, dizziness and insomnia. And if you think you can't do without ammonia, you can do without the headaches and nausea or its lung-burning effects. Ammonia and chlorine were once considered the "old standbys" of household cleaning – yet if you put them together, you get mustard gas, the lethal weapon used in the first World War!

Cleaning products claiming to be greener alternatives abound on the market, but the average consumer isn't familiar with all of these new brands. Here's how to start shopping for the right green cleaners:

Choose products with third party certification

EcoLogo is the government of Canada's third-party certification of products claiming to be eco-friendly. Lab tests ensure they contain no prohibited ingredients, and that they are effective. Terra Choice manages the EcoLogo program and helps certified companies to market their brands.

Another certification program is Greenguard, from the Greenguard Environmental Institute in the US, which also has strict criteria for low emissions of harmful chemicals.

Recognize the "sins of greenwashing"

Greenwashing is the industry term for fooling people into thinking they're buying something eco-friendly when they're not. Beutel says sins to watch for include failing to prove that the product really is safer for human health and the environment; being vague about what exactly the green claim is referring to; and "the hidden tradeoff" where, say, the packaging may be reduced, but the product itself might contain harmful ingredients.

Many successful new businesses have sprung into existence thanks to the green product movement. Traditional manufacturers, too, are starting to change their ways.

"A couple of companies have taken a stance," says Beutel. "Clorox, for example, got quite aggressive with Green Works which contains no artificial fragrances… and have ruled out some harmful ingredients."

Try homemade products

The perfect ingredients might already be in your cupboard. Lemon is a natural bleaching agent that can remove stains in linens – just apply lemon juice then hang to dry in the sun.

Baking soda and vinegar fizz and foam when mixed, but won't harm your health or our freshwater ecosystem. To prevent drains from clogging, once a week, sprinkle a little baking soda down the drain, then pour some white vinegar. Follow that with some boiling water.

As a substitute for powdered bleach products, try baking soda. Baking soda is also an effective substitute for scouring pads and will leave your pots and pans shiny without scratching them.

For windows, mirrors, countertops and other surfaces, a mixture of half vinegar and half water makes a powerful cleaner – and the smell disappears when it dries.

You can even do away with harsh oven cleaners and their alarmingly toxic fumes. Spread a paste of baking soda and water on the surface. Leave for 24 hours, then remove with a wet cloth. It doesn't have the same eat-through-your-arm power as your old product but does a nice job nonetheless.

Happy cleaning! With today's green products your house can be clean as ever and your skin, your nose and the environment will thank you, too.

Michelle Morra-Carlisle has written professionally for almost 20 years, at a federal government agency, for a trade magazine publisher and most recently as a freelancer. She enjoys the ever-changing nature of freelance work and the variety of topics she gets to cover - from jewellery design to schizophrenia - and has won several awards for her articles. Michelle is especially pleased to be covering health, fitness and wellness for Primacy.ca and says that with each article, she picks up valuable tips for improving her own health and lifestyle.