Traditional household cleaners may leave sinks, floors, carpets and countertops gleaming, but they also leave behind traces of toxic chemicals. According to PlanetGreen.com, in any given home in America, you’re likely to find up to 10 gallons worth of potentially harmful chemicals; Eco-friendly company Gaiam, Inc. puts that number as high as 25 gallons. When inhaled or ingested, these substances may cause short-term discomfort like headaches or nausea, and have been linked to long-term negative effects including fibromyalgia, rashes, allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems, as well as behavioral and neurological issues like ADD and Alzheimer’s—even some cancers. Not to mention the fact that the chemicals can wind up in landfills, and thus the soil and water supply, affecting the greater environment.
The Usual Suspects
Some of the most common chemical culprits include formaldehyde and phenol, both found in the fragrances of air fresheners; ammonia; bleach; perchlorethylene, found in many carpet cleaners; chlorine, a common ingredient in dishwasher detergents; petroleum distillates, which are hydrocarbon-based chemicals refined from crude oil and often in furniture polish; lye, a highly toxic substance used in oven cleaners; terpene, a common ingredient in lemon, pine and orange oils that can become carcinogenic if mixed with ground-level ozone; and hydrochloric acid, found in toilet bowl cleaners.
While there’s ample scientific evidence of the hazardous or outright toxic nature of these particular chemicals, there are many more whose potentially harmful effects are not even fully known—and yet they appear in numerous everyday cleaning products, with more introduced every year.
Alarmingly, most toxic cleaners aren’t even required to list all the ingredients they contain. In fact, a University of Washington study published in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review revealed that there were on average 17 potentially harmful chemicals in 25 popular scented products, but only one was mentioned on a label. The surprising part of this was that many of the products marketed themselves in some way as “green” or “natural.” Anyone who's read an ingredient label on a cleaning product, has seen the term “fragrance” listed, but few people know that this seemingly innocuous word can actually encompass several hundred ingredients, any of which may be toxic or hazardous.
Demanding True Green
Consumers are catching on, though. They’re realizing that although some chemically based cleaning products may cost less money, their long-term health costs make the monetary savings somewhat less appealing. They’re demanding more truly green cleaners, and the industry is listening. Market data from Lincolnwood, Illinois-based International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), a leading trade association for the cleaning industry worldwide, indicates that more than 28 percent of surveyed clients require green cleaning products in their janitorial contracts and that more than 40 percent of residential consumers prefer environmentally friendly cleaning products.