Household Cleaning Products and the Environment

The first thing to remember when using chemicals to clean the home is that less is more. Contrary to what the manufacturers of cleaning products would like you to believe, you do not need a separate cleaner for each job. Many products have names that entice us to buy. In reality, the shower foam, the toilet bowl cleaner, and the kitchen counter spray are essentially the same thing.

Instead of wasting your money and taking up precious storage space, consider buying a good “all-in-one” product for most of your cleaning needs. SimpleGreen (r) is a wonderful example of just such a product. If you prefer, you can also make your own supplies out of things you already have in the house. Baking soda, alcohol, and vinegar are just a few of the tried and true home remedies for keeping a clean house.

Most household cleaning products are quite safe. There is little cause for concern that by mopping the floor you’ll be contributing to the demise of a remote ecosystem on the other side of the planet. The true danger of household chemicals becomes important when the empty containers of such products are heaved into the garbage bin.

Empty bottles, spray cans, or other packaging are things that should not have the opportunity to reach a landfill. When they do, the chemical residues from household cleaning products can potentially seep (also known as leach) into local groundwater supplies.

Household hazardous waste is defined as anything that is discarded from the home and has at least one of the following characteristics:

1. corrosive
2. reactive
3. ignitable
4. poisonous

By this definition, many household cleaners fall into the categories of “poisonous,” “corrosive,” and “reactive.” Products containing bleach are especially harmful. Chlorine, a major component of bleach, is an exceptionally persistent ion. Chemically speaking, a chlorine ion bonds easily to other molecules and forms a strong bond that cannot be easily broken. Bleach is corrosive and poisonous. It is also highly reactive in the presence of other chemicals. For this reason, it is especially important to store products containing bleach in an area separate from those that may contain ammonia (e.g. window and glass cleaners.)

Additionally, great care should be taken when using products that are antimicrobial. Overuse of these can lead to antibiotic resistance. They can also encourage stronger, more challenging microbes to flourish in the environment. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that antibiotic resistance is a leading public health concern. In order to avoid contributing to this problem, antibiotic cleaning products or antimicrobial agents should not be overused in the home. There are plenty of cleaning products that do a thorough job. By using these alternative cleaners, the home is at a decreased risk for fostering antibiotic-resistant germ growth.

Household cleaning products also have the potential to negatively impact indoor air quality. The fumes generated from strong, aromatic chemicals (particularly chlorine bleach and ammonia) may temporarily impair respiratory health. Also, the effects of air quality as a result of household cleaning chemicals is largely due to the use of aerosol sprays. The tiny amount of propellant in the spray can is dangerous to the environment because it contains track (i.e. tiny) amount of chlorofluoro carbons. Commonly referred to as CFCs, these molecules are a proven link in the process that is deteriorating the ozone layer.

We all have a responsibility to do our part to protect our precious environment. The old manta of “think globally, act locally” is particularly appropriate when it comes to making wise decisions about household cleaning products. Environmentally sound purchases and practices will not only will help keep your home clean, but they contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment as well.

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