Singaporeans spend large sums of money on household cleaning products every year. We purchase these products to fight germs, stains, streaks and odors and to keep the home sparkling clean; but if cleaning products are supposed to be about maintaining a safe, germ free environment, why are we concerned about human health and the environment?
Chronic Effects of Chemical Cleaning
Most of us are familiar with the hazard symbols that appear on many cleaning products, right next to words like “corrosive”, or “irritant”, or even “poison”. These symbols are meant to warn the consumer about possible health implications associated with short-term or long-term exposure to chemicals present in the product.
The major concern is the fact that there isn’t always a parallel requirement by lawmakers for manufacturers to warn the average consumer about health and environmental hazards that may come as a direct result of exposure to chemical ingredients. Most of us are exposed to cleaning products and their residues at minimum levels almost on a daily basis because when we use such products to clean our homes or workplaces, the chemical residue lingers in the air long after; and we inhale them.
The convenience and effectiveness of chemical cleaning are not inconsequential but a small sample of cleaning products can contain hundred or more unique volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and justifying this type of exposure has proved difficult. The chemicals that make up cleaning products can enter our bodies through ingestion of household air and dust particles, chemical residues left on open surfaces, or by absorption through the skin.
Also when flushed down the drain, these effects are transferred onto the environment, seriously altering aquatic ecosystems. Since regulatory requirements don’t always make it clear what the ingredients on our cleaning products contain, here’s the dirt on some chemicals that may be stored in your cleaning closet:
Many of these compounds are found in laundry stain removers, carpet cleaners, glass cleaners, oven cleaners and rust removers.
the vapor may irritate the eyes, throat, skin and lungs; and individuals suffering from respiratory problems are particularly in danger of experiencing severe health problems from breathing ammonia. Ammonia can also cause liver and kidney damage when used in high doses at home.
this is a serious eye and skin irritant that is also associated with blood disorders. In lab experiments, exposure to large doses of 2-BE has been found to cause reproductive problems.
· Coal tar dye-
it comes from petrochemicals and in some cases trace amounts of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic may also be present. Synthetic dyes have been thought to cause cancer and presence of heavy metals in the body can impair the immune system and cause many health problems.
· Monoethanalomine, diethanolamine, triethanolamine (MEA, DEA, TEA)-
these can react with nitrites to form cancer-causing nitrosamines . Nitrites or ethoxylated alcohols may be present as preservatives or contaminants in many products, including all-purpose cleaners.
· Nonylphenol ethoxylates-
Nonylphenols have been known to mimic estrogen hormones and in lab experiments NPs have been observed to stimulate growth of breast cancer cells and cause a number of reproductive effects in aquatic organisms.
phosphates are found in many dishwasher detergents and bathroom cleaners. They function as fertilizer in water and in high dozes may reduce oxygen levels in the water, potentially killing aquatic organisms.
· Sodium hydroxide-
it is a corrosive compound with burning effects on the eyes, skin and lungs. It is also a respiratory irritant and long-term exposure may lead to ulceration of nasal passages.
· Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dehydrate-
it is found in disinfectants, deodorants, surface cleaners, etc., and is highly corrosive. It can form chlorine gas, which burns the eyes, nose and mouth.
The Real Truth
We rely on a wide array of cleaning products including soaps, scents, softeners, bleaching products, polishes, special cleaners for glass, drains, bathrooms and ovens to keep our homes perfectly clean and smelling great. But the chemicals present in all these products may be causing more damage than anyone cares to understand.
What are the Pros and Cons of Using Chemical Cleaning Products?
· Cleaning is much more effective than when using non-chemical products
· Decontamination takes less time
· Cleaning generates less waste material
· May be useful in healthcare settings, such as in preventing contagious infections at home
· Can be an effective substitute for soap and water
· Some products cause irritation and allergic reactions
· Exposure to chemical ingredients in many home cleaning products are harmful to human health
· Cleaning products may contribute to environmental pollution through alteration of normal life cycles in microbial organisms and aquatic life
· Some chemicals cause cancer
House cleaning doesn’t have to involve powerful and corrosive chemicals, simple ingredients like soap and water, baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar and borax are enough to clean most surfaces and they don’t damage your health. However, when looking for a more powerful cleaning solution, eco-friendly products are a good option.
Eco-friendly cleaning products differ from regular cleaners in terms of biodegradability, chemical ingredients, and safety. When used properly with all precautions considered, these types of cleaning products are relatively safe. The only other concern is the long-term effects on pets and small children who may accidentally come into direct contact with them.
Pros of Eco-friendly Cleaning Products
This means that ingredients found in eco-friendly chemical cleaners won’t eventually find their way down a sewer and on the ground where they may cause harm to the already delicate ecosystems that we have. Instead, these natural products break down and become one with the environment, causing little-to-no pollution in or out of the house.
Admittedly, the strong acrid smell of vinegar does put people off, but all things considered, cleaners that have eco-friendly ingredients do more to maintain a healthy environment in the home than their counterparts and they don’t cause allergies or irritate the skin, throat or eyes. As a matter of fact, many of these products contain natural oils and aromatic substances that make cleaning fun and pleasant- as opposed to harsh chemicals which leave the house smelling like a chemical lab.
The only real drawback to using eco-friendly cleaning products is the cost. Products that promote safe, non-pollutant ingredients tend to go for high prices when compared to standard cleaners. Still, prices may be coming down as manufacturers continue to fill the growing consumer demand for safe products.