Being the resident "greenie" amongst my family and friends, people are constantly asking me about cleaning supplies - which ones I use, why I don't use certain brands, and which eco-friendly brands actually work. I actually credit the switch to eco-friendly cleaning supplies as being one of the most eye-opening and pivotal experiences on my journey to live green. As Oprah would say, it was my "Ah-ha moment."
While pregnant I started becoming very interested in how I could make my home the least toxic and safest environment for my son once he was born. I was living a life of "domestic ignorant bliss" prior to this and just assumed, like so many of us do, that if a product was on the shelf of my local grocery store or drug store that it was safe for me to use. I learned that this could not be farther from the truth...
During this time, a friend of mine invited me to a Shaklee event where one of their representatives would be discussing their eco-friendly & toxin-free cleaning supplies. It was at this event where I learned in great detail about all of the chemicals in regular cleaning supplies and the effects they can have on your health (http://www.shaklee.com/causes_realdirt.shtml). That burn in your eyes and lungs when you clean your bathroom...yeah, not good. That Pine Sol smell that brings you back to your childhood, not good either.
It was all the wake-up call I needed, and it all made such simple and perfect sense. Why would I clean my floors with toxic chemicals and then be okay with my dog licking his paws after walking on it? When my son started crawling, would I want him touching that very same chemical-laden floor and then sticking his hands in his mouth? Why would I spray my countertop with windex and then let my husband make a sandwich on that very counter? Why would I drink water out of glasses that I just cleaned with dishwasher detergent that has toxic chemicals in it?
I also learned about how the air in our homes is a lot more polluted than the air outdoors, and how toxic cleaning supplies are one of the contributing factors to this, not to mention childhood asthma and cancers, both of which are on the rise.
"Air pollution testing conducted for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reveals that cleaning supplies can cloud indoor air with more than 450 distinct toxic contaminants, including chemical agents linked to asthma and cancer. Most of the 450 chemicals identified have never been assessed for safety; six are identified with increasing the risk asthma, and eleven are known, probable or possible human carcinogens." (Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org)
I sleep better at night knowing that everything I now use to clean my house is eco-friendly and non-toxic, that it is not causing my family undue harm and is also better for the environment. That if a child or pet accidentally swallowed some of these cleaning supplies, they are not in any real danger. You can actually bathe in Shaklee's Basic H cleaning concentrate and it is also good as a bug repellant! Many eco-friendly cleaning supplies, like Shaklee, come in concentrated forms so that you use less, which not only ends up costing you less in the long run, but also saves on waste generated from all of the plastic containers these cleaning supplies come in.
Eco-friendly cleaning supplies also improve indoor air quality, use less energy and water to produce (i.e. most environmentally friendly cleaning supplies use containers made from recycled materials) and are fragrance-free or use natural fragrance from essential oils as opposed to synthetic fragrances. Companies are not required to list the chemicals that make up the fragrances in their products, and those synthetic chemicals can reek havoc on our health (see article - http://www.womenandenvironment.org/campaignsandprograms/SafeCleaning/Whats_That_Smell.pdf)
And if you needed any more reasons to make the switch, the production of all of these chemical-based cleaners is terrible for our environment, letting off VOC's (volatile organic compounds) into our air while also polluting our lakes, streams and other bodies of water. If you read the back label of many chemical cleaning supply containers, it actually states that you should use rubber gloves and a mask while you are cleaning with the product, and that the product "may contain hazards to humans and domestic animals." In comparison, if you read the back label of a Seventh Generation bottle, it states facts about how many barrels of petroleum you will save by using them and the exact amount of VOCs we could prevent from polluting our air.
Some of my favorite eco-friendly cleaning supplies are made by Shaklee and Seventh Generation. BioKleen products are also good for tougher jobs like carpet cleaning and unclogging drains. You want to be sure any product you buy discloses their ingredients, either by listing the ingredients on the bottle or on their website. As I stated before, only purchase cleaning products that are free of synthetic fragrance, are fragrance-free or have fragrance from essential oils.
I also make some of my own cleaners, which is actually the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to clean. Items like vinegar, lemons and baking soda do a great job for cleaning and scrubbing. You can find DIY eco-friendly cleaning recipes here. And while you are enjoying your new cleaning routine without gloves, masks and that good ol' burn in your lungs, also try to use reusable rags & cloths when cleaning as opposed to paper towels. If you do use paper towels, be sure to use the brands that have post-consumer recycled content and are unbleached (read all the nasty stuff about bleaching napkins & paper towels and what it does to our environment here).