Household cleansers and your health
Science you can use: New study finds that green cleaning products may lower risks of cancer and other diseases
Here is our second Science You Can Use. Please let me know if these are the things that might help you. And if you have any subjects, such as food, transportation, or anything else you want to know about to live a greener life.
It happens all the time. You’re wiping up some dusty picture frames in your living room. A moment of two after spraying the Dust-No-More, Clean-as-a-Whistle, or other cleanser that you bought at the grocery store, you sneeze or cough. you might open a window, but otherwise, I don’t know anyone who thinks twice about this common cleaning day occurrence.
This has, of course, happened to me. I’ve also rented carpet cleaners, with their industrial-smelling cleaning fluids, and, while my carpet was pretty clean after a day of soaping and scrubbing, I felt a little woozy that night and the day after as well.
A youth group recently looked into health and home cleaners and found that replacing green cleaning products for the Dust-No-Mores and Clean-as-a-Whistles reduced the amount of harmful chemicals in homes.
Most of the cleansers at stores contain chemicals that can cause cancer or other ailments. Benzene is common in cleaners. Breathing it in or eating stuff containing benzene can make you dizzy, drowsy, or confused. Breathing or eating a lot of it can kill you, too. Long-term effects can mean low birth weight, leukemia, and cancer.
It’s the same for chloroform, also found in cleaning products. Other chemicals may include naphthalene, toluene, and hexane. Fragrance is added to cleansers, such as celestolide and galaxolide. All of these chemicals can disrupt the endocrine system and severely affect folks with repertory problems like asthma. The fragrance compound beta-myrcene is associated with cancer.
The study was part of Lifting Up Communities with Interventions and Research, which worked in collaboration with the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas Youth Council. The Youth Council is a Latino high school student group that works on environmental justice and health in Salinas, California.
As study participants, the researchers chose 50 Latina women in Salinas, California. In California, more than 80 percent of the maids or house cleaners are Latina; so the population may be of more concern for this type of exposure. The study was conducted from June through August of 2019. The research was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, in September.
The researchers monitored the air as the women cleaned their kitchens and bathrooms for a total of 30 minutes. The women wore small backpacks that had air monitoring equipment to detect the cleaning chemicals. The researchers let the women clean as they wished, but, as a control, only looked at the data from cleaning bathrooms and kitchens. They followed up one week later with the monitoring backpacks. This time they provided green cleaning products for the women to use on their 30 minutes of bathroom and kitchen cleaning. For the second cleaning, the young researchers also gave the women new cleaning brushes, sponges, and a new mop to avoid cross contamination.
So what are green cleaning products? The students chose national brands that are marketed as green. There is no governmental standard or independent organization that certifies products as “green,” so the students relied on the EPA’s Safer Choice label, and consumer databases such as the Environmental Working Group's Guide to Healthy Cleaning. They also screened the green products by reviewing the cleansers’ ingredient labels. Additionally, they provided the study participants with a homemade glass cleaner made of water, white vinegar, and an environmentally friendly dish soap.
They controlled for changes in ventilation, use of air fresheners, and whether anybody smoked in the homes. They also asked if any of the homes had scented candles and they asked about laundry products.
The largest reduction between the standard and green cleaning products was in chloroform, which was reduced overall by 86.7 percent. Naphthalene went down by a little over 40 percent. Hexane was reduced by 35 percent. And benzene and toluene decreased by almost 25 percent.
An odd uptick was noted for fragrance compounds. The fragrance compound beta-myrcene more than doubled to 221 percent. The synthetic musks celestolide went up by 31 percent, galaxolide increased by nearly 80 percent. Four of the seven replacement products contained fragrance compounds. The students sought green cleaning products that without fragrance, but could not find any.
Surveys of the women found that 98 percent of them said that the green cleaners worked as well as the regular cleaners. As the researchers indicate in their paper, it would be good to follow up with a study using green cleansers without fragrance compounds.
Until then it seems like a good move, next time you’re at the grocery store and picking up some scouring compounds or floor cleaners, to look for the green products and check their labels. Here are a few internet resources that may help you:
The EPA’s Safer Choice label
Apartment Therapy’s Homemade Cleaners Toolkit: 5 Essentials to Make Your Own
Apartment Therapy’s Natural & Eco-Friendly Cleaners
Soon, I will follow up with a post with some more tips on how to concoct your own homemade cleaners that can make your home more healthful and can save you money.
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