Green Tips: Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Household Products

Green Tips | September 6, 2019

Keeping your home clean shouldn’t have to involve using products that contain harmful chemicals. From cosmetics to cleaning supplies, taking steps to reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals will benefit both your health and the environment. Read some of our tips for how to green your household product routine.

Soaps: Some soaps contain 1,4 dioxane, which is classified as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA and has the potential to cause nasal and liver tumors. As it is washed down our sewer system, it poses a serious risk of seeping into our waterways and drinking water. 

Triclosan is also found in some household products. Many suspect that triclosan is linked with hormone disruption and increased risk of breast cancer. It is also suspected to lead to drug-resistant bacteria and viruses. 

In addition to other harmful ingredients, many hand soaps and body washes contain mysterious fragrance ingredients that can irritate your skin and cause allergic reactions. In addition, most fragrance chemicals are not required to be disclosed to consumers. 

Use fragrance-free, organic and natural soaps that do not contain these ingredients. The Environmental Working Group has amazing consumer guides for you to find a soap that’s right for you. You can also try making your own soap for a fun family project.

Cosmetics: Many cosmetics in the United States contain harmful chemicals such as butylated hydroxyanisole. This toxin can cause risks to our reproductive system and endocrine system.

It also goes through sewer systems and can end up in our wastewater, where it may cause adverse effects on marine life, such as liver cancers in fish. Diethyl phthalate, which has been linked to cancer, can also be found in cosmetics.  

Consider buying organic or natural cosmetics rather than conventional products made with this ingredient. Read labels to make sure you’re avoiding them. More information and recommendations are available here and here.

Cleaners: Ammonia and isopropanol are the active ingredients in many cleaners. These chemicals can cause eye, skin, nose and throat irritation. When excess ammonia enters aquatic environments it can be very harmful to marine life and can increase the acidity of water. 

Ammonium quaternary compounds, or “quats” such as benzalkonium chloride or didecyldimethylammonium chloride, are also found in disinfecting cleaning products. Exposure to quats is associated with skin irritation, respiratory issues like asthma, and birth defects.

Make sure to buy organic or natural cleaners that don’t contain these ingredients. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

You can also try making your own cleaner using vinegar and water. If your surfaces are especially dirty, you may add a few drops of dish soap, castille soap or pre-clean with soapy water. Don’t forget to use reusable cleaning materials like rags, a squeegee, or sponges to clean instead of paper towels or disposable wipes. 

Laundry detergent: Many laundry soaps contain chemicals like sodium sulfate, phosphates, and formaldehyde. These toxins have been linked to skin irritation, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. They can get into our waterways after being transferred through municipal wastewater treatment systems and cause harm to our marine ecosystem

Consider a plant-based detergent that does not contain these ingredients, rather than conventional detergent. The EPA offers this listing of safe laundry products. Use this Healthy Cleaning Guide to help you find green detergents. You can also try making your own detergent using this recipe list. 

Dryer sheets: Traditional dryer sheets often contain toxins including limonene, acetaldehyde, and butane. They are emitted into the air through dryer vents and contribute to air pollution. Instead, consider making your own dryer sheets using vinegar, tee-tree oil, and small towels. Check out this guide for more information.

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