What Are Your Cleaning Products Made Of?
Have you ever wondered what’s in your cleaning products? Maybe you’d like to learn more about the chemicals in your household cleaners, or what that “eco-friendly” label on the spray bottle you just bought really means. Fortunately, as some of Western Canada’s busiest cleaners, we know a thing or two about these matters.
Our years of experience cleaning commercial and residential spaces in big Canadian cities have made us familiar with pretty much every common cleaner on the market. Read on to learn more about what’s in your cleaning products so you can make the best buying decisions for your lifestyle.
What Does “Eco-Friendly” Really Mean?
“Eco-friendly”. “All natural”. “Green cleaner”. These labels and others like them became common sights in grocery stores during the early 2000s, when big brands like Clorox and Windex started marketing them as “safer” alternatives for concerned consumers. But while there are definite benefits to some of these products, not every spray bottle with a green sticker on the front is going to be better for you than your average bottle of bleach.
None of the terms above are actually regulated, which means those labels only have meaning from an advertising perspective—not a legal or scientific one. So calling a product “green” might mean that it’s less toxic for humans, or it might just mean less water was used to produce it (e.g. it’s better for the environment). Unless you dig deeper, you really don’t know what you’re getting.
Beware of “Greenwashing”
The trend of marketing cleaners as “green” or “all natural” is known as greenwashing, and it’s a common practice in Canada. For example, Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner comes with a label claiming the product is “non-toxic”—but actually contains 2-butoxyethanol, a toxic health hazard that can damage red blood cells according to Environment Canada.
Or take Vim PowerPro Naturals, a bathroom cleaner advertised as containing “98 percent natural” ingredients. But that’s only true if you include the water in the product (which is pretty common in just about every commercial liquid cleaner on the market). Take the water out, and a full quarter of the remaining ingredients are actually petroleum-based chemicals.
So… Green Products Aren’t Better?
We didn’t say that. It’s vital to remember that not all eco-friendly products are as bad as standard household cleaners. Our point isn’t to dismiss the “green” label entirely. We just encourage you to look beyond it and be a little more discerning.
Typical cleaning products often contain potentially hazardous ingredients that the right green cleaners can help you avoid. We’ll tell you how to pick and choose healthier cleaners, right after we cover some of the hazards in regular ones.
How Do Typical Cleaning Products Affect Us?
Most cleaning products contain at least one of the following:
- Ammonia: an irritant found in many polishers and glass cleaners, inhaling ammonia has been linked to several respiratory issues.
- Chlorine: a common bleaching agent in many toilet cleaners and laundry products, chlorine can cause chemical reactions when mixed with ammonia and create a harmful or even deadly gas.
- Phthalates: this class of ingredients is often used to scent household cleaners—including so-called “green” ones. Phthalates have been linked to respiratory issues, and are even associated with reproductive issues in boys.
- Quaternary Ammonium Compounds: also known as Quats, these disinfectant chemicals are found in many cleaning wipes and sprays. If you see a cleaner with an “antibacterial” label on it, it’s probably got these in it. But be careful—they can cause irritated skin and even asthma in high enough amounts.
- 2-Butoxyethanol: we talked about this one already, but it’s worth mentioning again since it shows up so frequently in all-purpose cleaners. Environment Canada and Health Canada have concluded that this chemical is entering the environment in amounts or conditions that could “constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health”, making it an official CEPA toxic substance.
What Kind of Cleaning Products Should You Use?
Before you get too alarmed by what you’ve read, remember that some eco-friendly cleaners really are better for you and your environment. You just need to know where to look for them.
Canada only has one recognized environmental standard and certification, and it’s called EcoLogo. To become EcoLogo certified, a cleaning product must demonstrate that it is more effective than 80% of other products on the market in meeting several rigorous standards, which include:
- Manufacturing and operations
- Health and environment
- Product performance and use
- Product stewardship and innovation
Some brands with products that meet these standards include Aspen Green, Attitude Living, and Net Zero, although there are plenty of others. And remember: if you’re not confident in your ability to seek out and purchase healthy cleaning products, you can always call professionals who know where to find them and how to use them.
Make Cleaning Safe & Satisfying
Doing a little more research into your household cleaning products can help you avoid irritation and even potential health hazards. Use what you’ve learned here to get started, and contact us for help if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed.
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