So, what piqued your interest in sustainable cleaning products?
For many, the seemingly never-ending cycle of “whoops, our bad” in the chemical world plays a big part.
That cycle goes like this:
- A company introduces a “revolutionary” new cleaning product.
- Everyone flocks to the new product.
- The other shoe eventually drops, that the product contains chemicals that hurt you or the planet.
- You stop using the product. But now you’re stuck searching for a replacement and wondering what kind of risks you and your family were exposed to.
Wash, rinse, repeat. Literally.
Sustainable, good-for-you and good-for-the-planet cleaning products can help break us out of this frustrating cycle. But how do you know if the chemicals in a cleaning product really are all that … good?
First, let’s look at some chemicals that don’t belong in sustainable products. Then we’ll cover some ingredients that actually can live up to a sparkling reputation.
What’s the deal with VOCs?
For both people and the planet, the biggest concerns in cleaning chemicals are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The basic definition for a VOC is a compound that has a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Solids and liquids emit VOCs as gasses. If you’ve heard about issues with off-gassing or out-gassing, VOCs are the gasses those terms refer to.
VOCs are the subject of a lot of well-deserved negative publicity. But it’s important to remember that not all VOCs pose a threat to the environment. Many are harmless, or only cause harm at very high levels over a long period of exposure.
But there are also plenty of VOCs that cause health problems. A few major examples include:
- 1-Bromopropane (1-BP)
- Carbon Tetrachloride
- Methylene Chloride
Health effects of VOC exposure vary, and can include:
- Irritation of the mucosal membranes
- Headaches, dizziness and nausea
- Internal organ and central nervous system damage
Finally, in addition to potential health effects from VOCs themselves, there’s the environmental harm. These compounds have a nasty habit of reacting with nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere and UV radiation from the sun to create ozone molecules. This ground-level ozone has negative impacts on both human health and the environment, and is the core pollutant in smog.
All that can sound terrifying. But there’s good news. The EPA already regulates many of the most problematic VOCs. That means they don’t show up that often in our cleaning products these days.
To avoid welcoming the dangerous VOCs into your home, check cleaning products for ingredients with suffixes like -ane, -ide, -ene and -anol. Double check for results on those ingredients from authoritative sources, such as the EPA and the CDC. They’ll let you know what the research says about potential hazards.
Identifying safe and sustainable cleaning products
The EPA guide to identifying greener cleaning products gives us a good starting point for identifying safe and sustainable cleaning products. One thing you should ALWAYS keep in mind is:
Sodium carbonate, for example, is a completely biodegradable ingredient. But if a product using it has a label saying ‘do not ingest’ and you ignore that instruction, you may find yourself poisoned. ALWAYS read the label of your cleaning products before use and follow the instructions exactly.
With that caveat out of the way, here are some of the most planet-friendly (and highly effective) cleaning ingredients out there:
- Acetic acid is essentially vinegar. It is biodegradable, renewable and non-toxic. Metal cleaners, bathroom cleaners and other products use it to break down tough residues.
- Enzymes are chemicals microorganisms naturally produce. Those microorganisms use enzymes to break substances down into food. Enzyme-based cleaners are very popular for breaking down smelly messes. They are biodegradable, renewable and non-toxic.
- Essential oils, like pine oil and limonene, are biodegradable and made from renewable sources. They are especially popular as components in soap. They can induce an allergic reaction in some people though. Those prone to allergies should be careful in how they adopt essential oil-based products.
- Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizer. That means it takes oxygen from substances to break them down. It is another biodegradable, renewable and non-toxic chemical. It’s very useful for deodorizing and stain-removing products. It can also help clean and prevent mold growth.
- Sodium bicarbonate is baking soda. It’s a biodegradable and non-toxic mineral. It is not considered renewable though, since it has to be precipitated out of mined ore. Fortunately, that ore is available in abundance. Abrasive cleaning products and deodorizers are popular uses for it.
- Sodium carbonate is baking soda’s more caustic cousin. This makes it a powerful ingredient in cleaning products, and it is biodegradable. It is not considered non-toxic. This is because swallowing it in large amounts can lead to life-threatening complications. It’s considered very safe when used correctly.
To embrace sustainability, we can’t just stop with ingredients
Having sustainable, biodegradable ingredients is just one part of creating a more eco-friendly cleaning product. It’s also important to look for products that:
- reduce or eliminate plastic packaging.
- enable you to re-use materials.
- are efficient to ship to the consumer.
Tablet-based cleaners, like the ones we make at Nature Lake eliminate the need to re-buy plastic sprayer bottles every time you need more cleaning product. They also have a tiny weight and volume footprint. This makes the shipping process much more fuel efficient and less polluting.
So next time you’re on the hunt for sustainable cleaning products, consider giving Nature Lake a try. You’ll love how good it feels to have a sparkling clean home without any worries about waste or weird ingredients.