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Hello, everyone! I’m Dr. Trish Murray – physician, best-selling author, and the Health Catalyst Speaker. Welcome to this presentation on taking the toxic out of cleaning. The point is to help you understand the dangers lingering in your cleaning products that most of us are not aware of and to give you some suggestions of what to more safely clean with. I must admit, I learned a ton putting this together, so I’m really excited about sharing this information with you.
You see, it’s easy to assume that anything you buy at a store must be safe, right? But in reality, that is absolutely not the case. The most that you will probably find on a toxic cleaning product is a warning label accompanied by a poison control hotline number to call if the product is accidentally ingested. Unfortunately, just because it’s meant for cleaning, doesn’t mean it’s healthy for your body. Household cleaning products are crammed with chemicals that aren’t fully disclosed, aren’t approved, and might be causing harm to you, your family, your pets, and other loved ones.
The average household has sixty-two toxic chemicals according to environmental experts. Ingredients in common household cleaners have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption, and neurotoxicity. Studies of people who work as cleaners as a, you know, in their career they work as cleaners – that’s what they do for a living, for work – have been found to have lung damage similar to what you would get by smoking twenty cigarettes per day. That’s pretty disturbing if you ask me.
If you have pets or children who regularly play on the floor you should pay close attention to the type of floor cleaner that you’re using. In many commercial brand floor cleaners, the vapors linger and can be actually very dangerous. Do your research to find a pet safe floor cleaner because if it’s obviously pet safe it’s also going to be safe for the baby, too. Or make your own floor cleaner out of natural products. That’s going to be kind of a theme throughout. If you really want to know what’s in your cleaners then make your own out of natural products that you know exactly what’s in it. The same goes for surface cleaners and yard and garden products. If anyone is likely to be eating off a surface, walking or playing on a surface especially barefoot you should do your best to ensure that the products used to clean that area are free and clear of harmful toxins.
The most acutely dangerous cleaning products are corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acidic toilet bowl cleaners. Corrosive chemicals in these and other cleaners can cause severe burns on the eyes, the skin, and if you ingest them on the throat and the esophagus. Ingredients to look out for include chlorine, bleach, and ammonia which not only are they corrosive to the skin and all, but they also produce fumes that are highly irritating and can trigger asthma attacks. We’re going to get more into that in more detail shortly.
Now, cleaning products, unlike foods, beverages, and even cosmetics and other personal care products are not – I’ll repeat that – are not required by federal law to carry a list of ingredients. For years now companies have claimed that providing a full list of ingredients would go against their rights to keep their formula preserved and private. Actually, only seven percent of cleaning products on the market today adequately disclose the ingredients of all of their contents. This means that manufacturers have no reason to avoid hazardous chemicals that happen to clean thoroughly even if they trigger asthma attacks, skin rashes, or are linked to cancer.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is the federal agency that’s charged with protecting consumers from thousands of types of consumer products, actually has only 500 employees nationwide, which means they don’t have enough help. This means that lots of dangerous products slip through the cracks.
Every day your body fights against the myriad of toxins you’re exposed to. That’s what your detoxification system is meant to do. Manufacturers argue that in small amounts, toxic ingredients in household cleaners aren’t likely to be an issue or to be very dangerous, such as taking a dip in a pool treated with chlorine or washing your bathtub or cleaning your toilet with a multi-purpose cleaner or wiping down your kitchen counters with bleach. But, folks, this all adds up and regular exposure or exposure to a combination of other chemicals have not been studied, so there’s no way to gauge what the true risks involved accurately are.
What we do know is that chronic exposure to toxic fumes and chemicals adds to what is known as the body’s “toxic burden” or the body burden. This refers to the total accumulation of toxins in your body, specifically the number of chemicals stored in your tissue at any given time. When your system is exposed to too many heavy metals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, or other toxins like cleaners it becomes fatigued and loses its ability to flush them out and detoxify them properly.
This leads to illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, fibromyalgia, hormonal imbalances, and even infertility just to name a few. So, let’s talk about some specifics.
Phthalates are found in many household products such as air fresheners, dish soap, and even toilet paper. Phthalates are chemicals used to extend the aromatic strength in scented products. Phthalates are known to disrupt your hormone secretion and can cause infertility. Although exposure mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also be absorbed through the skin through scented soap products as well. So, this is problematic because the skin, unlike your digestive system, doesn’t have any safeguards against toxins. All of the absorbed chemicals that go right through your skin actually can get right into the bloodstream and go directly to the different organs.
Triclosan is found in most liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps labeled antibacterial. So, as you can see here antibacterial doesn’t mean it’s safe. Triclosan is a chemical that may work to initially kill bacteria, but also remember that the bacteria are going to increase and grow their drug resistance, so it’s going to actually lead to an increase in drug-resistant bacteria. It can also disrupt hormone function and is a possible carcinogen.
More concerning than this is studies have shown that rivers and streams have dangerous concentrations now of triclosan which is toxic to algae and is a major disruptor of our overall ecosystem. To avoid triclosan use simple detergents and simple soaps with short ingredient lists and choose alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Your ocean breeze or cotton scented laundry detergent might smell great to your nose, but it could be extremely dangerous to your overall health. If one of the ingredients in the product is listed as “fragrance” and that’s all it says is “fragrance,” chances are that the product has a cocktail of non-natural chemicals that are likely more toxic than they are good for you.
Studies have found that one-third of all scented ingredients in detergents contain at least one chemical flagged by the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency) as potentially cancer causing. On average, toxic laundry detergent products emit seventeen toxins that go unlisted on the label, and which cause problems ranging from skin irritation to neurological damage. Folks, this is what you’re cleaning your clothes in, your baby’s clothes in, your clothes in, your whole family’s clothes in. It’s like what? Think about it! You’re using your detergent not just to wash everything you wear but to wash the fabric that you breathe into for hours every night, meaning on your sheets that you sleep on. If you’re using detergent, fabric softeners, bleach, things that are called brighteners, or other masking agents, chances are that something toxic is lurking in those different bottles.
QUARTERNARY AMMONIUM COMPOUNDS (QUATS)
This chemical is another type of antimicrobial which poses the same problem as triclosan by helping to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Furthermore, it’s a skin irritant. One 10-year study of contact dermatitis found QUATS to be one of the leading causes of contact dermatitis. QUATS are found in fabric softeners and most household cleaners labeled “anti-bacterial.” So, if you have sensitive skin or are prone to skin cancer or you are prone or have a history of an autoimmune condition make sure to beware of this chemical and get rid of it from your home.
This is the key ingredient in window, kitchen, and multi-purpose cleaners. 2-butoxyethanol can cause extreme irritation when inhaled in an unventilated area like a bathroom. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, high levels of this 2-butoxyethanol, in mild cases, can cause sore throats, but over time can contribute to brain fog, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Unfortunately, the law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label, so your best bet is to use do-it-yourself products from natural ingredients or do some research about the types of products that you buy.
Now, in any cleaning product that promises a streak-free shine you can bet ammonia is likely the main ingredient. Unfortunately, ammonia is a powerful irritant and will affect you right away. The smell itself is harsh and pungent. We’ve all probably smelled ammonia before. The people who are most susceptible to the dangers of ammonia are people with lung and breathing problems as well as the elderly. Because it’s hard to avoid breathing in ammonia during use, people who get a lot of ammonia exposure like housekeepers will often develop chronic bronchitis or asthma. As an important side note, ammonia can also create a poisonous gas if it’s mixed with bleach, so don’t ever use bleach and ammonia together or in the same, you know, cleaning experience.
Since it’s such a common chemical in our daily lives, any excess exposure to chlorine can cause chronic disease over time. When you clean with it, you breathe it in and possibly even absorb it through your skin. Chlorine is also in city water to cleanse it of bacteria. Excess exposure can lead to and add to your toxic burden, so it’s best to avoid it wherever possible.
Otherwise known as lye, sodium hydroxide is extremely abrasive. It’s used in oven cleaners and drain cleaners because it does such a great job of destroying everything that gets in its way. Its powerful ability to clean away grime also makes it extremely dangerous. If it touches your skin or gosh forbid gets in your eyes it can cause severe burns, and inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts for days.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about the environmental impact because, of course, in addition to affecting the personal health of you and your loved ones, using toxic cleaning products can also threaten water quality and wildlife after they disappear down the drain. Many of the chemicals we’ve discussed are not readily biodegradable in soil or water, so they hang around as a pollutant. Their presence harms wildlife but also eventually makes its way back to us. The water we pollute will eventually be consumed by us or at least by the plants and animals that we consume. So, guys, it’s a circle and it’s always going to come back to us. Think about that from the very moment you use anything.
Phosphates, a water softening mineral additive that was once used widely in laundry detergents and other cleaners, can act as a fertilizer, spawning the overgrowth of algae. This overabundance of aquatic plant life sucks away the oxygen supply within the water which then is going to kill off the fish and other organisms, disrupting the entire surrounding ecosystem in return. Now, many states have banned the use of phosphates in laundry detergents, but they are still used widely in many dishwasher detergents.
Again, one of the things that I thought about putting this together was the idea of maybe we think about what we’re using on our countertops, and we think about that but we don’t maybe think about the laundry detergent and the dishwasher detergent and the dishwashing liquid…I mean there’s so many different things to think about.
How can we clean smarter? You see, first of all, just because it’s in a green bottle or a cardboard box or has some nature themed design to it on the label doesn’t mean that it’s non-toxic. Terms such as “natural” and “eco-friendly” should not be equated with safety unless they’re backed up with specific ingredient lists and ingredient information such as “solvent-free” or “no petroleum-based ingredients” or “no phosphates.” These are the types of things you want to see listed. The term “non-toxic” has absolutely no official definition, so unless a third party has verified that something is truly non-toxic, do not take it as face value on any label.
Now, marketers know that being environmentally friendly is on trend, so they design their products to make it seem like they’re eco-friendly as well. For example, many aerosol spray cans are labeled “no CFCs,” and that stands for chlorofluorocarbons. Chlorofluorocarbons are known to deplete the ozone layer and so they label this, and it says “no CFCs” on it. This is leading consumers to believe that they’re buying a more eco-friendly product. But the fact is, folks, in reality chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs have been banned from all aerosols since 1978 which makes this label meaningless, and it’s being used purely as a marketing ploy. This is called green washing or green marketing. So, just be very careful that you don’t always fully trust the color and the label unless it’s been verified to be truly safe from let’s say a third party which I’ll talk about more in a few minutes.
How do you eliminate the toxins? The best thing you can start doing right away is to, first of all, use fewer products and less often. Find a few multi-purpose products that work really well and use the remainder of what you do have very sparingly. Even better, dispose of those products that you have identified that you don’t want to be using so that they’re out of your house all together. Some cities and towns may have special facilities that will collect toxins from your home, and we can look into that. If this service is unavailable to you, the suggestion is to throw them into the trash, but don’t pour them down the sink.
Now, what do you look for and how do you replace these unsafe products with safer ones? First of all, do the research and buy from companies that you can trust. Find out a company’s mission statement. Does it include something about the environment? Does it refuse to test on animals? If so, these are signs that the company is probably pretty ethical and confident that their product won’t cause you or your loved ones much harm.
Another option is of course to make your own cleaning products. Some of the best natural ingredients that you can use to clean are things such as:
- baking soda is safe and is going to clean and break things down
- lemon juice
Using alcohol, a true alcohol, that we would even drink are likely already in your pantry and can double as household cleaners that are natural. They’re going to kill bacteria, they’re going to clean the products, and they’re going to be able to make things shiny and beautiful.
Now, if you’re not into making your own or using these other household safe products then the best place to go to learn more about what’s safe and what’s not is called the Environmental Working Group. I talk about the Environmental Working Group quite a bit on these webinars and podcasts that I do. Their website is EWG.org. Once you get to their website what you would do is click on the category that says, “Consumer Guides.” This will take you to a page where you then can select EWG-Verified, meaning they’re going to list consumer products and cleaning products for you that meet the EWG strict standards for health. They state things like, “many cleaning products on the market are packaged in a virtual black box. EWG-verified takes out the guesswork and helps you find safer cleaning products, those that don’t hide their ingredients from you. When you see the EWG-verified mark on cleaning products you can trust that they meet our strictest standards for your health, making your shopping stress free.”
As of today, I was looking at their site, there are as many as eighteen different cleaning products that have been approved and verified by EWG. Now other EWG recommendations statement taken from their website just to share with you some other information on the EWG website and their recommendation statement. They state that cleaning up the cleaning products industry would make America’s home, schools, and workplaces healthier. Some forward-thinking manufacturers already sell safer effective products or provide lists of ingredients on their product labels. Consumers’ voices and dollars can be a powerful tool to bring about change. The Environmental Working Group recommends that consumers do the following things:
- support state and federal efforts to require cleaning product companies to disclose all ingredients on their label where consumers need this information most
- support reform of the outdated and inadequate federal system for protecting people from toxic chemicals
- buy safer products with the help of EWG’s guide to healthy cleaning and try safer homemade recipes using kitchen ingredients like vinegar, vodka, and baking soda
- as a community we need to press our schools, our daycare centers, and our workplaces to clean with safer, certified green products
This class was put together for you by using information from numerous sources. As I typically do, I post all the links to all the sources that I used to put this talk together in our Discover Health Facebook Group tomorrow, so all members can do further research. If you are not already a member of our Discover Health Facebook Group, all you need to do is go to the Discover Health Functional Medicine Center Facebook Page, and on our main page of the business you would simply request to join the community of the closed Discover Health Facebook Group. All are welcome, and it is here in this group where you can also ask questions later if you think of a question you did not ask during our time together. You can get this list of resources tomorrow, and you can always ask questions. Our health coach, Trish Chaput, does a Coach’s Corner every week and she posts educational information. People communicate with each other there.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to join me. I truly hope you will take the information from this presentation to heart and reduce you, your family, and the environment’s toxic burden. I hope everyone has a wonderful evening, and I’ll see you on the next webinar next month. Take care, everyone!
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