Hazards of Household Cleaners

With warmer temperatures and the changing of the seasons, it’s time for spring cleaning! Jim Biggs, from the EarthWays Center at the Missouri Botanical Garden, met with members of the Sustainability Action Team in March to discuss the hazards of common household cleaners and offer alternative cleaning methods. Jim said “while most of us can pick up a box of food at the grocery store and know what the nutrition label means, we either don’t look at the labels on our cleaners, or don’t have a clear understanding of what they mean.” EPA regulations require that hazardous cleaners are labeled according to the following scale:

Caution: Lowest level of harm, typically indicating low toxicity

Warning: Moderately toxic

Danger: Highest level of toxicity

While products on the lower end of the scale may cause mild eye irritation, products on the danger end of the spectrum can be deadly to an adult from ingesting as little as a taste to a teaspoon.

Consumers should also be aware of ‘greenwashing’. Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing practice that leads consumers to believe products are environmentally friendly by using words such as pure, natural and clean. Instead, watch for products that are labeled Safer Choice. They have been certified by the EPA and contain safer chemical ingredients, without sacrificing quality or performance.

In addition to the potential harm to your family from these cleaners, they are also harmful to the environment. After use, cleaners go down the drain and are subsequently introduced to the environment.

Greener Cleaning Tips:

  • With laundry detergent, look for products labeled “phosphate-free.” Phosphates in our detergents have been show to lead to contamination of fresh water.
  • To freshen the air in bathrooms, place ½ cup of baking soda on a high shelf where it is unlikely to be knocked over. Replace once a month.
  • Mix your own all-purpose cleaner:

2 tbsp vinegar

2 tsp Borax

16 oz hot water

1 tbsp liquid soap

10-15 drops essential oil for scent (optional)

Mix vinegar with Borax and water. Shake until dissolved. Add soap and essential oil.

  • Look for the EPA’s Safer Choice label when selecting products.