Welcome to week three of our organic challenge! In the ever changing world of what we should eat or not eat, what we should put on our skin or not put on our skin, and what we should sleep on, there are a few areas in the home which we overlook: cleaning and yard products. We are here to help guide you to make better buying decisions for a happier and healthier life!
The first thing to remember is to read labels. At Naturepedic, we are always concerned about companies that use "greenwashing" as a marketing tactic to sell you products. Greenwashing is when companies make unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims about their products being natural, green, eco-friendly, or organic. It’s always important to be leery of companies using these descriptors on their products, and to check for government regulated certifications. If you have questions about what is actually in a product, head over to Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning database.
1. Laundry Detergent
Many of us have switched to a free and gentle detergent, but is that enough? Conventional laundry detergent leaves residue on our clothes and sheets that is against our skin for long periods of time. Even the best washing machines are unable to completely wash out all of the detergent, and laundry detergent brands are some of the best at greenwashing. So what should you be on the lookout for on your label? Fragrance often contains fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. The EWG rates toxins on a scale of one to 10, 10 being the most toxic. Fragrance is rated eight for it’s toxicity rating. Diethyl Phthalate or DEP is a suspected endocrine disruptor. 1,4-Dioxane is another chemical that is usually used as a solvent and is classified as a possible carcinogen. Surfactants help a laundry detergent to clean thoroughly, however, they are usually hazardous. Surfactants can be divided into three categories: natural surfactants, naturally derived surfactants and synthetic or petroleum based surfactants. The list of hazardous chemicals and toxins is staggering and way too long to list in this blog, but below is an example of toxins found in the most popular brand of laundry detergent.
Alkylbenzene Sulfonates, (Alcoholethoxy Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Water, (Fatty Acid Salts, Dipropylene Glycol, Glycerin, (Polyethyleneimine Ethoxylate, Alcohol Ethoxylates, (Polyvinyl Alcohol Film, PEG-136 Polyvinyl Acetate, (Monoethanolamine Citrate, Perfume, Diethylenetriamine Pentaacetate, Sodium Salt, Sodium Bisulfite, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl Disulfonate, Sodium Formate, Subtilisin, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Calcium Formate, Amylase, (Mannanase, Colorant, Sodium Bisulfate, Benzisothiazolinone)
All of these chemical cause issues from irritation all the way up to long term illness. Try to pick one that is not just friendly to the environment but safe for your whole family. Here is a list from greenmatters that might help you out.
2. Dryer Sheets & Balls
Much like laundry detergent, fragrance is the number one offender. If you can smell it, it’s off-gassing chemicals. Of the 133 chemicals found in dryer sheets, 17 of them are considered toxic. Some of them emitted carcinogens while others were listed as toxic or hazardous under one or more federal laws. 83% of fabric softeners get a D or F from EWG. This is actually a pretty easy transition for you. Use wool dryer balls in the dryer and you can use distilled white vinegar in place of regular dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener. Just use ½ cup in the final rinse cycle. Vinegar dissolves alkaline residue from detergents and removes unwanted odors detergent might have missed and soap scum that can build up in your washing machine.
3. All-Purpose Home Cleaners
Like many cleaners that use chemicals as a cleaning agent, they are not just bad for us, but bad for our environment when we wash them down the drain. What goes into your conventional name brand cleaner? Sometimes since the manufacturers just list them as cleaning agent or "quaternary ammonium compound" when they don’t want you to know, it's hard to tell. There are many highly rated natural and toxin free cleaners out there that actually do the job just as well if not better. Look for plant-based cleaners and other natural items that you have around the house such as salt, lemon, baking soda and vinegar. All of these can boost your cleaning without adding chemicals.
4. Yard Pesticides
You’ve likely seen large court cases won by the consumer, for companies not being clear about what toxins they are putting in yard products. Not much has changed since the 1950’s ideal of a green, weed-free yard. So what should we do to protect ourselves, children, pets, and the environment from harmful cancer causing pesticides? Aeration is one of the more important parts of maintaining your lawn. It allows air, water, and nutrients to seep in, promoting healthy root growth. The best natural aerators are ants and earthworms—often the first victims of pesticides. Start over-seeding and using compost to promote nutrients in your lawn. To control weeds, try corn gluten meal—an organic weed preventative—on your lawn in the spring. If a few isolated weeds pop up, pull them by hand or try an organic weed killer. Both citrus oil, which dehydrates weeds down to the roots, and vinegar are good options for a natural weed killer.
5. Dish Soap
Just like some of the other soaps we touched on, dish soaps contain the typical list harmful toxins: Fragrance, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Formaldehyde, Sulphuric Acid, Triclosan, Phosphates, Diethanolamine, Monoethanolamine, Triethanolamine, and Ammonium Sulfate. If the residue of these harmful toxins is left over on your dishes, you can ingest them. Look for soaps that are biodegradable and use plant-derived, natural, or certified organic ingredients. Good ingredient disclosure is a must given that non-specific ingredients automatically get an F from EWG. When you are picking your soaps it's important to understand what goes into these products.
Many of the toxins discussed above are not just harmful to us, but even more so to developing children and the susceptible environment. Remember to read labels thoroughly and do research when dealing with companies that claim natural, green, eco-friendly, or organic. These organic and nontoxic switches will decrease your exposure to toxic chemicals, and overtime help you live a healthier and more organic lifestyle.
For more information on our whole challenge, click here.