In an effort to reduce our son’s exposure to unnecessary chemicals and to be friendlier to our planet, I have committed to trade in my toxic household cleaners in favor of more natural and environmentally friendly ones.
For any parents who are on the fence about whether “green” cleaners are worth it, here are six reasons to make the switch to eco-friendly cleaners for your kids’ health.
1. No One Knows How Dangerous the Chemicals Are
According to one expert, “The federal system to regulate toxic chemicals is just in shambles.” In an ideal world, manufacturers would be required to prove that the chemicals in their cleaners are safe. But in the real world, the burden is on the EPA to prove a chemical is unsafe. In fact, of the 100,000 chemicals in commerce today, there have only been around 900 tested for cancer risks. For the majority of the chemicals we are exposed to every day, there is little to no data on any health risk – short or long term.1
2. But We Do Know that Household Cleaners Are Dangerous to Your Kids’ Health
The most obvious concern with toxic cleaners is the impact they have on the health of children and adults. From my own research on this subject, here is just a beginning of the laundry list of health concerns attributed to normal household cleaners and their common components:
asthma, bladder damage, brain damage, breast cancer, bronchitis, cancer, cataracts, chemical burns (to eyes, skin, throat, and esophagus), chest pain, chronic fatigue, damage to fetus, decreased sperm counts, depression, dizziness, ear infections, headaches, heart attack, hormone disruption, joint pain, kidney damage, liver damage, loss of sleep, lung damage, nervous system damage, pneumonia, rashes, respiratory irritation, skin irritation, sneezing, watery eyes2
3. Manufacturers Make the Packaging Attractive to Kids
Think your kids will stay away from cleaners? Think again. Manufacturers entice consumers into buying toxic cleaners by producing colorful packaging and products that smell fruity and sweet. To make matters worse, many cleaners do not have childproof caps, making them easily accessible to little fingers. These dangerous chemicals can look just like a sports drink, and kids who cannot read (or who don’t take the time to look) are duped into taking a big gulp.3
4. Babies and Toddler Put Everything in Their Mouths
If your child is too young to reach for deceptive packaging, she is still at risk. The average American uses approximately 40 lbs of toxic household cleaning products each year, products that our children are in constant contact with on the floor, other surfaces, toys, and in the air.
That teething ring you wiped down with a Clorox wipe? It just went into your little one’s mouth. The carpet cleaner you used to remove the stains left by your toddler? It gets into his skin when he sits on it and plays with toys that spend time on the floor. The coffee table you cleaned with Pledge? Your baby pulls up on it and gums it absentmindedly. Wouldn’t it be better to use cleaning supplies that are gentler on their little bodies?4
5. Toxins Affect Children More Than Adults
Children are more sensitive to chemicals, because they are still developing the basic body systems: the brain, internal organs, respiratory and immune systems are not fully developed until adolescence. There have also been studies that show harm from certain chemicals to developing fetuses.5
Because their bodies are not fully developed, children are more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals. For example, adults have a developed blood-brain barrier that insulates the brain from many of the potentially harmful chemicals circulating through the body. Babies have not developed this barrier and are at higher risk from exposure.
Additionally, children drink more water, eat more food, and breathe more air than adults pound for pound, so children have heavier exposure to chemicals.6
While the amount of chemicals children are exposed to in their formative years may not be enough to cause immediate damage, the long-term exposure can cause significant health problems. Some diseases associated with environmental toxins take decades to develop; it would be prudent to limit exposure as much as possible.7
6. The Numbers Support a Switch Away from Poisonous Cleaners
“Every 15 seconds, a Poison Control Center somewhere in the United States gets a call. More than half of these calls are from an adult tending to a child who has swallowed a potentially poisonous substance.”8 “Cleaning products were responsible for nearly 10 percent of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers in 2000, accounting for 206,636 calls.”9
Even if your child never ingests a household cleaner, they are still exposed to danger in the air. “According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside the typical home is on average 2-5 times more polluted than the air just outside—and in extreme cases 100 times more contaminated—largely because of household cleaners and pesticides.”
Reduce Your Child’s Exposure: Resources for Safer Cleaning Options
Replacing your common household cleaners with natural products or more eco-friendly cleaners will significantly reduce your children’s exposure to environmental toxins, and it is not as hard as you might think. Following is a list of online resources that can help you (and me) on a journey to safer cleaning.
- Make Your Own Cleaning Products has recipes for window cleaner and dishwashing liquid.
- Green Footsteps has several links to Natural Household Cleaner Recipes & Cleaning Methods including homemade laundry detergent and articles on cleaning with vinegar, salt, and baking soda
- Natural Household Cleaning Products (recipes for oven cleaner and toilet cleaner, among others)
- Natural Household Cleansers for Everyday Chores (recipes for bathroom mold cleanser, carpet shampoo, and more)
- Recipes for Natural Household Cleaners (includes recipes for an all-purpose cleaner, furniture cleaner, fabric freshener, etc.)
What natural cleaning products do you use and recommend?
Photo credit: lusi
Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their healthcare provider. If you are pregnant, are nursing, have a medical condition, or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis, or courses of treatment.
- Biello, David, Earthjustice Wants Companies to List Chemicals in Household Cleaners ↩
- Guide to Less Toxic Products; How Toxic Are Your Household Cleaning Supplies? ↩
- Consumer Watch: Dangerous Household Cleaners Look Like Sports Drinks ↩
- If You Can’t Pronounce It, Should You Use It?; Switch to Natural Cleaning Products ↩
- If You Can’t Pronounce It, Should You Use It? ↩
- McManus, Jamie, Health Hazards Associated with Household Cleaners ↩
- Health Hazards Associated with Household Cleaners ↩
- Children Act Fast, So Do Poisons! ↩
- Good Stuff? Cleaning Products ↩