How to reduce the environmental health risks your children encounter at home.
What if I said that all you need to clean your home are about half a dozen simple, safe and effective household substances? What could possibly motivate you to switch from the extensive range of ‘hospital strength’, ‘ultra clean’, and ‘wipe on no rinsing’ cleaning products that you already have in your cupboards?
These simple household substances are not harmful long-term and have minimal environmental impact. They are biodegradable, easy to obtain and use, and some of them are even edible. If they work, have no side effects and with a bit of reorganizing are easily implemented, aren’t they worth your consideration?
We are bombarded with advertising highlighting the virtues of many cleaning compounds but we receive little information about the long-term impact of chemicals on our families. What are the possible long-term effects of exposure to toxic vapours? For example: mould killers in the shower recess, aerosol air fresheners in the loo, and petroleum-based detergents on skin. We are unlikely to reach a point where manufacturers will highlight potential risks on product labels. However, now we have access to independent information about the potential harms of products and safe alternatives.
Since World War 2 about 75,000 synthetic cleaning chemicals have been invented, many of these carry a stamp ‘Warning’ or ‘Poison’. However, there has been little commercial research into the long-term effects of the residues, volatile gases or environmental impact many of these products will have. This is especially significant for children’s developmental growth as they are much more vulnerable to toxins. Cleaning ingredients such as paradichlorobenzenes in toilet fresheners and room deodorizers and formaldehyde used in disinfectants are possible carcinogens. Some petroleum based surfactants called alkylphenol ethoxylates aren’t readily biodegradable and can disrupt hormone functions in animals and possibly humans.
Babies and children breathe, ingest and absorb more air, water and food per body mass than adults do. Consequently environmental pollution in the form of airborne pollution and residue from cleaners have a much more intense impact on children. Children and adults who have a susceptibility to particular substances may develop illnesses when regularly exposed to poisonous chemicals. There has been a marked increase in levels of asthma and eczema and behavioural problems in the last 20-30 years. This can be attributable to food intolerance as well as external pollution sources. We cannot eliminate every pollutant from our environments, but there are simple changes we can make to reduce exposure in our homes.
Conscientious parents have secure cupboards for dangerous cleaning products, to prevent children from swallowing or touching poisonous chemicals. However, many of us are less aware of the need to protect our children from systemic poisoning. My own experience with a weakened immune system from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was that cleaning with potent cleaning products was very distressing. The same offensive smelling products I had previously used when my immune system was strong now had direct side effects. I would often experience almost immediate reactions such as: a streaming nose, dizziness, headaches and nervous distress. I will be frank with you; I have never done housecleaning tasks with much enthusiasm. However, it had previously only been a nuisance never such an obvious irritant.
I have been even more conscious since I became a parent that I needed to be careful of pollution from cleaning products. Many childhood skin conditions and respiratory ailments such as asthma and eczema, and behavioural conditions such as ADD have become more prevalent in the last twenty years or so. These conditions would be attributable to other pollutants as well as household chemicals but I didn’t want to add to my child’s toxic load if I could avoid it.
Our (great) grandmothers would have used many household substances such as bicarbonate of soda, washing soda, vinegar or lemon juice, pure soap and tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil. They used substances that were readily available that ‘did the job’. Many ‘old wives remedies’ have since been chemically analysed and have been identified to contain effective cleaning compounds. Would women have kept on using a substance if it didn’t work?
If the cost of having very powerful commercial cleaning agents is a risk to our children’s health is it worth it? If you can achieve a clean house without ammonia, phenols, formaldehyde, phosphates and solvents – wouldn’t it at least be worth consideration? It’s possible with a little bit more time and not much more elbow grease to achieve a satisfactory cleaning result, reduce environmental pollution and reduce the threat to your family’s immune systems.
An Aboriginal poet known respectfully as “Aunty Maureen” said yesterday that she encourages Aboriginal people to “be careful how you do things so that our children can call us honourable ancestors.” Her insight is an example for us to think about too not only for our children’s children but for other generations as well. The simple cleaners mentioned here will require a change in thinking and reorganisation to be applied in our homes. It requires clearly labelling containers with contents and method of application and adjusting to a new approach. I understand that as busy parents, we have many demands on our time and the thought of one more system to implement can be daunting. The important point is to reduce your family’s exposure to dangerous chemicals. How you achieve that is discretionary. Another simpler but sometimes more expensive way to achieve the same result would be to purchase specially formulated cleaning products that are not going to harm your family. Fortunately, several Australian companies and many health food shops are already addressing this need in the market.
For more information:
‘Toxic TimeBomb-Bathroom Secrets Exposed’
P.O.Box 942 Maleny Queensland 4552
‘Sick Homes Part 1: Volatile Chemicals’
Peter Dingle PH.D, BEd, BSc, Hons
Toni Brown BA, Dip Ed, Cert Health Sc 1999,
‘Sick Homes 2-Dust and the Science of Cleaning’ 2002
P.O. box 397, Mundaring WA 6073
Dr. Penny Stanway
Random Century, Sydney 1990
‘A-Z of Chemicals in the Home’
The Toxic Chemicals Committee of the Total Environment Centre
Sydney NSW 1996
Everyday solutions for a healthy lifestyle
Simple steps to make your home healthy for your baby.
Environmental Marketing Pty.Ltd.
Unit 2, 28 Exchange Road, Malaga WA 6090
Ph 08 9248 4688
Available in Health food Stores
Handmade Naturals-Toxic Free Supplies
7 Gladstone Road, Highgate Hill 4101
Ph: 07 3846 4686
Toxic Waste Disposal:
Contact your local Council.
Simple non toxic cleaning are:
Bicarbonate of Soda:
Bicarbonate of soda is a slightly alkaline mineral made from soda ash. It absorbs acidic odours in water, or from the air and can deodorize carpets. It is a gentle non-abrasive powder cleanser when used on a damp sponge or sprinkled directly on a damp surface. For example, kitchen benches, sinks, baths, ovens and fibreglass. Bi-carb soda will remove perspiration odours and can be used to neutralize many chemical smells by adding up to a cup per load to the laundry.
Washing soda (Sodium Carbonate) is a chemical neighbour of Sodium Bicarbonate. It has a more alkaline pH of 11. Washing Soda has caustic properties so it is essential to use gloves. It can be used to cut grease, e.g. petroleum oil, wax, lipstick. It also neutralizes odours. If you need to remove wax from fibreglass, aluminium or waxed floors this will be effective.
Vinegar is acidic and will neutralize alkali’s. For example. it will: remove scale from hard water, eat away tarnish, remove dirt from wood surfaces, dissolve gummy build-up and shine tiles. It is made from fermented fruit or vegetables. Vinegar is an effective disinfectant that can reduce the risk of infection. It will kill a high percentage of mould, bacteria and germs while still being environmentally safe. It can also be used as a mild bleach and a deodorizer. N.B. Use white vinegar unless brown stains don’t matter.
Soap or detergent:
Pure soaps are made from natural ingredients based on fats and lye. Detergents are mostly produced from synthetic ingredients. Pure soap is alkaline, manufactured from renewable resources and biodegradable. Both soap and detergent are surface active agents known as surfactants which mix with grease and water. The drawback with soap is that although it isn’t dangerous it can leave a residue from the minerals in the soap. These minerals react with those in the water e.g. greying clothes and bathwater rim. Detergents that are not biodegradable are toxic to wildlife and pollute waterways. However, it is now possible to get biodegradable detergent based on natural ingredients. It is also important to note that a number of cleaning products claim to be environmentally friendly but do not live up to their claims.
Tea tree Oil:
Tea tree Oil is a broad–spectrum fungicide. It has a strong smell but this disappears after a few days or a thorough airing. It also has properties as a disinfectant.
Eucalyptus Oil has properties as a deodorizer, disinfectant and solvent.
½ cup Bicarb Soda
Mix Bicarb soda and enough detergent in a bowl to make a paste.
Use a sponge to wipe over the surface. This will rinse easily without being abrasive.
Sprinkle Bicarb soda directly on to damp sponge and wipe on. Rinse off.
3 tablespoons vinegar
¼ to ½ teaspoon liquid detergent
2 cups water
Combine ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake before use. The detergent will cut previous wax residue on the glass.
Or wash with pure soap and rinse with 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water.
Or wipe the glass down with vinegar.
All-purpose spray Cleaner
½ teaspoon washing soda
A squirt of detergent
2 cups hot water.
Combine ingredients in a spray bottle and shake until washing soda has dissolved. Apply to surface and wipe off with a sponge.
½ teaspoon olive oil
¼ cup vinegar (or fresh lemon juice)
Combine ingredients in a glass jar. Dab a soft rag in to the solution and wipe over wood surfaces. Seal the lid and store indefinitely.
I cup or more Bicarb soda
A squirt or two of liquid detergent
Sprinkle water generously all over the bottom of the oven. Completely cover with Bicarb soda. Sprinkle again and let set overnight. This will loosen the grime to be wiped off next morning. Then wipe out with a bit of detergent on a sponge.
This combination will also make a paste that can be applied to the sides and the top of the oven. As with any other cleaners be careful not to get the paste on the elements. If this recipe does not work, make sure you have used enough Bicarb soda and water.
Or place about 50 mls of Bicarb soda in a shallow pan (not aluminium) and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat oven for 20 minutes and then turn off. Leave the pan overnight. This will loosen foods that have become baked on.
Put a 5% solution of vinegar in spray bottles in the kitchen and bathroom for deodorizing and disinfecting. In the kitchen, this can be used to disinfect benches and chopping boards. Chopping boards need to be cleaned thoroughly with detergents and then rinsed off. Spraying with the vinegar solution can then act as a disinfectant. This solution can even be left on overnight. Vinegar does have a pungent odour but it is not harmful.
A solution of neat vinegar is also useful with a scrubbing brush for cleaning the toilet. A spray solution is effective in cleaning the toilet rim, spray on and wipe off. This avoids synthetic detergents, dyes and other chemicals that pollute waterways and destroy the natural bacteria required by sewerage systems to break down sewerage.
Indoor plants will help to purify the air or essential oils in an oil burner can counteract unpleasant odours.
2 teaspoons tea tree oil
2 cups water.
Combine tea tree oil and water in a spray bottle, shake before applying. No need to rinse. Strong odour will disappear within several days. Mixture has a long shelf life.
Or use a neat solution of vinegar applied directly to problem area with a spray bottle. No need to rinse.
Eucalyptus Oil rubbed on to tar, oil or grass stains loosens them miraculously before was