Are green cleaning products worth the money?
We need to consider the long term environmental effects of cleaning products for the environment. But the health effects of such products also merit some consideration. Here's a look at why green cleaning products are the best choice for health, for the environment and for our pockets!
Read on below to find out why and how green cleaning can be cheaper as well as better for the planet.
Here are some of the main reasons why many conventional cleaning products can be harmful to health and the environment.
Many liquid cleaning products contain ammonia, acids such as sodium hydroxide (lye) or bleach. These strong chemicals may kill germs but they are hazardous to other life, including humans and domestic pets.
Bleach used in moderation in the home does not have a negative effect upon the wider environment; however the fumes of concentrated bleach are a health hazard. Please see Vinegar and Bleach for more on the hazards of using bleach.
Ammonia is reasonably safe for humans and pets in the solutions present in household chemicals but is a known hazard for amphibians, as their bodies cannot break it down. It is therefore classed as a environmental danger. In domestic use it can cause irritation of mucus membranes and skin, so can be a health hazard used in a confined space (like inside an oven).
The dangers of fragrances
Most modern liquid chemical cleaners will also contain artificial fragrances to disguise the smell of the effective agents. Many such fragrances are themselves environmental toxins. Many of them persist in the environment - i.e. they do not break down harmlessly.
Many other chemical constituents of cleaning products may have unknown environmental and health effects, either singly or in combination with other chemicals. The Environmental Working Group does a lot of good work in uncovering some of the hazards of cleaning products. In fact, they are currently developing a "Hall of Shame" of toxic cleaning products.
PFCs, (polyfluorocarbons) for example, have been found in several cleaning products. These chemicals can affect human blood and may also persist in the environment for years. Indeed some kinds of PFC may never break down. Some of these compounds are found in marine wildlife around the world. While domestic sources of such pollution may be small*, it is well worth considering the risks for your family and yourself and therefore limiting your use of these toxic products.
*PFCs are found in many manufactured items around the home, not just cleaning products.
Many modern cleaning chemicals are sold in special bottles some of which are difficult to recycle. To see what is recyclable, look for the “chasing arrows” triangle, usually imprinted in the plastic on the base of the bottle.
Local authorities vary in their facilities for recycling. Most in the developed nations by now have facilities for re-cycling PET (or PETE) plastic which is identified by the chasing triangles logo with a number 1 inside. This is the ever-useful polyethylene which is also used in the manufacture of a host of common products. This represents the vast bulk of plastic bottles in use for domestic products. Nevertheless, recycling rates are still relatively low in many countries – 60 million bottles a day going to landfill in the USA, according to earth911.com
HDPE (#2) is also commonly recycled. Other plastic categories are less commonly recycled. Changing to non-toxic cleaning liquids and compounds will also reduce the number of plastic bottles you get through.
There are health food shops, food co-ops and some other stores which will sell you common products such as Ecover or BioD in recycled bottles – or you bring your own. My local health food shop has saved around 40,000 bottles from use by encouraging customers to refill their bottles in store.
The chemical residues left in the bottom of empty bottles may also be a problem for recycling companies, increasing the clean-up costs associated with chemicals.
Most green cleaning products sold in shops take a responsible approach to reuse and recycling.
When we use standard chemical cleaning agents in the home (and on the car) we tend to have to use a lot of water to wash away the chemicals. This in itself is a bad thing, as water is becoming more and more an environmental issue. Water processing (to make it safe for consumption) takes energy and contributes to climate change. So the more you use, the more the environmental cost.
Many areas are also beginning to run short of water as demand increases from population pressure and increased domestic and industrial usage.
Water that is laden with chemicals takes more sophisticated and expensive processing to make it safe for recycling. The wider environment may suffer, too. Run off from car washing for example may contaminate local plants and soil. Chemicals that are tipped down the toilet may also leach into the wider environment and pollute water sources.
Using a selection of eco-cleaners and plain water is less damaging and will usually entail less water use. A steam cleaner is another useful ally in the quest to use less water. Steam cleaners are surprisingly stingy in their use of water. However, there is the energy cost of electricity to consider, too.
If you use less water for cleaning you are likely to save money as water companies generally charge by volume of water used.
There are now liquid cleaners that contain natural and organic ingredients such as lemon juice (or its derivatives) and vinegar.
Many of these more eco-friendly cleaners are quite effective and may be used to replace most of the standard chemical cleaners in home cleaning.
Please see the section on natural cleaning for lots of examples of effective non-toxic cleaning products and methods.
It is also worth using home steam cleaners. They do not need the use of liquid chemicals at all - just water. They provide high-powered and effective cleaning for many domestic purposes. Of course, they do use a certain amount of electricity.
Green cleaners are also less expensive.
This might seem an extravagant claim if you walk down the supermarket aisle and check prices. Eco-friendly products are nearly always dearer.
However, if you include in your cleaning arsenal such simple natural ingredients as vinegar, salt and washing soda, you should find that the number of additional commercial products you need to buy is minimal.
I tend to use an eco-washing powder (usually Ecover or the Co-op's own brand, both of which are good), a washing up liquid – (usually Ecover) and apart from that, almost everything else gets done with the basic arsenal of natural household cleaners.
I also use a small amount of bleach for a deeper clean from time to time. I also use washballs for some machine washes and these really do make laundry day a frugal affair! Please see Washballs offer cheap green cleaning for your laundry.
Microfiber cloths also make green cleaning cheaper, as they last for a very long time and need no chemicals at all to be effective. I've found these green cleaning products very durable. If you buy a pack of eight or ten cloths you can expect not to have to buy again for several years at least, depending on how you use them, of course. You can find microfiber cloths and other green cleaning materials at Amazon
Economical natural cleaning
Many eco-friendly cleaning products are actually quite economical to use. I find that Ecover washing up liquid lasts a good long time, despite appearing quite thin. The washing powders are also at least as economical weight for weight as their more chemical-laden cousins. There have been technological advances that have meant that eco-cleaners are far more effective than of old.
If you use a few commercial green cleaning products together with an array of natural cleaners from your store cupboard, you should find that non-toxic home cleaning can become far cheaper than before. Check out my section on natural household cleaners for the full story on non-toxic cleaning around the home.
Many green cleaning products such as Seventh Generation Liquid Laundry are available from Amazon.
I believe it is best to choose either well established brands or products from small, local businesses. Big brands, such as Ecover or Seventh Generation invest a lot of time, money and research into developing and marketing excellent products. They specialise in producing genuine green products which bear rigorous scrutiny.
Small, local outfits also very often produce good eco-friendly products from relatively simple, safe ingredients. They do not have the scale of production or development budgets of the large companies, so are more likely to use tried and tested recipes and formulas.
Supermarkets and other big non-specialist brands are far more likely to be just "jumping on a band-wagon" for extra profit. I've tried one or two so-called green products from big retailers such as supermarkets and they are often mediocre or worse. See the examples in the Your Cleaner Reviews and Tips - on the nav bar or on my cleaning reviews page.
It is also good to check the product ingredients list. In the past I've bought some good products which turned out to also include parabens (these chemicals are used as preservatives and are damaging to the environment and human health). Some small producers of face and hand creams seem to think that parabens are acceptable, for example.
If you try out green cleaning products and come across good ones - or terrible ones, please consider adding them to the site by using the Cleaning Reviews and Tips page. You can also add them via Facebook, below or use the Add Your Tips! page (see the nav bar). Thank you.
Green Cleaning Products and How to Choose Them
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