Cleaning products are commonly used in homes and buildings. Most standard cleaning products today have health and environmental implications. For instance, these products may cause breathing and skin problems and deplete the ozone layer. There are many natural products and methods that may help keep buildings clean and fresh-smelling without toxic effects.
"Green cleaning" is a new approach to housekeeping and janitorial services. Proponents believe that green products offer improved health and safety (to humans, animals, and the environment) while maintaining the same sanitation quality as standard cleaning products. However, opponents argue that twice as much or more of the green cleaning products are needed to perform like standard cleaning products.
According to Project Laundry List, a nonprofit organization that aims to demonstrate that personal choices make a difference for the Earth, about 35 billion loads of laundry are washed annually in the United States, with an average household wash of 50 pounds of laundry in 7.4 weekly loads, thus cleaning about 6,000 items annually. The mission of Project Laundry List is making air-drying laundry acceptable and desirable as a simple and effective way of saving energy. About 50% of all loads are washed in warm water, 35% in cold, and 15% in hot, and about 90% of these loads are dried in gas or electric dryers.
A large load of laundry impacts the environment significantly. Green cleaning may be an alternative method of cleaning while preserving the environment.
General: Most standard cleaning products available have health and environmental implications. Instead of avoiding the use of standard cleaning products, such as chlorine bleach, natural products and methods may have many of the same positive results without toxic effects.
More brands of healthy, green, and effective cleaning products are now available at local grocers and drug stores, as the health and environmental impact of standard cleaning products has become more understandable. These products are non-toxic, chemical-free, biodegradable, and made from renewable resources, not petroleum.
Standard/conventional cleaning products
General: Although standard cleaning products might not bear warning labels, many contain chemicals that pose problems to the environment and public health. Examples of these chemicals include petroleum, phosphate, ethylenediaminetetraacetic (EDTA), chlorine bleach, phathalates, and antibacterial agents.
Petroleum: Many standard cleaning products are derived from petroleum. Extraction and refinement of nonrenewable resources like petroleum contribute to air and water pollution. In contrast, green cleaning products are made from renewable resources that help sustain a better environment.
Phosphate/ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, (EDTA): Phosphates have traditionally been used in detergents to soften water (or decrease the concentration of dissolved minerals) and increase cleaning power. Cleaning power is the strength of a detergent to remove dirt or stain from clothing. That is, the higher the cleaning power of a detergent, the smaller the amount that may be used for a large load of laundry. Phosphate has also been used to encourage the growth of algae in waterways depriving marine life of oxygen.
EDTA is a common substitute for phosphates. It degrades slowly in the environment into the soil. It gradually changes the quality of the soil and contaminates groundwater. Green cleaning products instead are free of EDTA or phosphates, thus do not pose such a threat to the environment.
Chlorine bleach: Chlorine bleach is popular for whitening and disinfecting; however, it may harm the environment by contributing to the formation of chlorine-carbon compounds, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) that damage the earth's ozone layer. Green products, however, use oxygen for whitening and as a result maintain the ozone layer.
Antibacterial agents: The use of cleansers containing antibacterials or antibacterial components, such as benzalkonium chloride may contribute to increased antibiotic-resistant bacteria resulting in difficult-to-treat human illnesses.
Phathalates: Phathalates are used by manufacturers in cleaning products to prolong the scent of the cleaning products. However, they have been linked to cancer and diseases of the reproductive system in laboratory animals.
General: Green cleaning products often contain the following environmentally friendly ingredients: citrus- and plant-based oils, sodium carbonate/sodium citrate/sodium silicate, enzymes, or non-chlorine bleach. Some people use homemade remedies to clean their homes, offices, or personal items.
Citrus- and plant-based oils: Citrus- and plant-based oils may be used as degreasers (orange/lemon) or disinfectants (tea tree). These products may also help refresh the air.
Sodium carbonate: This product works similarly to phosphates/EDTA because it helps soften water but without producing harmful effects. Sodium carbonate, also known as washing soda or sal soda, is used as a softener during laundering. It effectively removes grease, oil, and alcohol stains. It may be found in the detergent sections of stores.
Non-chlorine products: Non-chlorine products use oxygen to whiten and brighten clothes.
Homemade remedies: Consumers may also create cleaning products themselves. Vinegar, alcohol, and baking soda may be used to clean most items, such as carpeting, kitchen countertops, windows, and more. Individuals may mix any of these products with a little warm water to create all-purpose cleaners.
Citrus cleaners contain an active ingredient called D-limonene derived from the peels of citrus fruits such as oranges. D-limonene acts as a solvent for removing grease and dirt. It is made completely from renewable resources and it leaves behind a citrus aroma. D-limonene is biodegradable, thereby helping to keep the environment clean.
Tea tree oils contain an active ingredient called terpinen-4-ol, which has antiseptic activity.
Besides promoting healthy habits, green cleaning also benefits the environment. With natural cleaning products, fewer toxic chemicals are deposited into the sewer, potentially leading to better quality drinking water and improved air quality.
General: Green cleaning is a term used to describe products in janitorial services that are environmentally friendly. Most of these products have been certified by Green Seal, a nonprofit organization that develops eco-friendly standards.
Proponents of green cleaning products claim that they offer many of the same benefits as standard cleaning products, without the toxic effects. Most standard cleaning products contain ingredients, such as chlorine that are irritants to the lungs and eyes, and ammonia, which is poisonous if swallowed and extremely irritating to the lungs if inhaled.
Handle homemade remedies with care, particularly those containing alcohol. Individuals should avoid close proximity to heat and flames because alcohol-containing products are highly flammable.
Skin: Natural cleaning products containing citrus-based oils and tea tree oils might cause some skin irritation. Flush the skin thoroughly with water if irritation occurs.
Head: Avoid eye and mouth contact with natural products containing citrus-based oils. They may irritate the throat, lungs, or eyes. Wash thoroughly with water if any contact occurs.
Environment: Standard cleaning products, such as petroleum or tetrachloroethylene (PCE), may contaminate the soil or groundwater. In contrast, if natural cleaning products spill into groundwater, they may not result in harmful effects on plants, animals, or the environment because they are biodegradable, meaning they may be broken down further either by plants or animals without harmful effects.
FUTURE RESEARCH OR APPLICATIONS
Green Seal™ is an independent, non-profit organization that works with manufacturers, industries, and the government to evaluate and monitor the production and purchasing of green cleaning products. Also, they may develop environmental standards and certify products meeting green standards.
This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).
- Green Seal™,
The Mark of Environmental Responsibility. www.greenseal.org. Accessed January 7, 2009.
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