Sunday, June 29, 2008

Leave the House Dirty

In the most recent edition of Conceive magazine (of which I am not a proponent in general, but it had some interesting articles) I learned of the potentially hazardous effects on our children's fertility from certain household cleaners!

In short, things to avoid are: fragrances, petroleum-based surfactants, and solvents. You can read more about the results of the recent study's findings here. To give you a taste, though, here is a tidbit about the dangers of fragrances I found compelling: " The manufacturers want you to smell the fragrance when you open the box, when you use the product, and then later when you smell the clothes.... However, fragrances in nature disperse quickly; phthalates bond the fragrance to the clothing so you keep smelling it." Scary. Another group of chemicals, alkyl phenoxy ethoxylates (APEs) are found in many laundry detergents and some of them are actually ingredients in spermicide as well. Enough said!

So, what are we to do? What are some favorite brand names or, better yet, recipes for safe home cleaning options that will not endanger our chances of becoming grandmothers?!


Stephanie said...

I have heard the most natural and easiest whole house cleaner is what our grandmothers used. Vinegar and Water in a spray bottle. I have even seen some brand name products that are now vinegar...I've used it and it doesn't stink if you don't use too much vinegar.

Right Said Red said...

Yeah, we just stared buying more "green" cleaning products. I like the spray cleaner called "Green Works."

I also tried buying 7th generation dish detergent, and I have to admit, I'm not pleased ;-(

k said...

Red, it is universally agreed upon among my green-minded friends that 7th gen dish detergent stinks, I recall Alice mentioning it made her dishwasher leak :) Not sure how that works I just know it did not get my dishes very clean.

I use Biokleen powder as my favorite choice, also have used Ecover and liked it. I found if I use less of the Biokleen then I would think and stop my dishwasher before it dries (good for the environment also) then I don't tend to get any caked on powder anywhere.

I would love other suggestions though. I order my Biokleen on and get free shipping since no store in my area caries. it

Anonymous said...

For us poor grad students the new "eco-friendly" cleaners are sadly way out of price range. I did find great success with the book Queen of Clean. Its a great little book for tips on how to clean almost anything and almost all things can be cleaned with some combination of Borax, Vinegar, Baking Soda and Salt. Even clogged drains!!! The vinegar is GREAT but don't dilute too much or you lose the cleaning power. It loses the smell when it dries even if it is straight vinegar. As far as detergent goes, my pediatrician says that ALL Free and Tide Free are safe even for newborns. we use ALl Free for the whole family and it's great and cheap

Ellie Raduns said...

I use pretty much vinegar and baking soda for everything. You can even do Laundry with just baking soda. For soap, Dr. Bronners is great and has no bad ingredients, it can also be used for shampoo. Soaps, shampoos, and other beauty products, even if they are organic, can have less than desirable ingredients.

As far as brands, Shacklee, seems to be pretty good. On our family blog we I have links to three locations:
Green cleaning, where you will find shacklee info, and how to order.

Environmental working group which rates cosmetics/shampoo/soap etc for saftley and gives you a breakdown of what is in most things you are using. Very helpful and everything has a safety and effective rating.

The last is a link to Debra Lynn Dadd's website. She has all sort of chemical reduction suggestions. Her site also has a blog for you to ask questions etc.

Be wary of products like "green works" and others from large companies. "green works" in particular is no better than the non green counter part in terms of your health...

Right Said Red said...

""green works" in particular is no better than the non green counter part in terms of your health."

Can you explain why?

I have this problem in general in that I don't recognize the ingredients in even "natural" or organic cleaners. Can you explain what is in this type of cleaner that is bad?

Ellie Raduns said...

sorry Red didn't mean to "dis" your green works.

"Although green cleaners may purport to list all ingredients, the market is largely unregulated -- which means consumers still must be wary of what's in the bottle. Even cleaning products labeled "natural" may contain some fraction of synthetic chemicals. Or they may contain natural ingredients consumers would rather avoid, such as petroleum distillates, some of which can cause cancer. And just because a cleaning product is biodegradable and made from plant-based sources doesn't mean that it is without potential adverse effects on health," quote from LA time articles (,0,4434710.story).
Green works, if I remember correctly from another article published, but I can't seem to find now, has various plant sources that are "unknown" in their effects. They also contain petroleum distillants. (sorry about spelling)
Pretty much, I don't want to bash green works, but I think it is a fair statment that "going green" is a money maker, so that is where large corporations are heading. Same with the organic labels.

Most organic products are literally no better than their non-organic or green counter parts. Many of them at times are even worse for you, but just think, they were made from 70% organic before they added 30% toxic chemicals...not bad right?
Well ultimatley you get to make the call for your family, and I am not going to tell you to not buy green works or any other product for that matter, I just wonder what we will find out about the unknown plant based "oils," that are easy found for mass use, in the future.

A helpful list of ingredients to for sure avoid.
phosphates – cause algae proliferation in bodies of water, killing marine life
nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE’s) – cause reproductive defects, liver and kidney damage
phthalates – cause sperm damage and reproductive defects in boys
volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), including 1,4-dichlorobenzene – cause nose and throat irritation, dizziness, asthma
glycol ethers

Just remeber when picking up any product for "cleaning or hygiene" that the manufacturer is not required by any kind of law to list all the ingredients present in the bottle thank you FDA. That's why I can't reccomend enough visiting the Environmental working group website, they are a non for profit group, decoding the ingredients in mounds of "cleaning" products, the results will shock you I'm sure. Skin deep is the personal care link on the ewg homepage.

Sorry, I hope that answered your question.

Ellie Raduns said...

The "greenest of green" options for cleaning. At least you know when you are using Baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and soda water, you are only using them.

There is a book called "Queen of Clean"
she has tons of natural everyday ingredients to use to clean your house.

Some examples would be:

Use as a safe non-scratch scrub for metals and porcelain.
To clean your oven, simply sprinkle a cup or more of baking soda over the bottom of the oven, then cover the baking soda with enough water to make a thick paste. Let the mixture set overnight. The next morning the grease will be easy to wipe up because the grime will have loosened. When you have cleaned up the worst of the mess, dab a bit of liquid detergent or soap on a sponge, and wash the remaining residue from the oven.
To unclog a drain, pour 1/2 - 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, then slowly pour 1/2 - 1 cup of vinegar in after it. Cover the drain and let it sit for 15 minutes. If it bubbles like a volcano, it means it's working as planned. Flush with a gallon of boiling water.
Deodorize dry carpets by sprinkling liberally with baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes, then vacuum.
To rid your garbage disposal of foul smells, add vinegar to water for ice cubes, then let a few of them get chopped by your disposal.

Sterilize Sponges and Rags in Your Microwave because they are some of the top sources for illness-causing germs in your home; and

A University of Florida team found that putting your wet sponge in the microwave for two minutes at full power could kill 99 percent of a wide range of bacteria, viruses and parasites (including B. cereus spores after four minutes, which are normally able to survive extreme heat and radiation).

Keep in mind, however, that you MUST SOAK THE SPONGE BEFORE MICROWAVING IT, or else it will likely catch fire and possibly ruin the microwave, if not your house. Additionally, the way this works is by causing the water in the sponge to turn to hot steam, which is what kills the bacteria. Also make sure the sponges do not contain any metallic components.

Zapping your sponges in the microwave every other day will decontaminate them better than simply putting them in the dishwasher, which is the strategy I had been using previously.

AWOL Mommy said...

I just want to say that I love the internet.

I love the internet for the fact that I can merely post my naive shock at the scary stuff in cleaning products and we are immediately blessed with the likes of ellie raduns... illuminating us on it all and showing us the wonderful environmental working group site What a bonanza! Thanks, from me and my fam.

Juris Mater said...

Does vinegar really kill germs? I'm a bit of a germophobe, and I feel pretty good about life when I attack a bacterial surface with a spray bottle full of toxic chemicals. Say you're working with raw meat on your counter, or your toddler has a poop accident. Vinegar? Seriously? I'll have a hard time giving up Lysol wipes.

Also, how about Purell hand sanitizer? Is that making me and my kids infertile or cancer-ridden? (Actually based on track record, I don't think it's making me infertile, but what about the kids?) That's another thing I'd have a hard time giving up. When a sick child sneezes on a surface that my child then touches at the bookstore, do I just squeeze a lemon over my child's hand? I know people survived in the past without Purell, but I can't imagine how : )

Juris Mater said...

I nominate Ellie to be our official Building Cathedrals natural living consultant. Hardcore. More hardcore than Red. This is VERY helpful. Thanks.

Mad Cow is still our official meat production consultant. Poor beast.

Ellie Raduns said...

Juris Mater,
Yes, I know it is hard to believe, but vinegar really does disinfect, even the nasty meat juice that is on your counter. True story, we host church here at our house, and we have a number of potty training toddlers, I trust vinegar so much that I have cleaned up Poop mistakes from the floor with it. Needless to say non of us have gotten sick, and the floor doesn't smell:)
Why does vinegar work? Vinegar especially undiluted is one of natures harshest acids. The acid family, just like lemon just produces a ph that is unfriendly for breading bacteria. It is also said to be one of the most effective cleaners for preventing food borne illness
The article is pretty sciency, but the point is the last sentence in the description.
As far as Purell is concerned, for what it is worth, it isn't a necessary buy. I'm not sure about the ingredients in purell, but I know from our own personal science experiment in college, that some "hand Sanitizers" actually promote bacterial growth b/c of other additives in them. When placed in a petri dish they grow produce bateria, unlike, lemon juice or vinegar counterparts. Now, I am not saying Purell is producing bacteria, but in general the purpose of most of those types of products, is the rubbing action. The rubbing, friction, and heat kill the bacteria. So, if you ditch the purell, have your children rub your hands together for 20 seconds to kill the jerms.
Remember, exposure to germs and bacteria in small doeses actually helps bust our immune system. The antibacterial craze can actually bread super bacteria that are more difficult to kill. like the MERSA scare several months ago. Play in the dirt, share some toys, and don't use purell everyday...let the little ones immune systems grow and develop. MOst of bacteria illnesses aren't going to make a home in you unless your "home" is the right environment for growth. So much of that is contingent upon how you feed and take care of your body. Germs aren't to be feared...they ultimatley make our bodies stronger.

Kat said...

This is a great discussion for me to read right now, as we're just moving into our first home and I really want to take good care of it!!

Dumb question, but do you just use plain white distilled vinegar?

Kat said...

Has anyone heard of the Ha-Ra cleaning products? My mom brought me some from Germany, and I have been very pleased with them!!

Ellie, any word on how "green" they are? The website says that they are eco-friendly...

Anonymous said...

Purell is alcohol in gel form. It's the alcohol which kills germs.

texas mommy said...

Thanks for bringing this up, AWOL Mommy. I have been trying to transition out of chemical things as I use them up and this information is just what I needed.

I was a total germophobe like Juris Mater, but all the evidence is telling me that my horrible allergies (the ones that my kids inherited since they are passed through the mother) is from a too sanitized upbringing. So I don't freak out when my boys eat dirt anymore. And that binky goes right back in the mouth!

k said...

Ellie...any thoughts on dishwashing detergent. My understanding from a few sources is that a fully loaded dishwasher uses less water then hand-washing and quite frankly, I'm not hand-washing my dishes. I'm lucky if they make it into the dishwasher period.

But dishwashing detergent is a big source of angst for me (see my above comment) I've tried all different brands, I want to use a "green" one that really is "green" and also works! So, having said that I will go check out those websites you listed...but would love some recommendations for some of you other moms

Ellie Raduns said...

answers to questions....k and Kat.

Okay, so the vinegar question: Yes, just use white distilled vinegar, any variety will do. I do reccomend organic..these are for sure distilled from grain sources.

The HA-RA question: I have now email 2 different sources. I haven't heard back from either yet. So I will keep you posted when I hear. I did however, email the company, and I haven't heard back from them either. I can say this. Their fibers don't seem to be naturally occuring. They also tought how "eco-friendly" they are and don't say much about your health. Just b/c they are bio-degratable, and water saving doesn't mean they are good for doesn't mean they are not good for you I will get back to you.

Dishwashing detergent. As previously posted, I highly reccomend shacklee's. It works well, and you don't need to use that much of it. It doesn't cake. I do, however, set my dishwasher to the "air dry" setting to save on electric. It is amazing how well the dishs dry with just the residual heat left in the washer. I commend you for seeking out "greener" options for dishwashers, as that detergent in particular is one of the most toxic substances found in most peoples homes. If you are still using conventional, just fill the first compartment and not the second. This will allow you two "rinse" cycles to be sure all of your detergent is off the dishes. this could also be the solution for the caking problem. As a society in general we use WAY TOO MUCH OF EVERYTHING. Your dishes will still be clean with just one compartment filled, and your soap will last twice as long.

Sink soap: Highly reccomend Dr. Bronners. Even for dishes. It soaps well, and it gets everything clean. Plus it is very cheap.

Juris Matter. Your kids aren't getting cancer from purell, I just wanted to make that distinction. My comment was more related to the fact that they are probably better off being exposed to the germs and viruses as it will make their immune systems stronger. Remember antibacterial just means bacterial..and most common colds or flus are just virual, so again I reccomend the hand rubbing technique w/o antibacterial product. (now you don't need to post it red)

Sara said...

Anyone use Fels-Naptha? I've heard good things about it, but I'd have to order it online. is a fun site for this sort of stuff.

Ellie Raduns said...

From the NIH
Ingredients from MSDS/label for Fels Naptha
Stoddard Solvent aka petroleum distillate (rating of a 7 which is a high hazard)
Various known health problems with petroleum dis. Look at the EWG chemical list
Fatty Acids, c-8-c18 and c-18 unsaturated (gets a 0 for low hazard)
Terpene/hydrocarbons. (gets a 0 for a low hazard ingredient.

Mary Alice said...

I had just turned off the 'heated dry" setting on my dishwasher a few days ago and was actually going to post about it -- the cycle takes about half as long, and if I crack the dishwasher open at the end of the cycle the dishes are dry from the evaporation and ready to put away in just a few minutes, actually less time than the heated dry cycle took.

We sometimes have to run the dishwasher twice a day (totally full) and I feel guilt about this, so I am glad to be using less energy on it.

Also, I love how saving energy is one of the "green" things you can do that actually saves money -- since I am paying slightly more for green cleaners, organic food, etc. I also get 5 cents back at the grocery store for bringing my own bags!

k said...

Yes, we turned off our heated dry but our dishwasher still does a "dry" cycle so I have to be home and on the ball enough to run in and stop it before it starts drying.

I actually loathe the dry cycle because it cakes stuff on and uses more energy and as Alice mentioned..the stuff drip dries pretty darn quick on it's own.

I am hoping when it comes time for a new dishwasher (on my list for potential birthday presents, and embarrassing how excited I am about the prospect of this) I want one that I can tell it to not dry at all.

I will try shacklee's, I had heard good things about it from other sources as well. Our water is really funky, it is town-wide well water and it reacts in weird ways to everything. It ruins cloth diapers, everything in the wash gets grey rather then white and I get really funky pink mold if I am not super-vigilant with scrubbing sinks/toilets/tubs which I'm not.

I'm not sure if this is really "hard" water or just bizarre water and if it is really all the main water fault or if our house pipes have anything to do with it, but it makes finding good products even that much harder because some things work well with it and some react in weird ways.

Now you guys know way to much about Hopewell water. Sorry.

Right Said Red said...


"Bizarre water"



Ellie Raduns said...


I got one email response back about the HA-RA question you had. I emailed Debra lynn Dadd and this was her response:

I don't know anything about this product specifically, but in general, microfiber cloths that clean with water only are made of synthetic plastic fibers made from nonrenewable crude oil. They don't biodegrade.

There are pros and cons to these cloths that you need to weigh for yourself. On one hand, they are much better than using toxic chemicals. On the other hand, they will sit in landfills forever.

Personally, I find that I can clean more than sufficiently with baking soda, vinegar, soap, and natural, biodegradable cloths. So I don't recommend them.

Debra :-)

I also emailed the company to get more specifics and I haven't heard anything still..