It has been a crazy year, so this spring I am especially ready to embrace my “spring cleaning” routine. I’m emptying closets and wiping down drawers, passing on the stuff we never use or have outgrown. And I’m cleaning behind the appliances, vacuuming headboards, lifting the cushions, and probing into the corners for a deep-clean like never before.
Before COVID-19, the EPA stated that indoor air pollution was a pressing national concern and cited that indoor air is usually two to five times (and as much as 100 times) more polluted than outdoor air. I can only imagine that’s more impactful since we’re spending so much time at home.
Are cleaning products safe?
Common irritants and hazards found in conventional cleaners include ammonia, bleach, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, didecyldimethylammonium chloride (DDAC), and 2-butoxyethanol.
Want to know if you’ve got a harmful VOC or solvent in your products? Visit the MADE SAFE Banned List of 6,500 ingredients to avoid. Once there, scroll down to the search box and enter the ingredients from your household cleaners to see if any of them are on our Banned List. (If it turns out you need a replacement cleaner, you can search recommended products here too.)
Sure, you can still use baking soda, vinegar-water, and castile soap in hot water for most household chores, but you don’t have to go full DIY if you’d rather grab a bottle and get right to it.
One problem with many cleaners is the scent or fragrance. An easy choice is to opt for fragrance-free cleaners. If you absolutely need a cleaner with a scent, make sure the label says what’s inside the fragrance. If the ingredient list simply says “fragrance,” skip it because there are hundreds of harsh or harmful chemicals that can legally be included in a formula disguised by that one word.
Air fresheners, plug-ins, or scented candles without disclosures can be dangerous. Those items are likely polluting indoor air, not making them better. Some air freshener chemicals are associated with cancer and others are respiratory irritants. It’s best to skip them entirely. If you find you really want an aroma to mask another smell, probe further. There could be a mold issue or something else, and it would be prudent to treat instead of covering up the smell.
Ingredients to avoid
Other ingredients to look out for that are common in household cleaning solutions are Ammonium Quaternary “quat” compounds. These are recognized as “quaternium” followed by a number such as 15 or ending with “ammonium chloride” as in alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (ADBACs) or Cetrimonium Chloride. Most quats are believed to be endocrine-disrupting compounds linked to human reproductive or other hormonal issues as well as aquatic harm. Doctors and scientists say the best cure is prevention, so avoidance is the strategy here.
Beware of the use of antibacterial or antimicrobial products. Those can contain methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone, both known irritants and skin sensitizers resulting in contact allergies and more. Also avoid the surfactant ethanolamine compounds (MEA, TEA, DEA) often found in cleaning products and linked to health harms.
Spring cleaning do’s and don’ts
Start by opening the windows. This allows fresh air to circulate and immediately improves the air quality in your home.
When cleaning, use the right product for the job. You don’t need something stronger than the job entails. Even if you’re prepping for a big clean.
Amy’s favorite spring cleaning tasks
- Clean the walls. How? Wrap a broom with a damp cloth and clean the dust from the top of the walls down to the floorboards. Then mop the floor with warm, soapy water, and let dry. (Guess what, you don’t need anything more than warm soapy water to clean floors!) The damp towel will capture dust, spider webs, dirt, AND flame-retardant chemicals caught in that house dust and bring them to the floor where the mop will wipe them away.
- Remember the baseboards. A damp cloth will remove lingering dust or cobwebs. For regular cleanups, note that damp mopping is preferable to sweeping, as it can capture invisible chemicals that hang out in house dust. It’s incredible the things we can’t smell, taste, or even see, but this is motivation to clean up!
- Wipe down the door frames and high-touch areas with a warm sponge. Dirt and oils from hands can otherwise make these places look grungy.
- Wipe down the oven with hot soapy water. Use baking soda to lift baked-on goods.
- Use a HEPA vac to dust furniture, even pillows, headboards, and curtains.
- Use vinegar and water around windows to make sure there’s no mold collecting in the corners or crevices.
- Clean the washing machine with a vinegar and water rinse or wash with dishwashing detergent to clean out the machine periodically.
Armed with this list of what to avoid and safe cleaning tips, I hope you feel prepared to clean better than ever and help create a healthier home at the same time.