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No More Dirty Cleaning

We’re in the midst of Spring here in Hobart; time to open your windows, let in a little warmth and

fresh air and clean out the dust and heavy damp of Winter. When I was studying health science in

Melbourne, one of my lecturers spoke about how it was important to air your home out as much as

possible, to minimise the air pollution inside. She explained how indoor pollution in the average home partially comes from the harsh chemicals in cleaning products, including air fresheners, window cleaners, bleach, detergents etc. At this point,one of the smarty pants in the class (yes; there’s always one of them, and no; I promise it wasn’t me) proclaimed that it was important to use these products because they killed germs as well as tackling dirt. This is a popular view and many are convinced we need to use strong chemical cleaners to have a clean and safe home.


Our lecturer then pointed out there’s growing evidence these products can harm our health and the

environment. The cleaning industry uses thousands of chemical ingredients which many consumers

assume have been tested for long-term safety. What actually happens is many ingredients are

tested individually for short-term reactions like skin irritation, but not tested for long-term safety.

What is also not tested is the cocktail effect of exposure to multiple chemicals within the one

product; an effect which may be increased with the use of many products within the home.

Cleaning products are a mix of chemicals, including fragrances, solvents, detergents etc. Often labels only list a few of the ingredients. They might only identify a chemical class (e.g. “alcohol

ethoxylates”) or functional classes (e.g. “preservatives”).


It is a difficult area to research as there are so many products on the market containing so many

substances. Some of what we do know though is many products contain preservatives that release

low levels of formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing). Ammonia and its

compounds, often found in window, oven and floor cleaners is a lung, skin and eye irritant and can trigger asthma. The main chemical in household bleach, sodium hypochlorite emits fumes that are toxic. Fragrances in air fresheners and cleaners can disrupt the body’s delicate hormonal levels. This is just the tip of the iceberg.


So, our lecturer suggested using microfibre cloths to mop floors and clean surfaces. These are

widely available, low-cost and are washed and reused. Unless you live on a busy road, open your

windows and let in fresh air as much as possible.


Find cleaner brands. Be aware that industry labelling regulations are lax and companies make all

sorts of unsubstantiated claims their products are “all-natural” or “organic” or “eco.” Organisations

like the non-profit Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) are a trustworthy resource for

information about clean brands.


Make your own products! It’s easy, saves money and uses basic ingredients like white vinegar and

bicarb soda (see below). For germ-killing effects, add essential oils. (At this point, smarty pants snorted and said “but aren’t they just hippy oils? What use would they be?”) Many essential oils like tea-tree, sage,oregano, thyme and eucalyptus oils have been shown in research to possess a wide spectrum of anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. After that, smarty pants had nothing more to say and was quiet for the rest of the class.


Cream cleanser paste

Add 6 teaspoons bicarb of soda to 3 teaspoons of clean brand detergent, plus a few drops of any

essential oil (optional).


Window cleaner

Add ½ litre white vinegar to 1 litre of warm water. Dampen a cloth in this liquid and wipe windows. Use wads of newspaper to dry and polish.




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