Spring has sprung and many of us are breaking out our rubber gloves and preparing to deep clean our homes. Cleaning our homes not only keeps us from feeling like slobs, but it also lowers our family’s exposure to germs and ensures that we have a healthy space to live. Unfortunately, many of the cleaning products available to us can actually be rather harmful to us and to the environment. Cleaning should be something that makes you feel more at ease in your space, so this month at Imago we are featuring ways to “green” your cleaning routine. Read on to learn about what’s really in the cleaning products we have access to everyday and find out some of the resources available to make buying the safe products easier. Imago is also hosting a Green Cleaning Workshop on Saturday, March 30 where you can learn how to make your own household cleaners if you want to expand your sustainability toolkit even more.

What’s In Our Cleaning Products?

When we go to the store to buy a household cleaning product, many of us assume that those products are safe for use in our homes. Harmful to germs, yes, harmful to us, no. Unfortunately, according to a 2012 study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental and public-health focused non-profit, many easily accessible household cleaners are far from safe. The EWG tested 2000 popular household cleaners, and found that “some 53 percent…contain ingredients known to harm the lungs.” This means that some of the most widely accessible cleaning products can make the air we breathe dangerous, especially for those of us with asthma issues. In addition, they found that some products contain ingredients such as formaldehyde and chloroform which many researchers have said are likely carcinogens. When you pick up a box of cookies or a carton of juice, the ingredients are listed somewhere on the product, as is federally required. Unfortunately, cleaning products are not subject to those same requirements, leaving consumers in the dark about what is actually in the products we bring in to clean our homes.

2015 algae bloom along the banks of the Licking River. (Photo: The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Something else to look out for when perusing the cleaning aisle is something known as “greenwashing.” Because a list of ingredients is not required for cleaning products, companies can claim that their products are “green” or “non-toxic” even though they contain harsh chemicals that can be harmful to humans. This lack of transparency is also an issue when it comes to these ingredients’ impacts on the environment. In normal amounts, nitrogen and phosphorus are two nutrients that are key components of a healthy ecosystem. The problem arises, however, when there is too much of these nutrients in our air and waterways. Algae blooms and pollution of groundwater are just a few of the things that can come with the overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorus in the environment. According to the EPA, many of the commonly available dish and laundry soaps/detergents contain phosphates “which are carried from our homes into the water system through our drains.”  By seeking out phosphate free cleaners or making your own, we can reduce this nutrient pollution.

Easy Ways to Green Your Cleaning

All this information can make buying safe cleaning products sounds very overwhelming, but please don’t lose hope! There are a few helpful resources for consumers to use in order to know they are getting the safest cleaners for their homes:

  • The “Safer Choice Standard” is a certification that companies can apply for and earn if their product’s ingredients meet the EPA’s health standards. Look out for products displaying the Safer Choice logo or explore their database to find products that are safer for use in your home.
  • The EWG also compiled a Guide after completing their study that ranks thousands of common household cleaners on an A to F scale. This is a super helpful resource because it not only takes ingredients into account, but also rates the transparency of the company, making it easier to determine which brands to avoid entirely.
  • If you are a Cincinnati resident, the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District has a great resource of local outlets where you can dispose of hazardous household cleaning products you may already own.
  • Imago is hosting a Green Cleaning workshop on Saturday, March 30 from 2-4pm with the wonderful Carisa Bunten from Seventh Street Gifts. Carisa will teach you how to make your own household cleaners without the harsh chemicals and all participants will be able to make their very own Green Cleaning Starter Kit. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased on our events page.