How They Get In
Companies using toxic chemicals in their cleaning products, building materials, and pesticides tend to focus on the benefits of their products, but they don’t say much about the negative side effects. Air fresheners give off naphthalene, a suspected carcinogen. Ammonia-based window cleaners cause respiratory irritation. And some cleaners contain the nerve-damaging butyl cellosolve (also known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether), which is absorbed into the skin. These are just a few examples of the harmful chemicals that sneak into our homes. The icing on the cake? The chemical companies charge you a premium for the poisons hiding behind popular brand names.
The Bad Guys
First, familiarize yourself with the chemical culprits, scan ingredient labels on all household products, and avoid these substances whenever possible:
- butyl cellosolve
- hydrochloric acid
- hydrofluoric acid
- PDCBs (paradichlorobenzenes)
- TCE (trichloroethylene)
- petroleum distillates
- phosphoric acid
- sulfuric acid
The Good Guys
Next, keep healthy alternatives around the house. Not only will you reduce indoor pollution, but you’ll save money while doing your body a favor. Here’s the all-star team of effective chemical alternatives:
Effective mineral with mildly abrasive cleaning, whitening, and deodorizing properties. It’s very inexpensive, and great for carpet pet odors.
Derived from the fermentation of fruits or grains, vinegar has a high acid content that makes it great at killing germs, cutting grease, and dissolving mineral deposits.
A naturally occurring mineral (containing water, oxygen, sodium, and boron) with tremendously useful antiseptic, antifungal, deodorizing, and disinfectant properties. It stops the growth of mold and mildew and kills roaches.
Vegetable Oil–Based Liquid Soap
This biodegradable alternative to petroleum-based detergents can be found in health food stores.
Sometimes called soda ash, this mineral (sodium carbonate) cleans grease, oil, dirt, and lots of petroleum products. It is also a water softener and soap booster. Look for it in the supermarket laundry section.
The boiled-down essences of different plants—peppermint, lavender, and lemons, for instance—these oils can be used as natural air fresheners and to add pleasant scents to homemade cleaners. You can find some in the baking section of the grocery store.