Dish detergents, stain removers, disinfectant sprays, and other grocery-store cleaners are expected to leave our homes spotless and sparkling, but it’s no secret that these products may be doing us—and the environment—more harm than good.
In fact, studies have found that many of the soaps lurking in your cleaning cabinet are laden with toxic chemicals like skin-irritating 2-Butoxyethanol and ammonia, cancer-causing coal-tar dyes, and corrosive lye. Exposure to these compounds over time has been shown by the David Suzuki Foundation to have damaging effects on the body, triggering symptoms related to asthma and posing threats to the functioning of our kidneys, livers, and endocrine systems—not to mention the marine pollution they produce when washed down the drain.
“There’s no government body overseeing whether or not companies are adding in anything that’s toxic or carcinogenic,” says Linh Truong, co-owner of the Soap Dispensary, a local shop that offers earth-friendly household cleaning items in bulk, during a phone interview. “So, as a consumer, it’s hard to find out what’s in these products.”
According to Truong, the biggest toxic culprit in the majority of cleaning products is the synthetic fragrance. Almost all of these scents are made from phthalates—the same type of chemicals used to soften plastics—which are known to disrupt the body’s reproductive functions. Truong notes that these perfumes are completely unnecessary and that they can also cause skin, eye, and breathing irritations for some.
“The industry has trained us to believe that if you can smell lavender, lemon, or some kind of ocean-spray scent, then our home is clean,” she says. “But that’s not the case.”
If you’re not willing to give up the squeaky-clean aroma, the ecofriendliness advocate recommends reaching for plant-based cleaning agents, such as those by Burnaby-based Sapadilla, which are scented with pure essential oils like rosemary, grapefruit, and peppermint.
These dish soaps and countertop cleansers, starting at $6.95 for 475 millilitres at various organic grocers and eco-stores across the city, use botanically derived ingredients and are free of phosphates—chemicals that increase the growth of environment-threatening algal blooms and weeds when flushed into bodies of water, thus reducing oxygen levels and causing illness in fish and humans.
Many of these products are also biodegradable. The all-purpose cleaners and dishwashing powders from Burnaby-based Live for Tomorrow, for example, are septic- and water-safe, so they won’t harm the Earth before, during, or after use. These cleaning agents start at $8.95 for 500 millilitres and can also be found at select grocers across the city, as well as green stores like the Soap Dispensary (3718 Main Street).
Aside from the betterment of your health and the environment, this array of local, primarily family-operated businesses producing quality ecofriendly cleaners should be enough to lure you to the green side.
“The more we support this industry, the more affordable it will become for most people, too,” says Truong.