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BY GEORGE: Are Cleaners Clean?

We use them all the time around the world, for cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, floors, dishes. What’s in them, and are they safe?

Cleaning products often contain chemicals that allow oil to be broken down and be washed away. Many also contain bleaches and abrasives, such as terpenes, which come from volatile oils of plants, used as fragrances or solvents. When vaporized some of these compounds can combine with air pollutants (including ozone) and become toxic, such as in the form of formaldehyde. Other cleaners contain potential respiratory and eye irritants called glycol ethers.

There’s often no list of ingredients on the cleaners because they contain “proprietary” formulas, which companies don’t need to break down into every component in the mix. A lot of the so-called “green” cleaners have these formulas, plus they frequently list only what they don’t include, such as chlorine, or no phosphates, which break down in the water system.

What should you do? First, use the smallest amount of cleaner possible. Even less then the so-called recommended amount is usually plenty. And remember to ventilate the area you’re cleaning. Open windows, use exhaust fans, and also where protective gear, including masks.

Always recap products immediately, and NEVER mix cleaners, especially ones containing chlorine bleach and others containing ammonia, which can produce toxic fumes.

If you use aerosols or pump sprays, remember, they spread chemicals into the air all around you. If you can, avoid products with fragrances, including popular lemon, lime, and pine scents. They almost all contain the volatile terpenes.

Plain soap and water are often enough to clean. One of the best cleaning solutions is a mix of white vinegar and water. As a matter of fact, using vinegar on vegetables and fruit kills more bacteria than either simple water washing or soap and water washing. Spray vinegar on the food, let stand a good 30 seconds, and then simply rinse or rub away.

And by the way, using water alone vs. soapy water does not enhance cleaning to any significant degree. You’re best off with the vinegar from all perspectives. And by the way, so far there’s no proof that green biodegradable products, or food based cleaners offer any significant health benefit than other standard products. I am not against anything “green,” of course, but insofar as the science goes, cleaning with green cleaners does not make a bunch of difference on the cleaning result itself.

By: George Elliott