Eco-Friendly Cleaning - The Basics

Written by Amy Boggs
Owner of Sparkling Palaces House Cleaning
What is Green Cleaning?
The term "green cleaning" gets tossed around a lot these days. As people turn an eye toward sustainability and removing unnecessary chemicals from their homes the demand for green cleaning businesses is rising. In this blog post we'll take a look at the problems associated with chemical cleaning and then focus on the benefits of eco-friendly cleaning. This article will answer two questions: why cleaning with conventional, chemical cleaning products is potentially harmful, and why green cleaning is both safe and effective.

Synthetic Chemicals
The Swiss physician Paracelsus is credited with the most famous phrase in toxicology: "the dose makes the poison." As our world becomes increasing filled with synthetic and toxic chemicals the dose we all receive every day of these chemicals is increasing. According to the New York Times article, "Think Those Chemicals Have Been Tested?" there are over 85,000 chemicals in use today.

They write: "Unlike pharmaceuticals or pesticides, industrial chemicals do not have to be tested before they are put on the market. The overwhelming majority of chemicals in use today have never been independently tested for safety." This includes chemicals that you would find in common, household cleaning products.

Common Cleaners & Risks
If many of the synthetic chemicals we find in conventional cleaning products have never been tested for safety, should be we concerned about their possible health risks? Taking a look at Lysol for instance we see that it contains a chemical called benzalkonium chloride, or alkyldimethylbenzylammonium chloride. This chemical is added to Lysol as a biocidal agent. It is an organic salt classified as a quaternary ammonium compound.

If you're like me you have no idea what those words mean! A little research however shows that while there is typically little to no safety testing done, benzalkonium chloride is a suspected neurotoxin. This is alarming because Lysol is the second highest selling commercial cleaner on Amazon.

This National Institute of Health article makes clear: "Several published studies provide evidence of benzalkonium chloride (BAK)-induced neurotoxicity. BAK selectively and irreversibly destroys nerve cell membranes." From Wikipedia: "benzalkonium chloride is classed as a Category III antiseptic active ingredient by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Ingredients are categorized as Category III when available data are insufficient to classify as safe and effective, and further testing is required."

As this article from Harvard University points out, chemical companies go through a process where they submit their product to the EPA - The Environmental Protection Agency - for review. The EPA only has 90 days to rule on the safety of the product. After this 90 day period the product, along with the synthetic chemicals it contains, can freely enter the market. The EPA is only allowed to look at safety data generated from the company itself. Oftentimes this means that chemicals enter the market, and thus our daily lives, with no safety reviews at all.

The Effect On Pets and Children
Toxic cleaning residue persists on surfaces inside the home. Using chemical cleaners spreads around different toxins that will linger on surfaces. This can have an effect on all residents of the home - including pets."Benzalkonium chloride poisoning of domestic pets has been recognized as a result of direct contact with surfaces cleaned with disinfectants using benzalkonium chloride as an active ingredient."

The New York Times article paints a dire picture about these chemicals interacting with our children. "Hazardous chemicals have become so ubiquitous that scientists now talk about babies being born pre-polluted, sometimes with hundreds of synthetic chemicals showing up in their blood." Parents are becoming increasingly worried and aware of this situation. One way that parents are protecting their children is by turning to green cleaning over cleaning with synthetic chemicals.

Lower the Dose
If the does makes the poison then we advise lowering the dose! We can't control everything around us in our daily lives but we can control what comes into our homes. By choosing green cleaning we reduce the amount of toxic chemicals inside of our houses. Because the vast majority of cleaning products that we can buy online or in the store have gone through little or no safety testing we advise sticking to green cleaning products that are certified safe.

How is Green Cleaning Defined?
For anything to be classified as green cleaning the cleaners and products used have to be safe for human health. And by extension they must be safe for pets, safe for aquatic life, and pose no negative impact on the environment. We accomplish this by choosing cleaning products that are certified safe, effective, non-toxic and biodegradable.

Hydrogen Peroxide
One of the main tools in the green cleaning arsenal is hydrogen peroxide. We are a big fan of using this product for two reasons: it's entirely safe and eco-friendly, and it's extremely effective at killing germs. Our friends at even note that you can use hydrogen peroxide as a mouthwash! People may think that they need toxic cleaners to kill germs but in fact hydrogen peroxide will do just as well - the CDC recommends it for sterilizing hospital equipment. Hydrogen peroxide will also kill the flu virus.

How are we so sure that hydrogen peroxide is both safe and effective? Our bodies manufacture hydrogen peroxide to keep us safe. Hydrogen peroxide is also known as a reactive oxygen species and it is used as the front line defense of your immune system. The rapid release of hydrogen peroxide from white blood cells is known as a respiratory burst, and is effective against pathogens.

In fact, individuals with a degradation in their ability to make hydrogen peroxide are more susceptible to infections. Green house cleaning applies this same pathogen killing power to the home making it safe and germ free. We think emulating the immune system is a good strategy for effective germ-free cleaning.

The Power of Vinegar
Another effective cleaning agent we recommend is vinegar. Vinegar is biodegradable making it safe inside the home for family and pets. An NIH study found vinegar to be excellent at getting rid of germs. "Vinegar eliminated S. aureus and E. coli... (and) completely inactivated both antibiotic-resistant and -susceptible bacteria at both exposure times tested."

When hydrogen peroxide is combined with vinegar there is a even greater effect than when either product is used individually. We recommend using both in the home for safe and effective house cleaning.

Green Cleaning Basics
Hopefully that answers two questions: why chemical cleaning is harmful, and why green cleaning is both safe and effective. For over 17 years I have owned and run a green house cleaning business. It's my job to make sure that are we doing the best for our clients and that my employees are able to work in a safe and healthy environment. Utilizing tools such as hydrogen peroxide and vinegar ensures the health of my employees. Green cleaning keeps the homes of our clients sparkling clean and free from germs. As our world at large fills up with toxic chemicals it's up to all of us to protect our homes, our families, and our environment.

Amy Boggs, Owner
Sparkling Palaces