Cleaning and Laundry Products

When your child is ill, you understandably want to make your home as clean and germ-free as possible. But you need to be careful that the products you use are not doing more harm than good. Many familiar brands of all-purpose cleaners, window sprays, floor cleaners and bathroom products can cause eye, skin and respiratory irritation as well as more serious chronic health problems. Chemical disinfectants may kill some germs, but they can also seriously compromise our health and our environment, and contribute to the growing problem of resistant strains of bacteria. Avoid purchasing any cleaning product with a label containing the words “Danger,” “Warning,” “Caution” or “Keep Out of Reach of Children.”

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Bio-based cleaning products made from botanicals, minerals, forestry and marine ingredients are generally friendlier to us and the environment.

Air fresheners, odor eliminators and scented candles are of special concern since they contain chemicals that are formulated to linger in the air, creating a breathing hazard, especially for children with asthma. When they eventually settle, they also leave a toxic residue on every surface in your house. Aerosol-type fresheners may also contain dangerous propellants. The best way to make your home smell fresh and clean is to open windows often and allow fresh air to circulate.

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According to the EPA, indoor air quality can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air; and since a typical family spends about 90% of its time indoors, your choice of cleaning products is very important. Choose brands that provide full disclosure of ingredients on the label, and look for those with plant-based or bio-based biodegradable ingredients with no fragrances or dyes, petrochemicals, chlorine or ammonia. Be aware that the government does not regulate manufacturers’ claims such as “non-toxic,” “natural,” “earth-friendly,” or “environmentally safe.”

If you want to be absolutely certain of a cleaning product’s safety, you might consider making your own inexpensive and effective solutions from some of the following common kitchen ingredients:

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Baking soda - cleans, deodorizes, scours, removes stains
White vinegar - cuts grease, cleans windows, unclogs drains, acts as a mild disinfectant and deodorizer, works as a fabric softener in the wash
Lemon juice - bleaches, deodorizes, cleans
Coarse table salt - removes rust; combined with lemon juice, polishes copper
Olive or walnut oil - polishes furniture, removes non-latex paints and adhesives from hands
Borax (also known as sodium borate) - cleans, bleaches, deodorizes, controls ants and cockroaches
Washing soda - cuts grease, scours, removes stains
Vegetable-based liquid soap (castile soap) - general purpose cleaner
Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) - concentrated natural disinfectant that can be added to liquid hand soap as well as dish and laundry detergents
Hydrogen peroxide - removes stains, can be used as a mild alternative to chlorine bleach
Toothpaste - polishes silver
Hot water - added to baking soda, borax or washing soda makes an effective scrubbing paste and increases efficacy
Microfiber cleaning cloth - enhances the cleaning power of any of the above

Laundry

It is also important to choose safe products for washing clothing, towels and bedding. Many popular brands of laundry products leave chemical residues in fabrics that can cause skin irritation, neurological problems or allergic and asthmatic reactions in some individuals. Recent studies have also found widespread contamination from these chemicals in lakes and streams, as well as in drinking water sources.

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Chemicals in dryer sheets, in particular, leave a lasting fragrance and oily residue on fabrics that can contaminate your home’s air and continuously expose your child through skin absorption and inhalation. To soften clothes and linens safely, simply add one-half cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. (Note: permanent-press clothing and linens may be treated with toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde resins, that can be absorbed through the skin, so try to purchase items made from untreated, natural fibers whenever
possible.)


As with household cleaning products, look for plant-based, unscented, undyed brands that give complete disclosure of ingredients on their labels and clearly state they are safe for sensitive populations and the environment.


Many public water supplies across the country have been found to be contaminated with a worrisome chemical, 1,4-dioxane. One of the main sources for this contamination is liquid laundry detergents. If you can, making the switch to a non-fragranced powdered laundry detergent will go a long way to avoid exposure and keep our water clean.

Scientific Studies

Pediatric chemical exposure: Opportunities for prevention. Huffling, K., McLaughlin, J., Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 2022, Vol 36, Issue 1, p. 27-33 

Children's vulnerability to toxic chemicals; a challenge and opportunity to strengthen health and environmental policy. Landrigan, P., Goldman, L., Health Affairs, 2011, 30(5), p, 842-850