In this blog post I deviate from my usual topic of healthy eating to consider the impact of commercial household cleaners on our health and the environment and whether we should consider using natural alternatives. This is particularly important when we are considering the impact of using chemicals to clean surfaces which are likely to come into contact with the younger and more vulnerable members of our families.
Many of us use bleach and anti-bacterial sprays and wipes to keep our homes germ-free and squeaky clean without giving much thought to whether these chemicals are a necessary evil or whether it would be more beneficial to seek out more eco-friendly cleaning methods.
What I want to explore is whether we, as parents, should be working hard to eradicate bacteria from high chair trays and other surfaces that our little ones come into contact with or should we be using soap and water alone to wipe down surfaces in an attempt to help build their immune systems and avoid the threats associated with being exposed to harmful chemicals?
We instinctively know that it is a good idea for children to spend time outdoors playing in woods and fields and we are likely to associate these activities with strong and somewhat dirt covered children enjoying innocent and old fashioned fun as children should. Whereas if take a moment to conjure an image of a theoretical child that spends a lot of time indoors and limited time in natural environments is more likely to dream up images of a pale sickly child that would benefit from getting out more. After all we all watched “The Secret Garden” whilst growing up, right?
Yet we also know that being clean, and washing our hands in particular, is of paramount importance in protecting ourselves from getting sick. Interestingly, according America’s FDA there is no scientific evidence that antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. In which case it seems best to avoid the chemicals present in antibacterial soaps which may have the potential to cause long-term effects on the human body in ways that we do not yet know about. These findings may impact the type of hand soap we buy but doesn’t necessarily help us make decisions about how to best clean our bathrooms and kitchens.
Walking into any supermarket you can see that the market for domestic cleaning products is dominated by consumer goods giants Unilever and P&G who sell literally hundreds of detergents, wipes, polishes and aerosols marketed to us as essential for hygiene and safety in our homes. Nearly all of these products carry warnings on the side of the bottles about their potential to irritate to our skin, eyes and cause harm to aquatic life. Cleaning products have been repeatedly linked with asthma and today there is an article on Sky News referring to new findings that using bleach can cause fatal lung problems.
Some people that are concerned about the effect of commercial household cleaners on their health and the environment switch to use natural homemade cleaning products. For example white vinegar is a highly effective alternative that kills nearly all household germs. Diluting white vinegar with water in approximately inequal measures yields a greener alternative to the shop-bought disinfectant sprays. Unfortunately white vinegar does not kill all types of harmful bacteria that could be lurking on our household surfaces but do we need to eradicate all bacteria from our homes to achieve the optimum conditions in which our little ones can thrive?
I generally love the idea of reducing the amount of chemical laden products that we allow into our lives but I also appreciate the scientific advances in health and safety that have often led to an improvement in the quality of life. Our personal hygiene routines and the cleanliness of our homes are deeply personal issues that do not only affect only the lives of those living under our own roof but also have the potential to create a much wider impact on health and the environment.
If you have thoughts and experiences on this subject please leave a comment on the blog or social media. I would love to hear from you.