Baby Steps for Big Change - Three Easy Wins for a Less Toxic Home

One of the reasons that I started Neatly is because as a graphic designer, I was selling things to people — creating need where no need existed — this is the role of advertising. As consumers we are led to believe that we need to have bacteria-free hands, a weed-free path and a sparkling shiny oven.  

Have you ever taken the time to read a Material Safety Data Sheet? In researching this blog post, I had a quick squiz around the internet for some MSDSs for commonly used household products. What I found is both sad and frightening in equal measure and a wake up call for us to stop listening to what advertisers are trying to sell us and start switching on our brains to consider: Do I really need to use this?

Here are a couple of examples of toxic household products and some simple things you can use instead.

Anti-mould spray

"Causes severe skin burns and eye damage". This is just one of the health warnings on the MSDS for a common anti-mould bathroom spray which is 30-60% Sodium Hypochlorite solution (chlorine bleach). It goes on to state that it "may give off a gas that is very irritating or corrosive to the respiratory system", this is the MSDS for a product in a trigger spray pack so by it's very nature sprays the chemical into a very fine mist. Ummmm I don't want my respiratory system (my lungs) to be CORRODED! SO here's the kicker, if you have mould on anything that is porous like grout for example, bleach isn't going to do anything anyway, due to it's chemical nature cannot penetrate beyond the surface. Wait a second, do you know what else kills surface mould? Vinegar. That's right, straight up plain old simple vinegar. If you spray that around, your house will just smell like a fish and chip shop, you're not going to get chemical burns. The results for the mould are the same. 

Since it's mandarin season at the moment, I will let you in on an excellent not-so-secret secret, just pop a couple of mandarin peels into about a litre of vinegar and leave it for a few days. No more vinegar smell, just amazing zesty scented cleaning vinegar that you can spray with abandon. Great for tiled floors, mirrors and as a general spray and wipe (not suitable for granite, stone or marble, it will etch the surface, don't do it!). Check the trusty internet for recipes and dilutions

Some other issues that I have with bleach, are the fact that when mixed with other common household cleaners, it can create toxic gas. So if you mix some bleach up with alcohol you get: ta da! Chloroform and muriatic (hydrochloric) acid. Chloroform as in what they used to use to knock you out in ye olde surgery scenarios - too much can lead to; lights out for you. If bleach is mixed with ammonia you get chloramine gas, which is another respiratory irritant. This mixture can also be explosive.

So why on earth would you want this in your home? I certainly don't! Bring on the vinegar, but with all cleaning products let's do the sensible thing and label it carefully and keep it out of reach of children.

Weed Killer

There is a bit of debate about the compound Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, especially as the EU proposed a ban on it's use at the end of 2017 and after a long battle with environmental groups, Monsanto was allowed a renewed licence (for 5 years rather than the 15 that they were seeking). Monsanto claims it is safe, the (up to 4,000) people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who are suing Monsanto for their condition beg to differ. The  International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have labeled it 2A carcinogen meaning that is a probable cause of Cancer in humans, and - I don't know - the International Agency for Research on Cancer might know a thing or two about it.

The way I see it, if something maybe, might, could possibly cause cancer. I don't want it in my garden shed, I don't want it on my garden and I certainly don't want it sprayed on my food. If you have weeds coming up between your pavers in the garden here's a tip. Pull it out. Simple. Effective. Non toxic.

Here are some of my favorite gardening sites, with other handy tips like the one above. Gardening Australia | The Diggers Club

Fabric Softener

I don't know if you know this but some fabric softeners are made from tallow, actually tallow dihydrogenated hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate to be precise (which is tallow put through several hectic chemical processes so it's not so...gross). Tallow is the fat from animals, think about that next time you are rubbing your face all over your lovely soft towels.

Fabric softeners are also filled to the brim with all kinds of crazy perfumes that, despite the pictures of flowers and lambs and babies on the packaging have no relation to anything natural or scented, rather the scents are chemicals, often derived from petroleum and may contain diethyl phthalate a chemical dispersant, I has been suggested in several scholarly articles that the effects of this chemical are not fully clear however "evidence for significant impacts on human health is mounting"). Getting better by the second, isn't it? The ingredients list only need to state 'parfum' or 'fragrance' as the scent is considered to be proprietary.

Can I tell you some other crazy facts about fabric softeners? Not only do they make fabrics more flammable (that would be all of the flammable chemicals, I guess), fabric softeners also make fabrics hydrophobic. So, repellent to water. Wait aren't we using this stuff on our towels? WHAAAT?

I have one word for you. Vinegar. Seriously, try it. Although it doesn't soften your kid's pjs as much as commercial fabric softener, it doesn't make them more flammable, either. Add half a cup to the rinse cycle.

Check for yourself

I have really just skimmed the tip of the iceberg in the above article, each of the products discussed are made of of myriad chemicals, however as they are so-called 'trade secrets' chemical companies are not compelled to share the full ingredients list. Despite the fact that some multinational company came up with the idea of making something it certainly doesn't mean they made it safe, it doesn't mean that it has been tested for safety on humans (although sadly, they are generally tested on animals), and it doesn't mean that you need to buy it.

How soft do your towels really need to be? Are whiter than white tiles worth your health? Do you need to kill things in your garden with a spray that may be carcinogenic when other methods work just as effectively?

These are just my opinions and — I have only just scratched the surface — go ahead and do your own research, or at least have a think about it next time you reach for the weed killer or want to tackle the mildew spots in your bathroom.