In the Kitchen: Healthy Cooking, Healthy Cleaning

I love vegetables. I like them organic and local and sustainable. I eat organic to keep pesticides and other chemicals out of my body. It seems like a smart thing to do, even amidst inconclusive reports about what the chemicals might do to a person’s body. I keep them out, so I won’t have to find out.

But just when I have made a sustainable shift in my life, I start to look around and notice other areas of concern – clothing, furniture, carpet, make-up, and what seems like a very obvious chemically laden product – household cleaners.

Household cleaners are being used in our kitchens, right alongside the very food we have gone out of our way to choose. We purchase fruits, vegetables and meat from sources that we trust – sources, which at the very least, have treated our food with the fewest chemicals possible, but hopefully are growing it locally and organically. And what are most household cleaning products made of? Chemicals and more chemicals. I just looked at a bottle of dish soap and I don’t know what any of the ingredients are.

Not only are these chemicals right in our kitchens (and all over the house and yard), they are also seeping into the air, mopbucketwater and soil. If you have filled a bucket with water and floor cleaner so that you can clean the floor where your child plays, those chemicals will not only get on your child directly (sorry to be so morbid!), but then they will most likely be drained down the sink where they will get into our water system. Not to mention when that mop is used up, it will be thrown in the garbage and end up in a landfill.

Yesterday we were at the Fancy Food Show here in NYC and mixed in with the organic and “natural” products section were a few cleaning supply companies. Twist was at the show with their biodegradable, unbleached, undyed sponges and Mrs. Meyer’s, natural and biodegradable household cleaning products. I had learned at LOHAS from Adam Lowry of Method, that even though the knowledge of and the desire for natural cleaning products is growing, they still only make up 1% of the sales of cleaning products – 1%! That is a terrible number (I hope I’m remembering correctly, if it’s not 1% it’s something awfully low).

These chemicals (here is a huge list ) are linked to many health issues, and often they don’t all have to be listed on the label. A few of the health issues linked to these cleaning chemicals are: kidney and liver problems, cancer, childhood asthma and reproductive issues. Children are especially vulnerable to chemicals because they are still developing and these chemicals can even reach them in the womb. I shudder to think about the products being used in our school kitchens and classrooms. The Coalition of Healthier Schools have created a National Collaborative Work Group on Green Cleaning and Chemical Policy Reform to address just that issue.

While there still aren’t laws to make these cleaning product companies list the ingredients, many consumer groups are pushing for the information. Some companies have ingredients listed on their websites, but will use excuses such as not listing fragrances because it’s a trade secret. Getting information out to the public is very important, especially as more and more companies are claiming to be “natural.” Clorox, a company famous for toxic products, is now delving into “green” products (after their acquisition of personal care company Burt’s Bees). At the very least, if we have the ingredients list we could do some research ourselves. In California there is a recent law requiring the state to identify “chemicals of concern” so that they can evaluate safer alternatives and create a scientific clearinghouse of information on the chemicals’ effects, but its implementation is years from fruition.

What to do? What companies can we trust? Should we just make our own cleaning products?

I think that we need to apply the same principles that we do when purchasing food. Go for the products with fewer ingredients, with ingredients that you have heard of, from companies that you know something about. Do some research and ask lots of questions!

Here are some nontoxic cleaning recipes:

And an interesting article: “How green are green household cleaners?

Good luck!


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