Publications Plus online catalog
This Land
57 Ways To Protect Your Home Environment (and Yourself)
50 ways 57 ways 60 ways

50. Select Household Cleaners Wisely

furinture polish

In the world of cleaning, “phosphates” became a dirty word in the 1970s because of their impact on the environment. Most manufacturers have gone to phosphate-free laundry detergents, although phosphate-free dishwashing detergents are not as common. So what concerns do household cleaners pose today?

Pollutants come mainly from cleaning agents, waxes, polishes, spot and stain removers, and newly dry-cleaned garments. While there is no evidence that households are at risk from low levels of these pollutants, neither can we say there is no risk at all.

store shelves of laundry detergent

Various household cleaners contain trace elements of heavy metals. Although household cleaning products are used in small quantities in each home, collectively they contribute substantially to the amount of heavy metals reaching wastewater treatment plants, making sludge disposal a problem for the plants.
oven cleaner

Safety is also a concern. Household cleaners vary greatly in their levels of toxicity. But some, such as oven cleaners and drain cleaners, are quite hazardous if not handled properly.
scrubbing floor

What is a consumer to do? For the tougher jobs that ordinary soap and water cannot handle, select the least-toxic alternative that will do the job. Also, read the label to find out what precautions are called for. Follow instructions carefully and try to do the job with the least amount of product possible.
grocery aisle of detergents

To reduce the amount of heavy metals in wastewater, use liquid laundry detergents and liquid bleaches instead of powder. To improve indoor air quality, use cedar panels instead of mothballs, and air out your dry-cleaning outdoors when possible. Look for products that have replaced petroleum distillates with safer citrus-based solvents.
natural cleaners

Some people suggest that we return to using “natural” cleaners, such as vinegar, table salt, and lemon juice. But it’s important to realize that these products are also chemical compounds—natural chemicals, but chemicals nonetheless. If you decide you want to try other alternatives to commercial products, be sure you have some background information on them.
Next

University of Illinois Logo