Whether you're doing the dishes, putting a load in the washing machine, or scrubbing the bathroom floor, regular cleaning is integral to every healthy home. A variety of cleaning products and ingredients are available to help you out, from synthetic compounds with long, complicated names to natural minerals, essential oils, and herbs. If you like to avoid toxic chemicals and use natural products instead, you're certainly not alone.
Let's review potential issues with commercial cleaning products and look at natural cleaning alternatives.
Types of Cleaning Ingredients
Cleaning is achieved through a combination of agitation and disinfection. During this process, various ingredients are mixed with water to remove visible dirt and protect against invisible germs. There are four basic categories of cleaning ingredients: abrasives, acids, degreasers, and detergents. Sanitisers are often listed as a separate category, as they provide long-term protection against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Abrasives are available in powder and liquid form, and also as physical objects like scouring pads. Commercial cleaning products often use synthetic chemicals as the abrasive element, but this can be harsh and potentially toxic. Instead, you can use natural abrasives like salt and baking soda, or material abrasives powered by elbow grease.
- Acid cleaning agents include all solutions with a pH of six or lower. When cleaning, acids help to break down dirt and stubborn stains. Synthetic acids are used in many cleaning products, with extremely strong ingredients known to cause skin damage. Instead, you can use natural ingredients like vinegar and lemon juice, which are much milder but still effective.
- Degreasers are used to remove grease and other organic fats. Alkaline solutions are often preferred to remove organic soils, with oven cleaners as the perfect example. Some modern cleaning products use harsh toxic solvents as degreasers, which can lead to chemical contamination. Instead, you can use mild, non-fuming, and non-toxic natural degreasers.
- Detergents are particular cleaning agents designed to mix with water and break up soil. Most commercial detergents are synthetic and derived from petroleum products. While these ingredients are mostly effective and safe to use, many people prefer eco-friendly natural alternatives made without phosphates, chlorine, or petroleum.
What's Wrong with Commercial Cleaning Products?
The domestic cleaning industry is incredibly large and growing all the time. Driven by profit and fuelled by fear from the global pandemic, it is projected to grow from US$247.94 billion in 2022 to $334.16 billion in 2029 at a growth rate of 4.4% per year. While most commercial cleaning products are effective and economical, they can feature toxic and potentially harmful chemicals.
Cleaning products often include harmful chemicals, some of which are toxic, flammable, or corrosive. Some cleaning products release dangerous chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which vaporise at room temperature and can cause health problems. VOCs have been associated with asthma and other chronic respiratory problems, along with headaches and certain allergic reactions. You can limit your exposure to certain chemicals by choosing organic products that prioritise natural ingredients and consumer safety.
Along with VOCs, secondary organic aerosols (SOAs) and secondary nitric aerosols (SNAs) can also cause problems for some people. Some of the cationic enzymes in laundry detergents can also be toxic, and even safer non-ionic detergents can irritate the skin and eyes. In fact, most everyday cleaners include a variety of chemicals that can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. From ammonia and sodium hypochlorite to trisodium phosphate and ethylene glycol monobutyl acetate, there are lots of ingredients to look out for.
Along with personal health, cleaning products can also impact the health of the planet. From manufacturing and transportation to packaging, storage, and waste disposal, cleaning companies face environmental issues across the product life cycle. The major issue with household cleaning products is the chemicals they contain, some of which will pollute water bodies and enter the food chain. Many of the surfactants used in conventional cleaning products biodegrade very slowly, and some of them become more toxic over time and endanger aquatic life.
Some cleaning chemicals that are harmful to the environment include VOCs, chlorine, triclosan, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), phosphates, phthalates, quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATs or QACs), and methylisothiazolinone (MI). Ingredients containing phosphorus or nitrogen can also directly impact water quality, loading the environment with excessive nutrients which adversely affect plant and animal life. Some products and brands are more likely to include these ingredients, and as a consumer, you always have a choice to make.
What is Eco-Friendly Cleaning?
Eco-friendly cleaning products are made with sustainable, biodegradable, and often plant-based ingredients. True "green" products are likely to contain no chlorine, phosphates, or artificial ingredients like fragrances and colours. In addition, they're likely to include organic and ethically-sourced ingredients, and be enclosed with biodegradable or recyclable packaging. Unlike standard cleaning products, which can be hazardous both to your personal health and the environment, green cleaning products are safe, non-toxic, and Earth-friendly.
Eco-friendly cleaning products are likely to contain the following general ingredients:
Biodegradable surfactants and solubilisers
Surfactants are chemical compounds that decrease surface tension between liquids and solids, which makes them indispensable to the cleaning process. Biodegradable surfactants dissolve quickly in water and break down into non-toxic compounds. Common examples include coco glucoside, decyl glucoside, lauryl glucoside, sodium cocoyl isethionate, and sodium lauroyl sarcosinate. Coco glucoside is a popular plant-based surfactant that usually appears as a cloudy liquid. It's a mixture of fatty alcohol from coconut oil and sugar glucose, and it functions as a gentle and highly-effective cleaning agent.
Solubilisers are a group of surfactants that blend various oils into aqueous formulations. They are often used to mix essential oils or fragrance oils together, and they're also used to combine vegetable oils, mineral oils, and silicone oils. If a commercial cleaning product is truly eco-friendly, it will use biodegradable surfactants and solubilisers. When something is biodegradable, it's capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms. Instead of creating pollution and waste in the ecosystem, biodegradable products have a sustainable relationship with the natural world.
Plant-based solvents, scents, and colours
Many of the toxic ingredients used in commercial cleaning products are not necessary for the cleaning process. Instead, they're added to make products look and smell more appealing. A variety of plant-based products can be used instead, including things like soapwort, seaweed extract, sea salt, locust bean gum, citrus seed extract, and various essential oils. Along with colour and scent, herbs and other plant-based ingredients also provide functional benefits to some cleaning products.
As you might expect, given its name, soapwort is particularly good at cleaning applications. This common herb is used to make natural soaps, brighten fabrics, and clean a variety of materials. Horsetail herb is another natural ingredient regularly added to cleaning products, as is cornstarch, castile soap, and tea tree oil. Eco-friendly products use a variety of renewable resources for scents and colours, along with biobased solvents sourced from citrus, seed, and vegetable oils.
Along with using natural ingredients inside the bottle, eco-friendly cleaning companies are also concerned with issues like material sourcing, product packaging, and sustainable shipping. From plant origins and handling safeguards to product packaging, recycling, and waste disposal, eco-friendly companies are more likely to engage with sustainable practices across the board. Earth-friendly cleaning products are typically packaged without heavy metals, BPA, or phthalates; and they're more likely to use refillable bottles and renewable energy.
Common Eco-Friendly Ingredients
A wide range of natural ingredients is used in eco-friendly products. From general cleaning to specific kitchen, bathroom, and laundry products, many of these ingredients can be used across your entire home. Let's take a look at some of the most popular plant-based cleaning ingredients used in modern-day Australia:
Vinegar is the perfect natural cleaning material. This highly versatile liquid makes a great all-purpose cleaner, and it's powerful enough to clean floors, stainless steel surfaces, or even toilets. The acidic nature of vinegar helps to dissolve dirt, grease, and grime, either alone or together with baking soda and essential oils. While vinegar is not particularly good as a disinfectant, it makes for an efficient and very affordable everyday cleaner.
Borax and baking soda
Borax is a naturally-occurring compound that can be used to clean and disinfect your home. This natural mineral compound is a great stain remover and deodoriser, and it also has powerful antifungal properties. Baking soda can be used in a similar way to borax, but with a pH of 8 instead of 9.5, it is considerably less alkaline. Both of these ingredients are salts, and they're both extremely popular as eco-friendly cleaning agents.
Eucalyptus is a fantastic cleaner with potent antibacterial properties. This popular Australian cleaning ingredient has many applications, from kitchens and bathrooms to floors, laundry, and mould treatment. Eucalyptus oil is easily added to water and other liquid-based solutions, and it has a great smell for added domestic freshness.
Tea tree oil is another great Australian cleaning agent. Just like eucalyptus oil, it makes a fantastic disinfectant in a safe and natural package. Tee tree oil helps to prevent fungal and bacterial infections in your clothes or throughout your home, and it works great when added to vinegar or even just hot water.
From lemon and lime to orange and grapefruit, citrus can be used as a cleaning ingredient. Citrus has natural disinfecting properties, and it also helps to treat stains and loosen mineral deposits. Citrus is a popular addition to many commercial cleaning products, and making your own citrus cleaner at home is also easy. Along with citrus oil, citrus peel can be added to household cleaning products to boost their scent and colour.
If you're looking for eco-friendly household cleaning products, Healthy Being has everything you need. From general cleaners to specialised kitchen and bathroom solutions, we have a great range of Earth-friendly cleaning products to use throughout your home. Shop now and enjoy free shipping options across Australia and worldwide delivery!