Natural Cleaning Products: Are They Safe?

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Although seemingly safer, using natural cleaners may carry the same or similar risks as using traditional cleaning products. Natural products have flooded the market in recent years, offering consumers green soaps, window cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, mop solutions, and more options. For the safety of themselves and their families, many consumers have made the switch from the products they previously used, instead opting for green cleaners. Understanding the importance of looking past the labels when purchasing cleaning products to ensure they have chosen natural, safe cleaners may help people to keep themselves and their families safe.

Natural Cleaners Versus Traditional Products

Product manufacturers and consumers alike tout natural cleaners as having the same cleaning power as traditional products without having a harmful effect on the human body or the environment. Green cleaners purport to use natural ingredients, like essential oils, olive oil, and lemon juice. These products stand in stark difference to traditional cleaning products, which often contain harsh and potentially toxic chemicals, such as bleach or ammonia. According to WebMD.com, however, a 2011 study found that many of the natural products used for sanitizing surfaces in rideshare cars and other cleaning purposes contain just as many volatile organic compounds as traditional products. Exposure to such compounds while cleaning or after cleaning may cause minor health effects that resolve quickly with minimal medical interventions or more serious conditions that require substantial medical care.

The Ingredients in Natural Cleaning Products

While labeled as such, the ingredients that make up many natural cleaners are not as safe or natural as consumers may think. Some of the ingredients used in various natural cleaning products still carry the potential for health risks, either immediately due to exposure or down the road after continued use. For example, some products contain phthalates, although such compounds have the potential to cause a range of health complications for consumers and their families. No rules exist regarding which ingredients qualify as green and the U.S. does not require the disclosure of ingredients for such products. As such, consumers must take companies at their words that their products are all-natural or conduct research on their own before purchasing cleaning products for their households or workplaces to identify those products made from only the safest ingredients.

The Health Effects of Volatile Organic Compounds

Using natural cleaning products that contain volatile organic compounds may have a range of short- and long-term health effects. Exposure to such cleaner ingredients may cause issues such as nose, throat, and eye irritation. People who use products containing such compounds may also have difficulty breathing or worsened asthma, allergic skin reactions, or nosebleeds, as well as suffer nausea or vomiting, headaches, or a loss of coordination. In some cases, exposure to volatile organic compounds may cause kidney, liver, or central nervous system damage, as well as some types of cancer.

People who suffer adverse effects due to exposure to volatile organic compounds in household cleaning products may require immediate, as well as ongoing medical treatment. For instance, some may need short- or long-term medications, follow-up doctor visits, diagnostic scans and tests, or surgery.

Regulating Natural Cleaning Products

The government maintains little to no regulation over natural cleaning products. Currently, no standards exist for the qualification of products as natural. Therefore, companies may decide themselves to label and market products as natural cleaners with no oversight to rid the market of falsely labeled products or qualifications for what makes a product natural or green. Consequently, consumers may find products on the shelves for sale that they believe are safe, which may contain toxic chemicals or other ingredients that pose health risks for them and their families.

Identifying the Safest Cleaning Products

Despite murky waters with regards to the ingredients used and the safety of some natural cleaners on the market, consumers may find natural products that offer safer cleaning options than the products traditionally sold. To find the safest natural products, consumers may look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s safer choice or design for the environment labels. These labels certify products as containing ingredients safer for human health or that a product has met the stringent requirements for antimicrobial products as stipulated by the EPA. Additionally, consumers may choose to purchase natural cleaners from the EPA’s recommendation lists for hand soaps; floor care; and glass, carpet, and multipurpose cleaners. Consumers may also benefit by watching for products that have flammable or harmful to swallow warnings. Warnings such as these may indicate the products contain potentially toxic chemicals or compounds.

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