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Decoding labels on cleaning products

Decoding cleaning labels | UPMCMyHealthMatters.com

Spring is finally in the air and with it comes a long list of areas of your home to clean from top to bottom! We all know the benefits of a clean house, but have you ever thought about the toxicity of typical household cleaning products?

Chemicals in common cleaning products can cause skin and eye irritations, dizziness, headaches, symptoms of asthma, respiratory issues, and more. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims that long-term exposure to some indoor pollutants (like cleaning solutions) can lead to heart disease and even some types of cancer.

Companies keep you in the dark about what’s really in the bottle by describing ingredients with vague terms. This can leave confusion about what’s really in the solution. They also use terms that make the product seem more powerful when, in fact, it may be more harmful for you and your family.

Pay attention to these common terms:

Active ingredients are usually antimicrobial pesticides added to kill bacteria, viruses or molds. Seeing this on a label gives you the impression that there is something extra special in the bottle. Truth is, the chemicals aren’t typically any better than soap and water.

Biodegradable ingredients break down in the environment. Companies often use the term to make a product seem safer or greener than it really is. No one regulates the use of the term “biodegradable,” so proceed with caution and don’t assume it’s safer for you.

Chlorine free means that the product does not contain chlorine bleach — a good selling point, for sure. Using chlorine bleach can have side effects like skin irritations and respiratory issues. But here’s what you need to know: a “chlorine free” product may still contain oxygen bleach. This type of bleach can also irritate, and should always be handled with care.

Natural means nothing specific when it comes to cleaning supplies. It can mean that some ingredients come from plants or mineral. You won’t know how much or how many “natural” ingredients are in a product based on this label. The word “natural” can make a product sound safer, but there’s no regulation on its use for marketing these products. Proceed with caution.

Nontoxic implies that the product won’t harm your health or the environment. It’s another term companies can use as they please and with no regulation on marketing. A label of “nontoxic” doesn’t necessarily help you choose a safer cleaner.

Try to choose cleaning supplies with the least amount of harmful chemicals. This can be difficult; the labels often do not give enough information for an informed decision. The Environmental Working Group did extensive sleuthing into the ingredients of many brands. Check out their helpful list of top green cleaning products. There are also some great recipes for do-it-yourself all natural cleaning supplies. Stay tuned —I will talk about those later this week!