Everyone is concerned with keeping their homes clean and free of germs. Everyday, people use a number of household cleaning products, but what some don’t realize is these same products can be hazardous to their health and the environment. Household cleaners include products such as detergents, fabric softeners, furniture polish, disinfectants, and products to clean bathrooms, ovens, windows and floors.
Each year, one million poisonings in Canada are reported due to household cleaner ingestion. “With all the cleaning products out there on the market today, consumers really need to be aware of the products they are using and what harm they have, if any, on the health of their families,” says Connie, Consumer Service Representative for Procter & Gamble, marketers of numerous household cleaning products.
Most household cleaners contain hazardous and toxic chemicals. Ammonia is in almost all cleaners and is lethal if combined with bleach. Physical symptoms that can occur because of exposure to chemicals in household cleaners include headaches, burning eyes, nausea, vomiting and skin rashes. The more serious effects cleaners can have on ones health are liver and kidney damage, asthma and cancer. At the Indoor Air Conference in Toronto, scientists revealed that housewives have a 55% higher risk of developing cancer than do women working outside the home. “All cleaning products have some sort of chemicals in them. People need to take special care whenever they are dealing with hazardous products and they should always read the label carefully before using them,” says Connie.
The simplest way to determine whether or not the products you’re using pose a threat to your health is to look at their label. Any product marked with a “danger” or “poison” symbol tells you that you’re handling the most hazardous ingredients. Those with a “warning” or “caution” symbol indicate that a product has a moderate risk to your well-being.
Most consumer products are not required by law to list their ingredients on the package label. Manufacturers are allowed to protect their formulations as propriety, however, safe handling information must be provided if the product is hazardous.
Hazardous materials are defined and federally regulated under the Hazardous Products Act administered by Consumer & Corporate Affairs. Health & Welfare Canada plays an advisory role. These products are classified in four hazard categories: corrosive, flammable, reactive and toxic. The degree of hazard to human health and safety is assessed and classified into three hazard classes: dangerous, warning and caution. Under Health Canada’s Consumer Chemicals and Container Regulations, products only require labels to indicate if they are toxic, corrosive or flammable. Manufacturers are expected to test their products to ensure they are not hazardous, and if they are, to properly label them.
Cleaners that contain bleach or ammonia contain a strong odor that highly irritates the lungs and should not be used by people with asthma or with chronic lung or heart problems. Although some manufacturers cover up the strong bleach or ammonia odor with a lemon or fresh scent, they are also covering up the warning signal that the product is harmful to breathe. More products these days are easier on the nose since the product is freshly scented with floral or fruity scents. The fragrance of a household cleaner may be significant to some since they aren’t judging products on their performance alone.
Consider these precautions when dealing with household cleaners:
- Read and follow the directions on labels
- Store cleaning products away from food and children
- Keep cleaning products in their original container
- Tightly close all containers after use
- See a doctor if severe symptoms occur
- Properly dispose of empty containers
- Use one cleaning product for cleaning all jobs
- Mix cleaning products
- Use a cleaning product without knowing its purpose
- Reuse empty cleaning product containers
As consumers become more wary of the chemicals found in their cleaning products, they begin to look for more natural cleaning solutions. There are many common ingredients in your home such as vinegar, baking soda and salt that could easily be substituted for cleaners.
Everyone who uses household cleaning products should educate themselves on the products they’re using. Not only will this make you a better consumer, it will also help you identify products that may be harmful to your health.