I think I first started becoming really anxious about chemicals in the home when I became a parent. I think one of the first words my children learned was “chemical” quickly followed by “dangerous” – they have never had any harm from chemicals so perhaps my caution had great results.
I was interested to watch a television news story around the effects of chemicals in the home and in the garden. It was quite a wake-up call to be honest. I had no idea even our kitchen cupboards can be emitting toxins.
In fact, some chemicals may be banned in the near future as they can interfere with air pollution.
Domestic chemicals can have negative effects on our well-being and often we don’t realise that we are using products that contain them. One study revealed that regular household cleaning products, such as shampoo and oven cleaner, release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and contribute up to half of VOCs found in the atmosphere. Now I have always taken care around oven cleaner but I had no idea I had to watch out for things like shampoo too.
Read on as we explore the effects that domestic chemicals can have and how to replace them with safer alternatives. Let’s protect ourselves and our families.
The fight against chemicals
Research studies are revealing the harmful effects that domestic chemicals can have in the home. Although some are on their way to be banned, there are others that remain on our supermarket shelves. Knowledge is power so here are some examples of things to look out for:
- Hand soap — some contain the chemical triclosan which has been found to affect thyroid hormones in animal studies and possibly contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs. It is also a resilient compound that is not destroyed on its way to the ocean and can therefore destroy bacteria and intervene with the food chain — alternative?
- Researchers from the University of Iowa discovered that some kitchen cabinets emit PCBs ((polychlorinated biphenyl compounds), chemicals which are under investigation as causes of cancer. These compounds occur as sealants breakdown in kitchen furniture — alternative?
- Pesticides — neonicotinoid pesticides put both honeybees and wild bees at risk. The UK government has said it will support a complete ban on the outdoor use of bee-harming chemicals.
Joost de Gouw, a scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder and co-author of the study, said: “Many of the organic compounds in these products are reactive once in the atmosphere and can contribute to formation of two major air pollutants, ozone and fine particle. In that sense, they contribute to air pollution in a very similar manner as cars.
- benzene (which is found in detergents and plastics)
- formaldehyde (in varnishes and floor finishes)
- xylene aerosol paint concentrates, automobile body polish and cleaners, nail varnish
The combination of some domestic chemicals can be harmful too. The mixture of bleach and rubbing alcohol for example can create toxic chloroform and make you unconscious. I narrowly escaped making a dangerous cleaning mix when dealing with mildew in the bathroom – you really do have to be very careful.
What can you use instead?
NASA reported that pineapple plants can also improve air quality and help reduce snoring.
Peace Lily can reduce toxins such as benzene, ammonia, ethyl and acetone and prevent the toxins from spreading across rooms. Research found that this plant can improve air quality by as much as 60%!
Red-edged Dracaena rids the air of chemicals including xylene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde (found in varnishes and gasoline) which causes lack of concentration and increased anxiety.
Formaldehyde levels in homes can also be reduced by ensuring adequate ventilation, moderate temperatures, and reduced humidity levels through the use of air conditioners and dehumidifiers. I invested in a dehumidifier recently.
This research was gathered by Compost Direct, retailers of garden bark mulch.