As COVID-19 retains its grip on the headlines, keeping our homes clean and virus-free remain top priorities. But, does all the spraying, scrubbing, and disinfecting come at a cost to our health? The truth is – yes – all that deep cleaning can spread some nasty chemicals into the air of your home.
Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors – even without a global pandemic – and our indoor air can be dirty. In fact, it’s been found to be 2-5x more polluted than outdoor air. Much of our indoor pollution comes from what’s called volatile organic compounds – a.k.a. VOCs – from chemicals in our cleaning products and other household items.
The Notorious VOCs
Invisible and insidious, VOCs are toxic chemicals that vaporize or “off gas” and enter the air from thousands of common items like traditional cleaning products, disinfectants, air fresheners, aerosol sprays, paints, pesticides, and more. You not only breathe VOCs in while using these products, but they can continue to “off gas” while stored away in a cupboard or under the sink. As anyone who has used ammonia or bleach without proper ventilation can tell you, VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, and skin reactions, or more severely, trigger asthma symptoms or damage the liver, kidneys, or central nervous system.
Healthy Advisory: User Error
A recent CDC survey revealed that 1 in 3 respondents have been using chemicals and disinfectants unsafely while trying to protect against COVID-19 and a related uptick in calls to poison centers since the start of the pandemic. They identified big knowledge gaps on proper preparation, storage, ventilation, and a host of other high-risk behaviors like misting the body with disinfectant and purposely inhaling cleaning product vapors. Yikes.
All this exposure to toxic VOCs and chemical substances on any given day, week, or year can accumulate over time, adding to the body’s overall toxic burden and can contribute to a variety of health problems. Despite obvious health concerns, there is no national requirement to list ingredients on cleaning product labels. This leaves consumers in the dark, unknowingly bringing potentially harmful chemicals into their homes. According to the Environmental Working Group, over 53% of household cleaners include one toxic ingredient, 22% contain chemicals reported to cause asthma in otherwise healthy individuals, and over 93% of manufacturers won’t even list their ingredients!
Know Your Clean
Cleaning and disinfecting smart starts with learning what to avoid, and swapping out conventional cleaners with products that contain safer ingredients, so you aren’t spraying toxic chemicals into the air. Some common toxins and VOCs to steer clear of include:
- Ammonia (or ammonium hydroxide) – causes nose and throat irritation, leading to coughing and difficulty breathing.
- Chlorine Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) – toxic if inhaled; causes respiratory, skin and eye irritation.
- Quats (quaternary ammonium cations) – often listed as “cationic surfactant” or “benzalkonium chloride,” can cause wide-ranging health concerns from lung and skin irritation to reproductive issues; known asthma contributor.
Here are some simple steps you can take to spray, scrub and disinfect smarter and safer to improve the air quality in your home and help protect your health:
- Look for plant powered cleaning sprays that are U.S. EPA Safer Choice certified. It’s a great way to find products that use the safest ingredients in their class, have proven superior performance, and avoid potentially toxic ingredients.
- Find products with safer disinfectant chemical alternatives that have been shown to be just as effective in killing viruses and other germs without the related health hazards like: hydrogen peroxide.
- Open the windows! Let fresh air inside daily, especially while you clean. Circulate the air with ceiling, bathroom, attic, or portable fans.
- Invest in an air cleaner and change the HVAC filters in your home every 60-90 days – more often if you have pets.
A Safer Way to Clean
Current CDC COVID-19 guidelines advise cleaning visibly dirty surfaces first, then disinfecting. Try ECOS One-Step Disinfectant Cleaner, to safely kill germs and clean without VOCs or harsh fumes. If you just need an effective surface cleaner, try Safer Choice-certified ECOS All-Purpose Cleaner Parsley Plus. Both are safe for everyday use throughout your home.
ECOS is so committed to using safer ingredients that we made a list of 500 known toxins – a.k.a. “the Nasties” – that we promise never to use in our products. Check out the list here. We hope it helps guide you to products that are better for your home and your health during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
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