How to safely use cleaning products

June 23, 2015

It's difficult to decipher hard-to-pronounce ingredients in cleaning agents, but there are some common ingredients that you can be mindful about. Here's a guide to safely using common cleaning products.

How to safely use cleaning products

With the number of cleaning products available on the market growing bigger each year, so too has the reason to "read the instructions carefully before use" become more important than ever before. But with some information and a good dose of common sense, most cleaning products can be used safely.

Ammonia: Use in moderation

  • Ammonia is generally not considered harmful to the environment. However, it can be harmful to people with respiratory problems. Use in a well-ventilated area and never mix with chlorine bleaches.
  • Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidising bleach that breaks down quickly into water and oxygen. Use in preference to bleaches that contain chlorine.
  • Methylated spirits should be 95 per cent alcohol (ethanol, usually derived from plants) and five per cent methanol (a petroleum by-product that is poisonous). Do not inhale or ingest and do not tip down the drain.

The truth about phosphate

  • Algal blooms are choking up our waterways and the culprit is phosphate. We use it in detergents and farmers use it in fertilizers.
  • Although phosphates exist in nature, when concentrations are too high algae thrives, producing blooms that cut out oxygen and other nutrients to river life.

Air fresheners

  • Don't use a smell – particularly a manufactured one – to cover up another smell. A number of air fresheners contain VOCs, which are hazardous to human health.
  • Some air fresheners contain paradichlorobenzene, a chlorine derivative that has recently been linked to both liver and nerve damage.
  • Be careful when buying essential oils. Some have been diluted with synthetic scents, which can be harmful to inhale, particularly for people with allergies. To be sure of what you are buying, look for labels that state, '100 per cent pure essential oil' or something similar.

Household bleaches

  • Watch out for chlorine, which is present in many household bleaches and mould removers. It can react with other dangerous organic matter in sewage to form toxic, very persistent chemicals called organochlorines.
  • Avoid products that contain chlorine in forms such as sodium hypochlorite, a lung and eye irritant that releases toxic fumes when mixed with ammonia or acid-based cleaners (including vinegar).

Laundry products

  • Look for 'no phosphate' on the label. This means no added phosphate and a background level of less than 0.5 per cent. Products marked 'P' have less than 7.8 grams of phosphate per wash and are the next best choice.
  • Some laundry detergents and general cleaners contain artificial musks as a perfume. These are persistent chemicals, both in the environment and in the human body, and some may be neurotoxic.

Oven cleaners

  • Avoid oven cleaners with sodium hydroxide (caustic soda). It's highly corrosive and can cause severe irritation, deep burns and blindness.
  • Products labelled 'non-corrosive' may contain ethanolamine, a solvent that can cause headaches and asthmatic reactions as well as affect the central nervous system.
  • Diethyl glycol alkyl ethers (ethylene glycol ethers or EGEs) are found in some oven cleaners and have been linked with birth defects.

Toilet cleaners

  • Think carefully before using a commercial toilet cleaner. Many contain corrosive acids as well asdyes and deodorizers that are irritating to the eyes and skin and may be carcinogenic.
  •  Don't buy 'in-tank' cleaners that contain paradichlorobenzene, a chemical solvent that accumulates in the body and has been linked to liver and nerve damage.
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