There is nothing like the smell of fresh, clean spring air after a long, cold winter.
Spring makes you want to throw open your windows and let out all the stale air. Spring also reminds us, however, that it’s time to clean—to get rid of the old and bring in the new.
But today, “cleansing the home” unfortunately means the use of cleaning products that typically have a variety of toxic chemicals that are anything but “fresh and clean.”
These chemicals are not only harmful to our bodies, but they actually leave a trail of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in our homes that can make your house a toxic nightmare.
And, overtime, they can lead to a slew of health conditions researchers are only beginning to link to the effects of our so-called “cleaning” products.
What Are The Dangers of VOCs?
Did you know that the levels of some common chemicals are actually 2-5 times higher inside your home than outside?
That’s definitely scary when you consider your home is supposed to be your safe haven.
Researchers are now saying that indoor pollutants are the likely cause of such illnesses as asthma and other respiratory diseases that have been on the rise for the past decade. (1)
These pollutants, or VOCs, are in almost every commercial cleaning product or air freshener you buy. They are the chemicals that make the product “smell nice.”
And even if you read the list of ingredients or they claim to be “all natural” or “organic” and you think there is nothing toxic in the product, don’t be fooled, many of these scent ingredients are not required to be listed on the label, or they can simply be listed as a “fragrance.”
To make matters worse, some products that are listed as “fragrance-free” or “unscented” still ironically contain fragrance chemicals in order to create a “neutral scent.”
We typically breathe in between 10,000 and 70,000 liters of air every 24 hours. (2)
What one study discovered is that with that air, we are also breathing in about 586 chemicals that include such things as the deadly pesticides diazinon, chlorpyrifos and DDT. (3)
Researchers also state there are another 120 or so chemicals they can’t even identify.
Some of the most common VOCs we encounter in our homes everyday are benzene, acetone and formaldehyde.
The risk of adverse health effects from inhaling these or any chemicals for that matter, depends on: 1) how much are in the air; 2) how long and; 3) how often you breathe these in.
Scientists consider short-term (acute) exposure in terms of “hours to days” and long-term (chronic) exposure as “years to even a lifetime.”
In general, breathing low levels of VOCs for long periods can still increase your risk of health problems. Studies show that exposure to VOCs may make symptoms worse for people who already have asthma or are sensitive to chemicals. (4)
VOCs in general are further linked to a laundry list of health problems, including, of course, asthma, allergies, and other respiratory problems, as well as headaches, eye and skin irritations, sore throats, colds and flu, memory loss, dizziness, fatigue and depression as well as lower birth weights and IQs in children exposed in utero. (5)
They are also known to disrupt hormones in both men and women, causing an estrogenic effect that can lead to cancer. (6)
How Bad Is the Air You Breathe?
To give you an idea of the actual depth of the problem, one study by Environmental Defence had 14 volunteers clean their kitchens for 30 minutes with typical cleaning products you buy at the grocery store and then measured the levels of VOCs prior to and after cleaning.
What they found was startling.
In 9 of the 14 homes, VOC levels increased by 120 percent!
And if that wasn’t bad enough, in 12 of the 14 homes (86 percent), the VOC levels after cleaning were actually higher than the recommended government level of exposure.
Even when supposedly “green” cleaners were used, the VOC levels were 35 percent higher than they should be. (7)
Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can lead to more serious health issues such as heart disease, respiratory disease, reproductive disorders and sterility and not surprisingly cancer.
What Can You Do?
It has really only been in the past few decades that chemicals have been added to our cleaners.
Ask your grandmother what she used to clean her home and you may be surprised to find out that you really only need a few natural products to do the job—chemical and toxin free!
Here are a few recipes you can make easily and they will even do a better job than most chemical cleaners.
Lemon Scrubbing Cleaner
- 1 cup baking soda
- 1/4 cup castile soap
- 1/4 cup water
- 40 drops lemon essential oil
- Mix all ingredients in a jar—for a thinner consistency, add a little extra water.
TIP: You can use this cleaner on your kitchen counters, sinks, stove tops and ovens as well as the bathtub. Baking soda removes dirt and stuck on grime and it will not scratch surfaces. And even better, it is a natural deodorizer.
Castile soap also cleans and lifts the dirt and grime while the lemon essential oil gives it a nice fresh, lemony scent that also cuts through grease.
Studies also show that lemon is antimicrobial so it will kill any viruses and germs, which is perfect for the kitchen or bathroom. (8) This mixture will keep for several weeks, just make sure to stir before each use.
Do you know how and why air fresheners work? They are actually designed to interfere with your ability to smell by coating the inside of your nose with an oily film, or…alarmingly…by releasing a nerve deadening agent! (9)
Here are just two of the most common toxic chemicals found in your commercial air fresheners and what they are known to do to you:
- Formaldehyde: This is a highly toxic carcinogen. One study of 11,039 textile workers performed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found a definite link between the duration of exposure to formaldehyde and leukemia deaths. (11)
- Phenol: Phenol is readily absorbed following inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact. When phenol touches your skin it can cause immediate swelling, burning, peeling, and hives. Exposure can also cause cold sweats, convulsions, circulatory collapse, coma and even death. In studies it is also directly linked to breast cancer over long-term exposure. (12)
All Natural, Homemade Air Freshener
- 1 Tbsp vodka
- 90 ml distilled water
- 30 drops of any essential oil (lavender, geranium, peppermint and lemon are nice)
- Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake before using.
TIP: The alcohol will help suspend the essential oils in the water. Spray this all-natural air freshener in rooms to freshen and eliminate odours.
You can also freshen up the dog’s bed or your linens as it is safe on most fabrics, but you should probably do a spot test first.