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Mass-Marketed Household Products May Be More Hazardous Than Most People Realize

The word green has exploded in its usage throughout the U.S. Green products are products that do not harm the environment and that do not deplete resources. As consumers, however, we need to be aware that some mass-market companies are abusing and intentionally graying the lines behind the intended meaning of words and phrases like green, biodegradable, aromatherapy, pure, and naturally derived.

Unlike cosmetic ingredients, household cleaners don't have to disclose its full ingredient list. Consumers are left in the dark about the exact ingredients contained in many household products.

When you shop for a household product, it's important to consider the product's effects on...

  • Your skin, lungs and your overall health and those of your family including young children

  • The product's lasting effects on the environment

  • Any detriment the product has on the household items that it comes into contact with

It can be easier and cheaper to shop at large discount stores for the best deals on household products, but the harm that they can cause to you and your family can wind up putting a toll on your pocketbook and time spent at the doctor.

More natural and environmentally conscious small businesses and artisans are making effective and affordable household products that are safer and gentler to use. Educate yourself on the hazards and risks that exist with the ingredients that are included in many household products. If mass-market companies didn't have anything to hide and were proud of all of the ingredients in their products, they would disclose their full ingredient lists. I've heard that large companies don't disclose their full ingredient lists because competitors will then be able to replicate their product. I don't buy that argument because a) patents help protect proprietary formulations, b) other product types that are regulated (i.e. foods and drugs) must disclose their ingredients and c) with the available funds that large household product companies have at their disposal for R&D, it's relatively easy to perform a direct chemical analysis on competing products to determine the product's ingredient composition.

Below is a list of the most frequently used household product types. Also included is a description of the hazards that exist with the common chemicals/ingredients that are included in some of the most popular mass-marketed brands:

Dish Soap (Dishwashing Liquid):

Even if you have a dishwasher, there are quite a few advantages to washing dishes by hand. Though I have a dishwasher and was raised in a household that used one daily, I now rarely bother with my dishwasher. The reasons include my desire to conserve water while protecting my vintage glassware, cookware and dishes. In a small household, it doesn't seem to take much longer to wash dishes by hand.

Dishwashing liquid is a product that is usually classified as a "household" product. It, however, should be more carefully regulated since it is a product that comes into direct and prolonged contact with the skin. For those of us that do dishes by hand, the length of time our hands remain immersed in soapy dishwater that is formulated to work on filthy, greasy dishes/bakeware can be longer than the amount of time that we spend shampooing/conditioning our hair, or cleansing our face/body.

Anti-bacterial dishwashing liquids can present another set of challenges. Triclosan is an active agent that is commonly used in anti-bacterial dishwashing liquids. Several health concerns exist over the use of triclosan. One major concern is that the use of triclosan can cause human resistance to antibiotics. In other words, if we should ever need to be put on an antibiotic, the antibiotic may be far less effective if we frequently use products containing antibacterial agents like triclosan. Another primary concern exists about triclosan's ability to transform into chloroform gas when simply mixed with tap water that has been chlorinated by public water utilities.

Dishwasher Detergents:

Mass-marketed dish detergents can contain chlorine bleach and phosphates. Both are corrosive/caustic and are bad for the environment. If not completely rinsed from our dishware, cutlery and utensils, bleach and phosphate residue can be ingested. Phosphates are known for causing stomach upset and nausea.

Surface Cleaners:

When using surface cleaners, the cleaning agent can come into contact with our skin as we spray or wipe it with a towel. If it's a spray, the mist becomes aireborn, and can land on our skin and clothes and can become accidentally inhaled. Even if the surfaces are then rinsed away, cleaner residue can remain on our countertops, tables, floors and other surfaces.

Room Fresheners:

Room fresheners, by their nature, include substances that are released into the air. Mass marketed air fresheners are available as sprays, mists, plug-ins and candles. Chemicals, alcohol, synthetic fragrances and toxic ingredients can be inhaled into the lungs. The mist/residue from sprays and plug-ins can land on our skin and fall into any open food or beverages. Candles made with paraffin wax (a byproduct of petroleum production) emit toxins into the air. The Web site of a leading room freshener manufacturer promotes one of their air fresheners as being "...blended with natural fragrance oils." Fragrance oils, by their definition, are made using synthetic ingredients. Perhaps this company isn't even fully aware of the difference between natural essential oils and fragrance oils. At the very least, they don't seem to care enough to provide accurate information to their potential customers.

Laundry Products:

Mass-marketed laundry detergent typically contains a full suite of chemicals including synthetic fragrance. I recently looked at the labels for a few mass-market products, and they don't include a full ingredient list. For laundry detergents, color brighteners and spot removal products, I'm noticing derivatives of the following statement:

Biodegradable Surfactants (Anionic and Nonionic), Enzymes

The use of the word biodegradable implies that the ingredients are harmless, but even harsh chemicals can be biodegradable. Anionic and nonionic refer to surfactants that are categorized based on the ionic charge that each surfactant has. Anionic surfactants include chemicals that are known to be irritants or sensitizers. For instance, anionic surfactants include Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate.

The mass-market products that I looked at don't disclose any specific ingredients or synthetic fragrances that they include. Most laundry cleaning products are strongly scented, so I presume they are heavily loaded with synthetic fragrance.

The FDA has regulated that certain known irritants like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate are ok to put into skin care, hair care and household cleaning products. Their belief is that most irritants like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate will be rinsed away (i.e. your washing machine rinses out the laundry soap and you rinse out your shampoo after a minute or two). As consumers, however, we know fully well that products aren't always fully rinsed after use, even when we do our best. Consumers trying to preserve water, for instance, often fill their washers with as many clothes as they can. This makes it more difficult for clothes to be completely and evenly rinsed. It doesn't sound like the FDA considers that most consumers use a combination of personal and home care products during the day. If multiple products contain SLS, there is a significantly increased chance of developing sensitization, irritation and other problems.

Shop Confidently for Household Products With Beauty By the Batch

Beauty By the Batch is a practical resource for assisting you in finding artisans that provide natural and nearly all-natural household products. Begin your search by visiting the Home Cleaning & Fragrancing category of Beauty By the Batch's Artisan Directory. Not only do the artisans that appear within the Artisan Directory support the efforts of Beauty By the Batch, but they have all agreed to adhere to Beauty By the Batch's Artisan Code of Conduct.. By agreeing to our Artisan Code of Conduct, artisans agree to abide by truthful and accurate marketing as well as a number of other practices that are in the best interest of consumers.

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