Here’s What Using Harsh Cleaning Chemicals Is Doing To Our Planet

December 30, 2019

Keeping our homes clean and sanitized is important, of course. If you have a house full of kids, you know just how quickly germs spread and how easy it is to fall victim even if you’re washing your hands as often as you can. 

But as we reach for the wet wipes or jump in the shower to exfoliate, are we doing way more harm than good? Sure, your skin is smoother and your floors are cleaner, but at what cost to the environment? 

Here’s what just a few common household cleaning products are doing to our planet. 

1. Microbeads

The end of 2017 saw somewhat of a ban on microbeads, tiny pieces of plastic can easily pass water filtration systems and end up in the sea damaging our precious ocean life. But since the ban only extended to cosmetics (face washes, toothpaste, body scrubs, etc.), many common household products still contain the miniscule life-ruiners. 

Once in our waterways, microbeads have a damaging effect on marine life, the environment, and human health due to their composition, ability to absorb toxins, and potential to transfer up the marine food chain. They are also almost impossible to remove.

2. Wet wipes

This single-use cleaning product saw a 400% rise over the past few years. After you use them for the few seconds it takes to wipe a hand or a face and toss them, they wind up on beaches. Wipes don’t dissolve in water the way paper does and often contain plastic-- and are never fully dissolved. 

You’re way better off cutting up an old cotton or flannel shirt and soaking it in a DIY cleaning solution that suits whatever your needs are for a wipe. 

3. Antibacterial gels and soaps

Antibacterial soaps contain additives including the chemicals triclocarban (TCC) and triclosan (TCS). In research conducted by Rolf Halden, director of the Center for Environmental Security, it’s become clear that TCC and TCS are dangerous because of their inability to degrade easily and the fact that they make up 60 percent of the mass of all drugs found in sewage sludge, or wastewater treatment plant sludge. These chemicals also are contaminants in lakes and rivers that have adverse effects on aquatic animals.

Plus, it turns out killing 99.9% of all germs after touching, well, anything, isn't as necessary as we've been led to believe. The obsession with using antibacterial gels and soaps is causing the rise of  antibiotic-resistant superbugs as well as interfering with immune system development in children. In short, it’s okay for kids to be exposed to some level of germs so their immune systems can learn to fight and grow strong. 

4. Aerosol cans

The CFCs aerosols once contained may now be banned, but many aerosols still contain hydrocarbons and compressed gasses like nitrous oxide, both of which are greenhouse gases. Aerosol cans also have a high packaging to product ratio, meaning the cans themselves are simply wasteful and very difficult to recycle. 

5. Detergents containing phosphates

Phosphates are used in laundry detergents since they soften water and remove tough, greasy stains. Phosphates are naturally-occuring, but when they enter our water system in large amounts, they cause a process called 'eutrophication' to happen far more rapidly. This is because phosphates act as fertilisers, causing plants to grow far more rapidly than they would naturally and essentially choking the waterway.

6. Chlorine bleaches

Chlorine bleach is a corrosive chemical found in many cleaning products at home. We’ve gotten so used to using it and seeing it as an ingredient, we’ve glossed over the fact it is incredibly dangerous and far more harmful than the germs it was invented to get rid of. 

Manufacturers often release bleach into water bodies where it reacts with other minerals to create dangerous toxins that linger for decades. 

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