If there’s one thing COVID-19 has done for many of us, it has turned us into big clean freaks!
I am not here to argue that we shouldn’t be washing our hands or cleaning surfaces because we should be; rather, I want you to consider the types of products you’re using and what they might be unknowingly doing to you and your family’s health.
What you likely already know is that many cleaning products are poisonous if ingested, are harmful if inhaled or touched, and contribute to indoor air pollution. But there are some lesser known potential side effects of using conventional household cleaners and disinfectants. Luckily, many products that are safer to use have still been shown to be effective in killing COVID-19.
Conventional cleaning products and disinfectants can have harmful effects on your health that generally aren’t disclosed on the label, which include hormone disruption, long-term health effects like cancer, environmental concerns and fragrances that irritate allergies and asthma.
Here are some examples of popular cleaning products and their health concerns:
These contain two chemicals known for having hormone disrupting effects. This means the chemicals can mimic the actions of hormones in the body and lead to hormone imbalances ranging from reproductive problems (think PCOS, swollen breasts in men and women, fertility issues, endometriosis) to developmental issues in children. They also have fragrances that can cause respiratory problems, headaches and sneezing in sensitive individuals, especially those with allergies and asthma.
Among the many chemicals, it contains two ingredients that are very toxic to aquatic life. While most ingredients break down into harmless substances through water filtration, others do not. This not only impacts fish and wildlife, but also impacts the quality of the water we drink, cook with and bathe in. We couldn’t find the Canadian stats but a May 2002 study of contaminants in stream water samples across the U.S, found that 66% contained disinfectants.
The packaging on Mrs. Meyers products make them look really “green” and eco-friendly but they’re no better than others. The main concerns with these products is that they contain ingredients that are toxic to water systems, cause skin irritation and allergies and respiratory system issues.
You would think dish detergent would be safe considering that it’s used to clean things you eat with, but many are not. Cascade dish detergents for example, contain multiple ingredients linked to cancer, nervous system damage, DNA damage and digestive system problems.
Sure, using a toxic cleaning product every so often isn't likely to be an issue, but how many times in a week do you disinfect, run the dishwasher, do laundry and apply products to your skin (another major source of toxins)? Now add in the additional disinfecting you've been doing due to COVID-19 and that adds up to a lot of exposure over time.
Here are the disinfectant ingredients that have been approved for use against COVID-19 and that are unlikely to pose the above health threats, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
You can click on the hyperlinked name for each ingredient we list below and you’ll be redirected to a list of products containing the ingredient and their rating according to the EWG. The EWG gives products a rating based on the quality of ingredients and their safety. You want to choose something with ideally an A or at most a B rating, especially if you plan to use it regularly. Because the EWG is a US-based organization, not all of these products are available in Canada, so for simplicity, we have also listed an example of a product available in Canada that is considered safe according to the EWG.
You can buy hydrogen peroxide and put it in a spray bottle. Hydrogen peroxide is not to be combined with peroxyacetic acid.
Brand Name Example: Lysol Hydrogen Peroxide Cleaners
Isopropyl alcohol is better to use, while ethyl alcohol, ethanol or alcohol are okay.
Brand Name Examples: Lysol Simply All-Purpose Cleaner, Clorox Commercial Solutions Disinfecting Bio Stain & Odor Remover
Brand Name Example: Lysol Citric Acid Cleaner
Brand Name Examples: Most often used as a toilet bowl cleaner and in combination with other ingredients. Brands like Seventh Generation and Windex Multi-surface Antibacterial Disinfectant are considered “okay”.
The EWG screened hundreds of cleaning products and compiled a list of 16 that are safe for use against COVID and fewer health concerns, when used correctly. Here is the list for your reference.
There are brands like Aspen Clean and Attitude that make very safe, EWG approved cleaning products but they have not yet been tested for use against COVID-19. That being said, there are products with similar primary disinfectant ingredients that have been approved and Health Canada is continuing to test more cleaning products on an ongoing basis.
Terms like eco-friendly, green, biodegradable or “made from __% organic ingredients” are generally used for marketing purposes and don’t really speak to the quality of the ingredients.
When it comes to hand soap and dish detergents, don’t be tricked by antibacterial marketing claims. These products are likely to contain harmful antibacterial agents that don’t kill viruses or enhance the cleansing effect of soap. Antibacterial products may also be contributing to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria and are not necessary.
Washing your hands with regular soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the preferred method of killing the COVID-19 virus. When it’s not available, the CDC and Health Canada recommend hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol. When available, choose soap and sanitizers that don’t contain phthalates (hidden in fragrance formulas) or parabens, which have hormone disrupting consequences.