Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Soapbox Monday: What's under YOUR kitchen sink?

Many cleaners contain caustic, even toxic, chemicals that may be bad for our health. There are alternatives, but do they work as well?

Soapbox Monday: What's under YOUR kitchen sink?

Today, Lauren E. Leonard of greenlimbs.com and I are are hoping to start a conversation about chemicals in everyday products ... by ‘fessing up about what’s under our kitchen sinks.

Many cleaners contain caustic, even toxic, chemicals that may be bad for our health. There are alternatives, but do they work as well?

We hope you’ll join the debate by commenting below or on the greenlimbs site.

SANDY: Hi Lauren. I just dove into the cabinet, and it’s not a pretty sight. Here’s what I found:

Dishwasher packets. (I think they’re wrapped in plastic.) Soft Scrub. Cinch all-purpose cleaner in a plastic spray bottle. Various kinds of Pledge for furniture. Windex. Cleaner for a glass stovetop. A “green” household cleaner, unopened. A spray bottle of Seventh Generation cleaner. Yet another cleaner … for floors. Silver polish. Various brushes. Watering cans for plants.

Finally, a trash can, with a plastic grocery bag inside. Heh heh. With recycling and composting, I don’t have much trash. So I’ve decided not to freak out if I occasionally don’t bring a reusable bag to the store, and then use the plastic for the trash. Don’t tell Julie!

LAUREN: Hi Sandy. Judging by the amount of stuff under my sink, I'm a border-line hoarder, but let's focus on the harsh chemicals. Under my sink are Windex, Lysol fabric refresher, Lysol disinfectant spray, and MiracleGro Plant Food. Also, there is baking soda, vinegar, a combination of the two with eucalyptus oil, an earth-friendly dish soap and natural all-purpose cleaner.

I've held onto some of the caustic cleaners because I'm a sucker for that “clean” smell. I've been big on the Lysol disinfectant spray recently because of the flu season.

I did some reading on the effectiveness of the "clean" smelling commercial cleaners versus natural ones and found that while the commercial ones seem to kill more germs, we're more likely getting sick from person to person contact than shared hard surfaces. (Click here to see the article.)

SANDY: I default to the commercial (presumably more caustic) cleaners as well. Especially for the bathroom. It's hard enough getting the grout clean even with them!

Another guilty secret of mine: I LOVE those wet-wipes. One Thanksgiving when our well water pump went out, and I was expecting a houseful for dinner, I raced to the grocery and bought some so I could clean easier without water. They work great. But a one-use product? How wasteful!

Women's Voices for the Earth is a huge advocate for homemade cleaners, and people I talk to who have tried them say they work. Last summer, Heinz introduced a stronger "cleaning vinegar." I wrote about it here.  But I haven't had much luck finding it in stores. Supposedly, it's in Wal-Mart.

LAUREN: I use disposable wipes to keep my dog clean (paws and other unmentionable areas…). If we two "green" people are 'fessing up to using things we know are wasteful and potentially harmful, what's the rest of the population doing? And how do we do better?

SANDY: What a great question, Lauren. I'd be tempted to say we need to hope chemists for cleaning companies can come up with better -- as in safer -- formulations. But generally I think that waiting for technology to solve our problems is a cop-out. I''m not sure we should wait that long.

So I suppose I'll pledge to renew my efforts to use more vinegar and other eco-cleaners. And hopefully, that will apply market pressure. The more sales that Seventh Generation and similar companies have, the more pressure there will be on "traditional" companies to follow suit.

Did you see how consumers recently convinced Procter & Gamble to take a carcinogen out of some Tide detergents?  The company said the amount was inconsequential, but they removed it anyway because customers perceived it as being unsafe.

LAUREN: I did see the Tide story and applaud those who took up the charge. I think that story proves the power of consumers and should inspire us all to be diligent in demanding better, safer products; changing the tide, if I may. I'll join you in your pledge to use more holistic cleaners and encourage others to do the same.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at sbauers@phillynews.com.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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