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Baking soda is all you need to make your own green cleaning products

I attended a green cleaning party today with a group of voluble, smart women as part of a national Safe Cleaning Products Initiative sponsored by Women's Voices for the Earth .The campaign provided mixing directions, labels and green cleaning party kits free of charge . Last July Marketplace aired a story about WVE's rising voice against the effect of toxic chemicals on women in particular.

The lines are always the same: no way to find out what's in it (you can if the company doesn't claim all components as trade secrets) and that consumer safety is "our highest priority" as Procter & Gamble states. Well, if consumer safety was the priority of these manufacturers, then perhaps there wouldn't be 200 ingredients in a household cleaner-- the longer the list, the bigger trouble you are in. It also struck me as "odd" that the reason ingredients aren't listed is because the law doesn't require it. What are they hiding then?

WVE's web site reveals that American women's breast milk is so fully laced with synthetic chemicals that if bottled, most of it would not pass FDA regulations. Check out the Collaborative on Health and the Environment and Breast Cancer Fund if you really want to get riled up.

After getting a house tour of how to clean, we paired up with newly found friends and large containers of baking soda, distilled white vinegar, olive oil, castile soap, essential oils, borax and hydrogen peroxide. In minutes we made a family of cleaning products containing perhaps four ingredients max-- not the 20 (or 200) in your synthetic products-- using mainly salad dressing ingredients and baking soda. I tested one as soon as I got home and our windows were never cleaner. Corporate cage fight: Clorox versus Church & Dwight Co, Inc., owners of the Arm & Hammer baking soda empire.

Companies continue to make consumer products that are not tested for safety, will never be tested for safety, and don't have to be tested for safety. Oh, I almost forgot-- they also don't have to label the products fully and the constituents are often protected by trade secret claims your tax dollars pay to protect.

Truthful and accurate labeling should be the currency of democracy. The Consumer Product Safety Commission only regulates and requires labeling for household cleaners based on these hazard categories: toxic, flammable, caustic, irritant, sensitizer, carcinogen, nerve or reproductive toxin. The big but is there are thousands of chemicals that have other human health effects, plus the law doesn't cover "fragrance" which can itself contains tens and sometimes hundreds of toxic chemicals... so basically the law is meaningless since it left the back door wide open... really wide.

I had boatloads of fun in this spring cleaning protest against corporations and their failure to protect human health, label products clearly and honestly address the core of what's at play in toys, personal care products and cleaning chemicals:

We are engaged in a very dangerous, long-term experiment with our health and economy in a post-WWII love affair with synthetic chemicals that humans and other parts of nature are simply not designed to deal with -- period.

I hate to sound so naive but I can't reach any conclusion other than that quarterly earnings trump virtually every other value under consideration, including your health. Because if it was otherwise, you would be able to read a label, understand it, and feel good about what's inside.

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Hello, I have a janitorial company and I'm looking to start a green cleaning supplies online store. Does anyone think this is a good business idea?

Toxic in what amounts? After all, water can kill you. It's not about if it is, it's about how much is.

Heidi: Great synopsis of the cleaning day. Chemical 'warfare' is staggering. I avoid the cleaning product aisle in any grocery, because of the overwhelming smells. Born in the early 50s, I remember playing outside after the neighborhood was saturated in DDT for mosquitoes. Anything we can do to control/monitor our ingestion of toxins will help. Contacting the companies may not seem to get a great response, but if they hear from many of us, it's bound to have a payoff. Who would have thought Wal-Mart would sell organics? Perhaps we can motivate companies to list ingredients and, wonder of wonders, manufacture SAFE products! Keep up the good work!

Are we living in the year 2008 in the U.S. of A.? I continually find it hard to believe that our government, while requiring food manufacturers to list their ingredients, still doesn't hold cleaning product manufacturers to similar standards. Labeling, labeling, labeling! Consumers have the right to know what they are buying and I, for one, am ready to boycott the biggies if they continue to stonewall. Arm & Hanner and Heinz Vinegar - get ready for increased sales!
When I discussed this with one of my co-workers she noted that whenever she cleans her bathroom with Simple Green her asthma acts up. She is a classic example of why there needs to be labeling - so that someone like her can select a product without asthma-inducing ingredients.

Wonderful article, Heidi! Green cleaning parties are a great way to raise awareness about an issue that affects us all -- toxics in our homes and bodies.

I'd like to respond to two of the earlier comments...Michelle had asked about green cleaning in schools. For more information on this topic, take a look at Women's Voices for the Earth's website: http://www.womenandenvironment.org/campaignsandprograms/SafeCleaning/ins...

Also, Allen's note about the amount of toxics is an interesting one, yet we look at this issue in a different way. Toxics in cleaning products, even in trace amounts, have been linked to reproductive harm and asthma. Also, considering that there are trace amounts of toxic chemicals in other products we use on a daily basis, those exposures begin to bioaccumulate or add up over time. We simply don't know the long-term effect of cumulative exposure to these chemicals.

That said, it's better to use products without toxics than those with even tiny amounts in them.

And finally, toxics in equal toxics out. Toxic chemicals used to manufacture products eventually come out in our air and water, and ultimately, end up back in our bodies. A great video that covers this issue can be found here: www.storyofstuff.com

For more information on green cleaning parties, check out: www.womenandenvironment.org/greenclean

It's my hope that a labeling requirement for some of these chemicals in cleaners will have the same effect as the trans fats labeling in foods. Once companies are required to list undesirables in their products, and people are educated about avoiding them, no one wants to get caught with a label that puts them at a disadvantage with their competitors. If people's health won't change corporations' minds, their profits will!

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