Why Choosing Toxic-Free Cleaning Products is a Good Idea

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Baltimore-based star-up Echotopia.org,  offers natural and refillable detergents and cleaners sold at local farmer's markets.
Baltimore’s-own Echotopia, makes natural detergents and cleaners sold in re-fillable jars marketed at local farmer’s markets.

Modern cleaning products are technological marvels based on a cocktail of synthetic and petroleum-based chemicals. Most ingredients found in everyday laundry detergents, bathroom cleaners and soaps often contain untested and toxic ingredients that are not even listed on the back of the bottle. Once down the drain, cleaning chemicals make their way into our waterways and poison fish. Consider choosing easy-to-find and affordable “green” cleaners that do the job, and also help keep your family safe. We’ve made your shopping easier by listing which brands to buy and where; some are even locally-crafted. 

Problem no.1: Conventional cleaners are petroleum-based

Though 90 percent of the world’s oil is used to motor our vehicles, the remainder is used to make plastics, chemicals, and cleaning products. Eco-friendly cleaners are vegetable oil-based, a renewable resource. Plus, you’ll know what you’re buying, eco-friendly cleaners list their ingredients on the bottle.

Problem no 2: Yucky chemicals with little testing

Independent research is finding that common chemicals found in cleaners, such as anti bacterial triclosan, bleaching chlorine and the chemical fragrances, or phthalatesaren’t good for people, especially kids.

Of the 84,000 chemicals in use in the U.S., only 5 percent have been tested. The 1976 federal law intended to keep Americans safe from chemicals, the Toxic Substance Control Act, grandfathered and deemed safe the 62,000 chemicals in use before 1976.  With 700 or so new chemicals introduced each year, our country’s out-dated law places the onus of testing on the EPA, not on manufacturers.  Only 5 chemicals have been discontinued since 1976 and asbestos isn’t on this list. 

This July, the Senate will vote on a re-vamped chemical bill named for the deceased Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, a key champion in fixing the outdated Toxic Substance Control Act. Click here to learn more and to take action. 

Problem no. 3: Poisoning our waterways 

Water treatment plants are struggling to keep up with the 84,000 known chemicals, and many pass directly through treatment plants into rivers, bays, and oceans.

For example, we recently examined phthalates and the havoc they’re wreaking on our hormones. This group of known endocrine disruptors is the suspected cause of inter-sexual fish (has both male and female sexual organs,) now found in our local rivers.  The unintended consequence of our prolific chemical use is a slow build-up in our world’s water supply. The outcome is unknown for people and animals.

Vote with your wallet. Buy less toxic cleaners.

Today, so many safer options exist that green cleaning products are priced on par with conventional options. Even the consumer biggies, Clorox and Proctor & Gamble, have jumped in the game creating less toxic options. Or, save money and make your own.

Baltimore’s own Diane Witner recently launched Echotopia, a line of natural cleaners made with locally-sourced ingredients. Diane is taking eco-friendly cleaners to a new level by, “creating a new paradigm of a local and waste-free products that don’t cause harm, but do good.” Her line of laundry detergents, hand scrubs, and all purpose cleaners are sold at local farmer’s markets in refillable mason jars. She sells her product by the pound and her start-ups strategy is to price the natural cleaners competitively. Each jar even comes with a local seed packet promoting Maryland’s plant biodiversity. 

Finding green cleaners is easiest when you shop at stores whose missions support sustainability. Cleaning products sold at Whole Foods, Fresh Market, MOM’s Organic Market and Wegman’s Organic section are all toxin-free.

The good news is that mainstream retail outlets are on board and sell toxic-free options:

Bon Ami Scouring Powder and Clorox Clean Works (grocery stores)

Ecover (Whole Foods)

Method (Target)

Mrs. Meyers (Grauls and Eddies)

Seventh Generation (Target, Whole Foods and Giant)

Simple Green (hardware stores)

Sun & Earth (Whole Foods) 

This article is part of our year-long series, Beneath the Surface: What’s in Everyday Consumer Products. Articles in this series will examine how prevalent synthetic chemicals are in everyday products, and the consequences of their use to our health and our environment. 

Is Nonstick Cookware Safe?

What’s That Pretty Smell Messing with our Hormones?

How Flame Retardant are American Breasts?

Big Fish: Getting Smart about Chemicals with Baltimore’s Toxin Guru McKay Jenkins

How green is your mani-pedi?

Buying Safe Seafood in Baltimore’s Fishbowl

Filtering Baltimore’s drinking water: It’s worth the trouble.

Laurel Peltier
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Laurel Peltier

Laurel writes the environmental GreenLaurel column every other Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of UVA's MBA program, she spends her time with her family and making "all things green" interesting.
Laurel Peltier
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