Chemicals are everywhere. They’re in the environment, in our food, and in our homes. Even the “safe” cleaners you use every day contain chemicals, and while there may be no way to completely eliminate them, there are things you can do to minimize their impact.
Before we get too far, I want to say that I am in no way a scientist or chemical expert. The information and tips I’m about to present to you come courtesy of my dad, who worked as a sanitation expert for 26 years, first for Diversey Lever and then with a local company based in Seattle.
He is an expert in commercial cleaners and sanitizers, as well as those used daily in our homes.
The following information represents his advice on what you need to know about the chemicals in your home to save money, your health, and the environment.
Wash, Rinse, and Sanitize
First, I want to explain a bit about how cleaning and sanitizing work because they are two different things.
In the sanitation business, they have a mantra: wash, rinse, sanitize.
The reason is you can only sanitize a surface if it’s been cleaned. Bacteria need water and a food source to thrive, so if the surface isn’t cleaned, then bacteria may live despite sanitizing.
For most people, cleaning is all that’s needed, followed by rinsing the surface. However, if you choose to sanitize, make sure you thoroughly clean the surface first. For cleaning, a good soap is typically sufficient.
Dilution, Dilution, Dilution
Just as location is the key with real estate, dilution is the key with chemicals.
Here’s the deal. Chemicals don’t go away.
The only way to “get rid” of chemicals is to dilute them with water. This means that any chemical spilled on the ground or dumped into water is still there.
This is why it’s so important to limit our use of chemicals whenever we can to prevent build-up and allow for dilution, especially when it comes to the environment.
All Cleaners and Detergents Contain Poisons
The first thing you need to know about the chemicals in your home is that almost all of them contain poisons.
Yes, I’m talking about the household cleaners and detergents on the shelves of your local grocery store. Almost all of them contain poisons.
At this point, you might be wondering how that could be?
The key is dilution. All the products you buy at the store have been diluted to a point where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems them safe for everyday use.
While these poisons have been greatly diluted, they are still there. After all, it’s the poisonous agent of the product that does the cleaning/sanitizing.
Three types of chemicals are found in most household cleaning/sanitizing products: phosphates, ammonia, and alcohol. Additionally, there are two types of alcohol: propylene glycol and ethylene glycol.
Propylene glycol is corn alcohol and can be assimilated by our bodies. On the other hand, ethylene glycol is wood alcohol and is commonly used in your car (hint: it’s a neon green color).
Again, almost all cleaning/sanitizing agents you can buy at the store contain poisons, it’s just the amount of dilution that’s happened that makes them “safe” to sell to consumers. Next time you’re in the store, take a look at the label to see if/which poisons are in your favorite cleaning products and make your decisions accordingly.
Use ¼ of the Factory Recommendation
Although the chemicals found in our household cleaners have been diluted, factory recommendations for their use are still typically much higher than what is needed to provide sufficient cleaning.
Because of this, my dad recommends using ¼ of what is recommended on the packaging to get the job done.
Remember dilution? Using ¼ of what is recommended will still give you the clean you want while minimizing the build-up of the chemical, as well as your exposure to it. Using less than what is recommended also means you won’t use the product as quickly, which will save you money.
Thus, using ¼ of what is recommended is one of the major things you need to know about the chemicals in your home to save money, your health, and the environment.
Save Your Clothes and Your Money
Although this piece of advice falls into the category above, I think it bears its own section.
Laundry detergent contains phosphates, one of the previously-mentioned poisons. Again, the key with laundry detergent is to use less than what is recommended, and you’ll usually get the same clean with ¼ of the product recommendation.
Like with other cleaners/sanitizers, using ¼ of the recommended amount will result in using the product more slowly, which will save you money. However, using ¼ of what is recommended for laundry detergent will save you money another way.
Have you ever noticed that your clothes tend to lose their color, elasticity, and shape over time? That’s because phosphates break clothing down over time. Thus, using ¼ of the recommended amount will expose your clothes to fewer phosphates, which will result in them lasting longer. If your clothes last longer, you won’t need to spend as much money replacing them, saving you even more money.
Using less than the recommended amount will also reduce the exposure of your skin to phosphates, as well as reduce the amount of them in the sewer system.
A Little Works Good, but a Lot Works…
Keeping with the dilution topic, another thing you need to know about the chemicals in your home is that using more of them doesn’t give you a better result.
There’s a misconception with cleaners/sanitizers that if a little works well, a lot will work even better. This simply isn’t true.
Remember the ¼ of the recommendation rule? You should use what is necessary to get the clean you’re looking for, but using more will not clean any better. The only thing using more of the product will do is contribute to its build-up in your home and the environment. The more the chemicals build up, the more you will be exposed to them.
Remember that dilution is key to their safe use. In this case, more isn’t better.
An Alternative to Roundup
Finally, I want to leave you with an alternative to a product many people use regularly: Roundup.
Roundup, like the other chemical products we’ve been discussing, contains poisons. To be exact, the active ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate, but I’ll let you look up what that is for yourself.
The main thing you need to be aware of is that Roundup doesn’t go away except through dilution. Unfortunately, with so many people using it in their yards, it’s a safe bet that the chemicals in it are building up in the soil and possibly, making their way into water sources.
The good news is there is an effective alternative to Roundup that won’t leave any residue except salt. Here’s the recipe.
Get a spray bottle and fill it with apple cider vinegar. Next, add two heaping tablespoons of Epsom salt and swish it around a bit.
This concoction will kill any plants you spray it on but won’t leave anything behind except for salt.
In fact, apple cider vinegar is a safe cleaner to use on any surface, it’s just that most avoid it because of the smell. Another option is to use lemon, which will leave a better smell.
Moral of the Story
Chemicals are everywhere, but there are things we can do to minimize their impact.
This article explained some key things you need to know about the chemicals in your home to save money, your health, and the environment.
These takeaways are as follows:
- You can only sanitize a clean surface (wash, rinse, sanitize)
- Dilution is the key with chemicals
- Almost all cleaners/detergents you buy at the store contain poisons
- Use ¼ of the recommended usage to save money and reduce your exposure
- A little works good, but a lot doesn’t work any better
- Use apple cider vinegar and Epsom salt as an alternative to Roundup
Do you know what poisons are in your household cleaners? Remember to use only what is needed to get the cleaning done to save money, your health, and the environment.
Tawnya is a 34-year-old Special Education teacher in the sixth year of her career. Along with her partner, Sebastian, she runs the blog Money Saved is Money Earned. Tawnya has worked extremely hard to reach her goals and remain debt-free.
She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University and has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer.
Tawnya and Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. It is this wealth of tips and tricks that they wish to pass on to others.