hand wearing glove and spraying liquid from spray bottle

The Environmental Impact of Household Cleaners

Week 31

Last week, I focused specifically on bathroom cleaners, but what about cleaning products in the rest of the house? I use a multi-surface spray to clean every other room, so it should definitely be safe for both my health and the environment.

Why are conventional household cleaners a problem?

Water Pollution

Many household cleaners pose a problem when they are washed down the drain and end up in our waterways. According to the EPA certain ingredients in cleaners can be hazardous to aquatic species. Many surfactants used in conventional products break down into more toxic chemicals, which threaten marine life. Alkylphenol ethoxylates, found in more than half of the household cleaning market, are known endocrine disruptors, harmful to both humans and wildlife. In addition, ingredients containing phosphorus or nitrogen can load nutrients in water bodies, leading to a negative impact on water quality.

Air Pollution

Aerosols, cleansers, and disinfects are all sources of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are emitted as gases and can cause high pollutant levels. According to the EPA, VOCs can affect indoor air quality as well as contribute to smog formation outdoors. Exposure to VOCs may cause health effects including:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
  • Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
  • Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

Plastic Packaging

Cleaning Product bottles, like all plastics, are made from crude oil, a non-renewable resource, which is harmful for two reasons: manufacturing generates significant pollution and the product is not biodegradable. As Sciencing.com put it, "they are difficult to produce and nearly impossible to get rid of once produced". Instead of biodegrading, plastic breaks down into tiny micro-plastics that litter our soil, our waterways, and even our air.

Are plastic spray cleaning bottles recyclable?

Most cleaning bottles are made of #1 or #2 plastics and are curbside recyclable once emptied. Remember that the recycling symbol on a product does not mean it is recyclable, that number only indicates what material was used. Check your local requirements to make sure you know which plastics are and are not accepted for pickup. Metal cans used for aerosols, are also recyclable, but again, must be empty.

How can I clean my home more sustainably?

First, finish using the cleaning products you have and when it's time to replace them, opt for an environmentally-friendly, low-waste cleaner. You can also make a multi-purpose spray cleaning bottle that uses natural ingredients. Instead of single-use paper towels, opt for rags that can be washed and reused.

10 Sustainable Multi-Surface Cleaners →