Common cleaning products that can affect indoor air quality
Do you shelter in place and clean everything in your house with a vengeance? It’s a natural response to a pandemic like the novel coronavirus. “There’s a big, big fear going on right now, which leads to this ‘gut search for bleach,'” says Jillian Pritchard Cooke, Atlanta interior designer and founder of Wellness Within Your Walls, an authority on non-toxic living matter. Whether you’re looking to completely overhaul your cleansing routine or make one change at a time, here are three swaps to consider.
Compared to last year, we purchased nearly 400% more spray disinfectants and 180% more cleaning wipes in March 2020. Your home may look and smell clean, but these products can harm your health and indoor air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency says indoor air quality can be two to five times worse than outdoor air, thanks to toxins in household cleaners, dryer sheets and home fragrances.
But Cooke says you can disinfect your home without harming your health. “Botanical standbys are just as effective at removing virus particles from surfaces as bleach,” she says. “And here’s the good news: they don’t have any nasty side effects on your health.”
Sprays and wipes
Bleach sprays and cleaning wipes are popular choices for disinfecting doorknobs, countertops and shoes. But most conventional wipes and sprays contain antibacterial disinfectants called QUATs (quaternary ammonium compounds), which are registered with the EPA as pesticides. QUATs can irritate your lungs, skin and eyes. They’re linked to asthma and fertility issues, and they promote superbug bacteria, Cooke says.
In place: Choose plant-based cleansers that say “sanitizer” on the label. Powered by enzymes, hydrogen peroxide and essential oils, they do the same job, Cooke says. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning for Eco-Friendly Disinfectants. Always wear gloves and a bandana over your nose when cleaning.
Delicate dryer sheets provide that fresh laundry scent and soften clothes. But a 2012 study found that they often contain QUATs and fragrances that can make asthma or allergies worse, and worse. “Dryer sheets are known to contain over 1,000 chemicals that can disrupt hormones and affect the gut microbiome,” says Christi Buck, a Florida registered dietitian who practices functional medicine.
In place: Try wool dryer balls soaked in lavender or grapefruit essential oil to combat static and lint.
Air fresheners and perfumes
Air fresheners, vaporizers, and plug-in candles release delicious smells, but fragrances can turn into toxins called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when they hit the air. Formaldehyde VOC is especially harmful to people with allergies or asthma, as well as children whose lungs are still developing.
In place: Scent the air with an aromatherapy diffuser and your favorite essential oil.