Consumer Corner: Safer spring cleaning

By MICHELLE GROENKE  |  April 14, 2013 at 6:30 AM
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CHICAGO, April 14 (UPI) -- Open the windows and shake out the rugs: It's time for spring cleaning.

Letting some fresh air inside can do wonders for the house and your psyche, helping to blow away the cobwebs of winter. Just make sure you aren't kicking up a dust cloud of toxins.

Dr. Sarah Janssen, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council's health and environment program, says household dust holds a variety of health hazards, but that's no reason to stop dusting -- especially if kids live in the house.

Flame retardants and phylates are among the chemicals found in household dust and children can ingest them after coming into contact.

"Be a smarter housecleaner," Janssen told UPI. "Dust is a major source of exposure to a lot of the chemicals that are in our home environment." Don't use a feather duster, Janssen said, and be careful about using a broom that is just going to kick up dust particles.

"Use a damp cloth or a microfiber cloth," she said. "Vacuum with a HEPA filter."

Leave your shoes at the door to prevent dirt from being tracked inside.

"We pick up a lot of things just walking around every day," said Janssen, who provides scientific expertise for policy and regulatory decisions on a number of toxic chemicals, including hormone-disrupting substances that interfere with fertility and reproduction.

The NRDC is urging people to purge their households this spring of items that contain chemicals such as tetrachlorvinphos, triclosan, lindane, flame retardants and the weedkiller 2,4-D, which all made the NRDC's recent top 5 list of "stupidest household chemicals."

Tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur are found on some flea collars.

"Stop using flea collars with these neurotoxins," the NRDC said in a release. "Safer flea and tick control options exist."

Antibacterial products such as handsoaps containing triclosan and triclocarban are also targeted.

"These chemicals don't get your hands any cleaner but can interfere with hormones," the NRDC said.

"Check lice shampoo labels to make sure lindane, an EPA-banned pesticide and neurotoxin, is not on the ingredients list."

And be careful with lawn care products containing 2,4-D.

"Pick weeds by hand and spot-apply only when needed," the NRDC said.

Cleaning with a damp mop and vacuuming with a HEPA filter will help decrease exposure to flame retardants found in furniture, especially couches.

While consumers say time is of the essence when it comes to cleaning, 56 percent of shoppers say they are concerned about the healthfulness of their cleaning products, market research firm Mintel said.

While the household surface cleaners market has grown just 2 percent from 2007 to 2012, more than half (57 percent) of the consumers surveyed said they would pay more for products that make cleaning faster.

Some 56 percent of all adults surveyed said they're concerned about the healthfulness of cleaning product ingredients.

"Currently, just 13 percent of housecleaners agree strongly that environmentally friendly surface cleaners are as effective as conventional cleaners -- but there is opportunity for natural cleaners with disinfecting power," Mintel said in a release.

"Factors such as natural ingredients and packages made from recycled materials are less likely to be rated very important, but they can nonetheless be points of difference to consumers, as long as their expectations for cleaning performance and convenience are met first," John Owen, senior household analyst at Mintel, said in a statement.

While there are plenty of "natural" household cleaners with fancy labels -- and price tags -- sitting on store shelves today, don't forget about some inexpensive cleaning products that your great-grandmother may have used.

Heinz is marketing a special cleaning strength vinegar with 6 percent acidity versus the 5 percent commonly found in cooking vinegar. It is designed to be 20 percent stronger than traditional distilled white vinegar, said Suzanne Basista of Heinz North America.

According to The Vinegar Institute, the high acetic acid level makes it a highly effective cleaning agent. Vinegar is biodegradable, cuts through grease and is safe for stainless steel.

"According to recent Nielsen data, the vinegar category is up 9.8 percent over the prior year," Basista said. "We believe the trend toward using vinegar for cleaning purposes is contributing to this growth."

Baking soda is another time-tested non-toxic cleaning product. It can be used to eliminate odors, serve as a scouring powder and even be used as a scrub to eliminate residue from fresh produce, according Arm & Hammer's website.

Topics: Ed White
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