Whole Story

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What You Won't Find in our Cleaning Products

By Anna Madrona, October 16, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Anna Madrona
The “Goals Gals” were coming to my house. The three of us have been meeting for more than six years, supporting one another with new career, volunteer and hobby goals. A few years ago, one of our trio developed chemical sensitivities after a bad experience with a bug bomb when trying to rid her house of fleas. My friend Ella (not her real name) now reacts negatively to air fresheners, incense, artificial scents, most conventional cleaning products, plastic, paint and carpet that off-gasses — a condition sometimes called Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). When Ella comes in contact with these materials she says it’s like her “brain just starts sizzling, like it is frying and I simply cannot concentrate on anything.” While our group typically meets outdoors, this time it was my house and I didn’t want to let Ella down. Nor, frankly, was I interested in spraying questionable chemicals in my living quarters. Thanks to Ella’s influence, I stopped using air fresheners (and even conventional perfumes) years ago. I have bamboo floors and the last time any walls were painted was 11 years ago, so I felt like those elements were under control. But I’d let a few things slip over our long, hot summer and I now had 24 hours to tidy my house in a mindful way, removing dust and grime, while using products that wouldn’t cause Ella distress. Last year I deliberately removed all conventional cleaning products from the house. Everything that remains in my housekeeping caddy comes from Whole Foods Market, where our Quality Standards extend even to things like cleaning supplies. As I’ve used up products, I’ve upgraded to those that are categorized as Yellow or Green on our Eco-Scale. But I have to admit, I hadn’t read the labels very carefully. Before I spritzed the first spray, though, I wanted to double check on the fragrance component. I remembered that manufacturers of conventional cleaning products sometimes use phthalates to enhance the longevity of a product’s scent. Phthalates have been linked to cancer and endocrine system disruption and are currently covered under the umbrella term “fragrance” in conventional products, where ingredient transparency is not currently required. I consulted our Eco-Scale Unacceptable Ingredients list which told me that any products in our Eco-Scale Orange level can contain artificial fragrance, but no phthalates. Ella reacts to almost any kind of artificial fragrance, though. I checked to see what my counter spray cleaner listed. Citrus blend essential oils. Good, I could use that one safely — no artificial fragrance OR phthalates. Whew! While tossing the guest and kitchen towels into the washing machine, I read labels again. I wanted to make sure that none of my cleaners or laundry products contained any bleach, which has an odor (and chemical composition) my friend would likely react to. Although popular as a conventional disinfectant and fabric whitener, even diluted sodium hypochlorite can be extremely harsh on skin and can actually contribute to the formation of organochlorines, such as the chlorofluorocarbons that damage the ozone layer. Talk about a potentially volatile substance! Sodium hypochlorite is another compound Whole Foods Market doesn’t allow in the cleaning supplies listed on our Eco-Scale, so I was covered on that one, too. But what about phosphates? Laundry detergents are often full of these chemicals, which soften water and increase cleaning power but also encourage algae growth in waterways and decrease the oxygen content in standing water. While the phosphates wouldn’t bother Ella, they bother me. A check of the Eco-Scale reveals — no phosphates. Floor mopping was simple. My all-in-one mop consists of a microfiber pad for the head (reusable and no one-use pads going to the landfill) and a refillable tank into which I poured all-purpose citrus-based cleaner with some water. No worries about the cat sauntering across the wet floor and getting questionable chemicals on her paws. Besides, like most cats, she detests the odor of citrus — she stayed out of the kitchen. Finally, the sinks. They’re big, they’re porcelain and they needed some elbow grease. Thankfully, I had a scent-free gentle scrubber on hand that used calcium carbonate as a mild abrasive. Unlike the bleach-boosted powder cleansers I used in the past, this cleaner also shined fixtures that tend to show every hard water spot and was pleasant to use. How did I do with my mindful cleaning efforts? The Goals Gals stayed for three hours, with Ella experiencing nary a brain sizzle. We accomplished much toward our goals and the house smelled and felt much cleaner — in a healthy way. As a result of my Saturday scrubbing efforts I have a better understanding of just how useful our Eco-Scale and the ingredient transparency that backs it can be. I’m even more impressed with what we don’t allow in our cleaners. Could anyone who visits — or lives in — your house (perhaps someone with asthma) benefit from “less” in your cleaners?
Category: Green Action, Grocery




Barbara says ...
Although I've never been 'diagnosed' with MCS, I know I have it. My husband has had asthma all his life and reports that he is much better since we've been together. Unfortunately, I'm so sensitive that I need products with no scent of any kind. Too much citrus smell or any other smell including cooking smells, will set me off. I applaud Whole Foods for bringing these issues to the public!
10/17/2011 8:41:11 AM CDT
R. McElmurry says ...
Phosphates have not been allowed in home laundry detergents for at least 20 years. They are still a major component of commercial laundry soap. Also formulas containing phosphates will not leave chemical residue behind in the clothes after the rinse cycle. Residue left in clothes causes them to wear sooner and also can cause skin allergies in some people.
10/18/2011 7:08:31 AM CDT
Lauren says ...
My son and I are allergic to basically everything chemical. He has a ton of allergies, food, environemental, asthma etc., we use vegetable based detergents, cleaners, shampoos etc. I recently (in June) bought a new car an gave been covered in eczema since... I think whatever the leather seats were treated with is a chemical I am reacting too! All in all, it could be worse and we live super healthy lives'
10/18/2011 10:26:52 AM CDT
Judith says ...
I have MCS. unlike the respect that this woman gives her friend, I dont' get that. people I know don't "get it". often they think that what I don't know won't hurt. I know. Whole Foods "gets it". I can go in there and just place groceries in my cart and not worry that something I'm buying will make me sick. I really appreciate Whole Foods. thank you.
10/18/2011 10:40:55 AM CDT
Kerry says ...
I have severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) to the point of ER visits due to reactions and throat closure to exposure. It is scary and it is a condition that is hard to share with others. I am limited to places I can go because I must be aware of the elements that I will be exposed to and stay in "safe" area. It is difficult. This article was a sigh of relief to me and I assume other sufferers. This disorder is not one that a lot of people discuss and makes me feel like what I experience is extremely abnormal. It feels better to know that I am not the only suffer and thank you for companies like Whole Foods that recognize and realize the issue that some people have to chemicals. Thank you!
10/18/2011 10:22:33 PM CDT
Suz says ...
I just have to comment because I am staying at a condo for the week on vacation and the minute I walked in the door, my nose stopped up. I don't have very many allergies, but I do react significantly to cleaning products with "flavors." Not long ago, I realized even unscented clothes detergents were giving me a rash, so I changed to the hypoallergenic kind and it made all the difference. So, after my nose stopped up, I looked in the laundry room and the detergent was Apple Mango Tango. Seriously? Who uses that? The bed was awful - I could hardly sleep in the wash of sickly sweet fruit. Tonight I washed the sheets twice in my own detergent and they still smell! Clearly I should have bought replacement sheets rather than just new detergent. I am so glad I read this and I can't wait to check out WF's selection!
10/19/2011 12:16:26 AM CDT
Kadee says ...
Great timing on this article! My boyfriend Mother is in town visiting us and she has severe MCS. I've been working hard to have a very green-clean home for a long time now, as we have our own sensitivities and environmental concerns. To my dismay in spite of all my efforts and non-toxic all natural products I use, she is still having issues in our home. I use only natural bio-safe laundry soap, dish-soap and everything else is pretty much unscented and we always keep our windows open when we can to air things out. I use only baking soda for an abrasive cleaner and vinegar for everything else besides laundry and dishes. I think it may be things beyond our control perhaps the paint our landlords used about two months ago to paint the interior of the house we rent. It's amazing how many chemicals are literally in everything in our homes that can contribute to someone's sensitivity. It is so great your friend Ella was comfortable in your home. Kudos to you! :)
10/19/2011 2:36:02 PM CDT
Debra says ...
Unlike the others that have commented, myself and family do not have MCS. However, I do notice that we do get sick more often and our immune systems are not as strong as they should be. I would like to make our home clean and healthy. Thank you for educating me. I am going to start making these changes in my home. I think it will not only make us healthier but it will teach them to do the same in their home when they grow up.
10/22/2011 8:50:35 PM CDT
cleaning says ...
We're a group of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community. Your site provided us with helpful information to work on. You have performed a formidable task and our entire neighborhood will be thankful to you.
11/10/2011 7:54:39 PM CST
www.chemicalproducts.net says ...
Environmentally friendly products are definitely something which people will want to start using now that MCS is more widely known. Thanx for this post it's really useful.
01/09/2012 11:16:17 AM CST
Michael Stremi says ...
A brief history on the emergence of disinfection byproducts as a health
03/13/2012 8:50:56 PM CDT
Laura Smith says ...
Do you carry calcium carbonate or can you order it? I would like to make my own laundry soap. Thank you.
11/05/2013 2:52:47 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@LAURA - Check with your local store to find out if this is something they typically have in stock. If not, they can look in to special ordering it for you. Whole Body will be the best department to start with at your local store!
11/05/2013 4:40:24 PM CST