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?