Walking down the aisle in the grocery store, you may come across the “green” cleaning section, where all of the packages proclaim their “all natural” and “environmentally friendly” qualities. However, what do we really know about these products and do they really work? We’re a little skeptical.
In an article we read by Nina Rastogi from Slate magazine, she explains that the EPA serves as the major decision-maker when it comes to deeming a product as a disinfectant or sanitizer that appropriately kill food-borne microbes. In fact, Rastogi observes that none of the larger green cleaning brands (Seventh Generation, Method, Ecover, or Clorox’s Green Works) offers an EPA-registered disinfectant or sanitizer. Why this is isn’t entirely clear, however, many other smaller companies like PureGreen24 offer EPA-approved products that are effective in disinfecting and sanitizing.
It appears that household remedies don’t appear to be as effective either. According to a 2000 study Rastogi cites, researchers tested some of the most widely accepted household remedies to cleaning, including the use of vinegar and baking soda. The study, in fact, found that vinegar was as effective as commercial household cleaners at killing salmonella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (bacteria found in produce), but was not effective when it came to staph or E. coli. Baking soda seemed to have no effective on any of the pathogens.
So it may seem here there really isn’t a clear conclusion, however, in either case, it remains that standard cleaners are pretty scary. In an article we read by Andrea Thompson at Live Science, she explains that there are 80,000 chemicals in use and some of the toxicity of these chemicals has not yet been determined. In her article, she interviewed Tom Natan, a chemical engineer at the National Environmental Trust, who says that, “We are exposed, in the process of cleaning our homes, to more than the manufacturers projected.” In fact, he says that companies will often select ingredients to increase performance, but “a lot of the chemicals, we simply don’t know anything about.” Natan has had some experience with this, as he and his team recently found that a popular commercial cleaner they had tested caused damage to the reproductive systems of pregnant rants, even in small doses. That’s not comforting.
We can therefore determine that maybe using standard household cleaners is not the best choice. While green cleaning products, as we observed in our blog entry yesterday, are 67% more expensive than standard cleaning products, are they really worth it? As Rastogi also points out, many of these products are not yet efficiency approved by the EPA, so that means we aren’t entirely sure yet if they really kill harmful bacteria. So perhaps the best decision here is to stay (FAR) away from standard household cleaners. It appears here that the best alternative may be using EPA-approved green cleaners. Rastogi also advises that basic hygiene practices like hand washing, keeping cutting board separate from raw meat and poultry, and storing food at the proper temperature will help to keep things clean. You don’t need to douse everything in disinfectant every time you clean; instead you can clean by using simple soap and water to decontaminate many kitchen surfaces. She advises to use cleaning products in areas where you really need them, and to use them cautiously and only when you really need.