Sunday, July 29, 2012

Going green, living healthy -- Household cleaners and personal care

This is part of a series of posts on Going green, living healthy. The first post is here. I'm not an expert on this subject, so if you find errors please let me know. I have tried to provide pointers to my sources where possible.

I first stumbled in the area of non-conventional personal care items when I became aware that most traditional soaps contain animal byproducts such as animal fat.  Since then I have switched a lot of household cleaners and personal care items to brands that seem to care about the environment and what goes into the product.  Some of the considerations are:
  • Getting away from harsh chemicals;
  • No animal byproducts in the ingredients;
  • Environmental responsibility.
The problem with harsh chemicals is that while it may be OK to have a little exposure to them, if everything around us contains these kinds of chemicals, eventually the body will break down and develop sensitivities to them, usually creating hard-to--diagnose conditions.  At least that's my belief.  I have no way to verify it.  The skin is the largest organ in the body and anything we apply to the skin is quickly absorbed by it.  Likewise, exposure to volatile chemical compounds found in cleaners will quickly find their way into our lungs.

Household cleaners

Using regular cleaners would cause my eyes to get red and itchy by the time I was done cleaning.  That's what made me look for something different. I tried Ecover and Seventh Generation.  Both work pretty well, but I like Seventh Generation better.

There are people that make their own household cleaners, but it doesn't seem worth the time and effort for me since I don't use very much of them.

Laundry supplies

I switched from using conventional laundry supplies because I became aware of their use of animal byproducts and I was concerned that a chronic rash I had developed was due to exposure to synthetic chemicals.  I was very surprised to find out that conventional dryer sheets contained animal tallow.

Finding a good detergent was a challenge.  Over the years, I have tried several brands including Ecover, ECOs, Planet, and Seventh Generation.  I finally gave in to the fact that none of these "green" cleaners was going to be able to match the performance of conventional cleaners -- the clothes just don't seem as bright and with a couple of these brands, the clothes sometimes felt like they came out dirtier than when they went in.  I eventually settled on using Seventh Generation Free & Clear as my regular detergent which seems to work reasonably well and also has good ratings with Consumer Reports magazine.

Dryer sheets was another challenge.  When I first started looking for alternatives, I tried Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Dryer Sheets, but I found the scent in those too overpowering.  I then tried moist dryer sheets from Method which were OK for a while, but I didn't care for the moistness.  Eventually, Seventh Generation introduced dryer sheets and I find that these work pretty well.

Update 2/8/2017: I have since started using a Miele condensation dryer which actually prohibits the use of dryer sheets!

Personal care

Just as with other cleaners, I made changes to my personal care items - bath soap, shampoo, shaving soap, etc.  Here, one of things I look for is absence of parabens from the list of ingredients.  Most mainstream brands seem to contain them, but many are slowly excluding them from new formulas.  However, regardless of whether I've used a brand before, I always check the ingredients when I buy it.  Companies are constantly changing their formulations whether to cut costs or "improve" their product and I have had more than one occasion where I noticed a change in the ingredients.  A notable one was the Art of Shaving, which got acquired by Procter & Gamble and subsequently changed the formulation of their shaving cream to include parabens.  The other thing that I generally prefer to see is products that have a short list of ingredients that I can understand.

Also, even though the all of the ingredients used may be natural and organic, it doesn't say anything about the freshness.  Use of rancid oils in personal care items (or products themselves going rancid) is likely to cause irritation when used.  So even with natural products that meet a certification, e.g. that from EWG, one still has to be careful about freshness of the ingredients and the freshness of the finished product.  Such products may also be sensitive to how they stored and transported with respect to light and temperature.  In general, I think it's best to stick with well-known brands even for natural products because they are likely to have decent quality control and would have solved some of these issues.

Garbage bags

I tried using Seventh Generation's garbage bags because they claim to be more environmentally friendly since they use recycled plastic.  However, on many occasions I noticed punctures in the bag when pulling it out of the trash container for disposal.  I contacted Seventh Generation about this and they said their bags are thinner and not as strong because of the use of recycled plastic.  As a result, I ended up switching to conventional bags.

Labels cannot always be trusted

This is where things get really tricky.  A number of products that claim, for example, to be organic are not. Because this is a niche market that is not well-regulated, there are manufacturers that sometimes claim their products to be organic when they may not be.  A number of such manufactures have been under the fire from, for example, the Organic Consumer's Association for making claims about their products that are not true.

Update 10/01/2012

I recently received an email from Seventh Generation about a discussion titled The Importance of Removing Toxins from Our Lives with Deepak Chopra.

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