Super Cleaners and Superbugs

Since the root of physical and mental wellness lies in a balanced gut, it’s troubling enough that antimicrobial cleaning product can wreak havoc with microbial health. Unfortunately, the consequences of this type of microbial warfare go much further. That’s because, as effective as they are, when you use these cleaners, you aren’t actually killing every single living organism. And the microbial species that do survive your chemical attack are the tiny subpopulations that are naturally resistant to antibiotics and antimicrobials.

In a balanced environment (internal or out in the world), friendly flora crowd out the bulk of microbial troublemakers, and the percentage of resistant undesirable microbes is too minute to do much harm. But when antimicrobials come on the scene, resistant bacteria gain a real advantage. As their neighbors die off, these “superbugs” that are especially difficult to kill have room to reproduce—and when their numbers grow large enough to impact your health, existing medications may prove completely ineffective.6

Steer Clear of Toxic Chemicals

Cleaning product labels can be misleading, and many cleansers labeled “natural” or “gentle” are anything but. To protect yourself, your family, and our precious planet, here are a few of the most commonly used harmful ingredients to avoid:

• 2-Butoxyethanol: A common ingredient in kitchen, window, and multipurpose cleaners that can interfere with the health of your red blood cells.
• Ammonia: Found in glass and bathroom cleaners, ammonia can be very irritating to the eyes, skin, throat, and lungs.
• Chlorine Bleach: A potent antimicrobial and respiratory irritant, bleach is a major ingredient in mildew removers, toilet bowl cleaners, and scouring powders. Mixing chlorine bleach with ammonia can create highly toxic chlorine gas, so consider using hydrogen peroxide as a safer bleach alternative.
• Sodium Hydroxide: A known mucous membrane irritant, this is used in many oven cleaners and drain openers.
• Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): SLS is a detergent that creates the rich type of lather we’ve become accustomed to in cleansers, and is present in most shampoos and hand soaps. This ingredient can be very irritating to eyes, mouth, and skin.7,8
• Fragrance: Although the term “fragrance” sounds innocent enough, it can refer to any one of thousands of chemicals linked to skin, kidney, respiratory, and cellular issues.9
• Parabens: These antimicrobial, chemical preservatives are associated with negative effects in breasts, hormones, and reproductive areas.10,11
• Phthalates: Commonly found in a host of cleansing products including dish soaps, detergents, and shampoo, phthalates have been shown to negatively impact respiratory health and reproductive function, as well as cause DNA damage.12,13,14,15
• Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QUATS): Found in antibacterial household cleaners, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets. At least two studies identify QUATS as the cause of respiratory issues in cleaning workers.16,17
• Triclosan: This antimicrobial agent has been used in a wide range of products including dish liquid, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and even mops. In addition to impacting microbial balance and infiltrating living tissue, Triclosan can also lead to increased sensitivity to the environment as well as harmful cellular and endocrine changes.18,19,20 Thankfully, the FDA recently banned the use of Triclosan (and its close relative triclocarban) in hand and body soaps, but you’ll still need to be on the lookout for these toxic ingredients in other products.
• Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Don’t let the word “organic” fool you! Inhaling these gases, which are frequently used in products including household cleaners, disinfectants, and air fresheners, can cause eye, liver, nervous system, respiratory tract, and skin troubles—as well as GI discomfort and challenges with equilibrium.21

There’s a Better Way to Clean

Good news! Despite what advertisements may be telling you, you don’t have to rely on toxic products to keep your home and body clean. Turn to nature instead, starting with a basic liquid Castile soap that, when mixed with plain water, works effectively as a hand soap, shampoo, and dishwashing liquid. Combined with other natural ingredients such as baking soda, sea salt, essential oils, or vinegar, you can also make your own very safe laundry detergent, bathroom cleaner, and even glass cleaner.

When shopping for a Castile soap, look for an authentic product made using the old-world method (such as Country Rose Soap Company) that contains nothing but pure, saponified olive oil. For a sparkling clean home, you’ll also want to have other potent natural cleansers on hand, like lemon juice.

If the DIY approach feels overwhelming, you can still find prepared household products such as Aunt Fannie’s that use only GRAS certified natural ingredients that work in harmony with the microbial environment to clean your home safely, without over-sanitizing.

Our cleaning choices may feel inconsequential, but making the decision to use only natural cleaning product truly makes a difference on both a small and planetary scale. Even though toxic chemicals are still widely used, removing them from your home will drastically reduce your personal exposure, as well as your family’s—and it also makes a very real dent in the toxic load our planet bears. And once you commit to approaching cleanliness in a way that respects the balance of nature, you’ll be able to breathe a whole lot easier.