April 20, 2021

Why we Need to Rethink “Clean” & a Few Ways to Get Started.


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We have been conditioned in this country that everything must “smell” clean.

Our toilets need disinfecting, and air must be freshened.

I’m going to tell you a secret:

Clean smells like…nothing. 

That’s right, nothing.

Clean isn’t fruity, flowery, and is not like spring rain—seriously, WTF is that? These are pleasant odors in nature, but an actual honeysuckle flower smells entirely different than a laundry detergent. And to be honest, I don’t even know what honeysuckle smells like.

I was a house cleaner for the better part of 30 years and boy-howdy, can I tell you some stories.

There is hardly a cleaning, personal care, or cosmetic product out there that doesn’t have fragrance listed on the label. Especially in the case of literal perfumes—Axe®, anyone?

The components, which may be of a proprietary nature, are therefore exempted from FDA labeling requirements (Fragrances in Cosmetics | FDA.) It’s a huge loophole that companies use to have their signature scents. In other words, they add any combination of 50-300 chemicals out of over 3,000 to choose from to make us smell “clean.”

Imagine if the label on your favorite laundry detergent was required to list every ingredient.

Every time we do laundry, whatever potions we add—detergent, fabric softener, bleach, or whitening product—goes to the wastewater treatment facility (if you’re a city dweller), which ultimately empties into our local lakes and streams after being treated.

Most products are quite toxic to aquatic plants and animals, so less is more.

If you’ve ever known someone to be on a private water system (cistern and grey or black water holding tanks,) you know that they don’t have nearly the same options city folks do for how they do their laundry or even what kind of toilet paper they use.

And, how about the popular plug-in air fresheners people often put around the dog bed or cat boxes?

A few years ago the buzzword phthalates floated around for a while. They are commonly known to be in those air fresheners. We inhale them—into our lungs—and like the tar in cigarette smoke, the phthalates can coat and stick in our bodies.

I do agree that cat boxes can be, um, problematic. Both of my old ladies developed kidney issues requiring daily scooping and monthly complete box turnover. I have a hypersensitive nose, so I could tell the fragranced litter was simply covering up the cat box smells. I tried many brands and found that Tidy Cat® makes a fabulous fragrance-free clumping litter that conquered my cats’ urine handily. I also found activated charcoal bags helped as well.

With the pandemic, everyone was all about disinfecting and sanitizing. Not like people weren’t before, but it took on a whole new level of urgency with COVID-19. For some, it was cause for panic.

We fall prey to the soothing words of advertisers that their products clean and disinfect the best. It’s more complicated than that and here’s why: disinfectants disable the microorganism. That’s all. They don’t kill them. Killing them is sterilization—which can be done with plain water steam.

Let me take this a step further because disinfecting is actually quite a process.

The act of disinfecting requires that the chemical of choice must have dwell time (stay wet) to disinfect the surface, which is usually around 10 minutes, give or take.

Many people are unaware, or unwilling, to take the true necessary steps for this process. To show how much that costs in real-world dollars, I have a colleague who specializes in post-COVID disinfection of homes and businesses after someone has contracted the disease. An average 2,500-square foot home started at $2,500 and went as high as $6,000, depending on how much stuff they had to touch—and they had to touch everything. The damage is entirely the customer’s responsibility because they are bound to have things that get ruined by the harsh chemicals.

I get that for some folks these steps are necessary. However, now that we know that COVID is largely airborne, the average family does not have to disinfect their homes. Also, there is such a thing as too clean, but that would be another article entirely.

There are simpler, safer, and cheaper solutions.

Sanitizing reduces the number of microorganisms present, but again, often requires rinsing to remove the cleaner’s residue. That’s why we have all resorted to hand sanitizer for quick fixes. Soap and hot water really handle this well, if available.

Now, let’s talk about those toilets.

A deal-breaker for many but really, we poop and pee into water that is cleaner than many folks in the world get to drink, sadly. Unless someone who is actively sick is using the toilet, disinfecting is really not necessary. And the best way to thoroughly clean a toilet is to…ready? Get your hands in there. Don’t be scared.

Here’s how to give your commode a hand job:

Flush it, then spray it down with hydrogen peroxide, allow it to sit for a minute—literally a minute. Maybe clean and tidy your sink area while you wait. Get a rag wet, add a little non-toxic soapy cleaner (I like Dr. Bronner’s), and go in. Get under the rim and down the hole a way. Wipe the seat down and get around the hinges. These, not the bowl (porcelain is non-porous), are where the ookies can congregate on the often-plastic fixturing. Flush, check your work, touch up if necessary.

For mineral rings, use a pumice stone (one meant for cleaning, not your heels) on the ring and rusty-looking streaks. Be sure to dry the rim and seat (the ladies in the house will be grateful) and all other above-bowl areas with a clean dry cloth.

Ta-da! You did it.

And, a few more tips:

>> Do you know what’s safe and effective and doesn’t harm the air, waterways, and that disinfects and deodorizes? Sunlight and air. That’s right. For completely chemical-free disinfecting buy a UV light, or expose things to sunlight’s UV rays. Grandma had it right when she hung those towels and sheets on the clothesline.

>> To deodorize homes, open the windows at least occasionally, even in the winter months.

>> Keep your grease trap clean over your stove if you cook with oil or grease frequently. You can put them in the dishwasher.

>> Maybe buy some air purifying plants! You don’t need an expensive machine to clean the air. Besides, plants don’t use up electricity!

Lose the chemicals in your life. It will improve your health, clear your lungs, save waterways, lakes, and oceans—and our planet.

Happy Earth Month!


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