There is no denying a grand shift in the way we clean, these days. With the eco-conscious cleaning supply market expected to grow 6.5% percent, or 19.9 billion dollars (360iResearch, 2019) between 2017 to 2024, everyone seems to be hopping on board the “green” train, but the question remains: Why now? Urgency is everywhere—turn on any news channel and you’ll find corrupt political leaders, tanking economies, a planet on fire, and cities in our own country without access to clean drinking water. But what does the global crises have to do with your toilet cleaner? There are many factors to the consumer’s interest in alternative cleaning supplies, but two key points to consider are personal health and global health. With global warming heating up our planet in disastrous and potentially irreversible ways and with the rise of young activists and media coverage, people everywhere are finally starting to pay attention, which includes finding small ways to pitch in. Another, admittedly less altruistic reason for the grand shift in cleaning products is our own safety. With more studies and widespread knowledge about the harmful chemicals in our everyday products (yes, the ones under your sink), people, especially parents and those chronically ill or with severe allergies, are wising up and opting for vinegar and lemon juice or plant-based products instead of big name-brands. In this article, I will answer why the mass deviation from standard cleaning supplies is growing and look closely at how our personal and global health motivate the seemingly small change.
How to Clean Green
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A step as small as changing which window cleaner you use could come from a need much larger. The rise of activists such as Greta Thunberg, a sixteen-year-old Swede fiercely determined to educate the world about our changing climate, including her widely publicized, recent U.N. speech (Meyer, 2019) appear to be engaging more people around the world. While the majority of the climate problems potential solutions lie in large, global corporations, there is still much we, as consumers, can do to be more aware and reduce our carbon footprint. After all, haven’t metal straws just had their moment in the spotlight? Perhaps, also, flat-out denial from so many leaders is equally motivating to make personal, daily changes, such as eco-conscious cleaning supplies. Whether through anger or hope, we are becoming informed. I remember being taught in school that the phosphates from these cleaners (Thompson, 2007) and other run-off sources can cause eutrophication of bodies of water, depleting oxygen and risking water quality, something my parents were not taught. In an attempt to purify a nation and a globe, people are stepping up and cleaning up, and that means re-vamping your supply closet.
Personal health may be an equally motivating factor. While some green cleaning supplies are marketing to parents, the message is really for all of us: your old disinfectants are not safe. Studies show that making the switch to an eco-friendly substitute can improve your indoor air quality, reduce the risk of respiratory infections, and even limit your contact with carcinogens (Harrington, 2018). In fact, the National Environmental Trust stated that “volatile organic compounds” can actually impair neurological functions. Babies and small children are at risk of breaking into the cleaning supply cabinet, but let’s face it, the adults using the products are just as likely to inhale toxins, or forget to wash their hands afterwards and leave traces of chemicals. It’s a bit unnerving to think the very products we use to “clean” our homes are actually the ones making the space dangerous. The health of the planet is becoming more dire with each day, but our own health could be, too.
Before adopting my kitten, I never put a second thought into which cleaning products to use in my home; however, after watching the kitten explore, sniff, and lick every corner of her new home, I began to have second thoughts about what she could be unintentionally ingesting as a result of my choices in cleaning products. Immediately, I purchased cleaning products I could use without making my kitten sick and shifted my entire cleaning routine. I am not the only pet owner – or indeed, the only person – who has chosen to incorporate green products into my life. More Americans than ever before are taking advantage of eco-friendly cleaning products in an effort to create a healthier living and working space, both at home and in the community, and to protect the greater environment among concerns of climate change and global warming.
By supporting eco-friendly cleaning products, individuals and companies have the potential to impact the environment on a larger scale than just their own lives. All cleaning products can affect anyone who enters a recently cleaned area, and in buildings such as schools, public offices, or the headquarters of a large corporation, this can amount to several hundred people. With non-green products, every individual who passes through is exposed to the same harmful chemicals that can potentially cause illnesses ranging from allergies to cancer. However, using eco-friendly cleaning products can ensure that these high-traffic areas are clean without contributing to health problems. According to the Sanitorial Janitorial Service, green cleaning materials are made without harsh chemicals such as heavy metals and phthalates, and any residues left behind are not likely to “increase the risk of the health problems for the people using the building and any pets” that might pass through (Service, 2017). Simply using a more eco-friendly cleaner enables a corporation or school to assist in creating a healthier environment in the building, thereby enabling a healthier lifestyle for all who spend time in the area.