And what to use instead
By Maria C. Hunt
Are you sheltering in place and cleaning everything in your home with a vengeance? It’s a natural response to a pandemic like the novel coronavirus. “There’s a big, big fear right now, which leads to that instinctive ‘reach for bleach,’” says Jillian Pritchard Cooke, an Atlanta interior designer and founder of Wellness Within Your Walls, an authority on nontoxic living. Whether you’re looking to completely overhaul your cleaning routine or just make one change at a time, here are three swaps to consider.
Compared to last year, we bought nearly 400% more aerosol disinfectants and 180% more cleaning wipes in March 2020. Your home may look and smell clean, but these products can damage your health and indoor air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency says indoor air quality can be two to five times worse than outdoor air, thanks to toxins in household cleaners, dryer sheets, and home fragrances.
But Cooke says you can disinfect your home without harming your health. “Botanical standbys are just as effective in removing viral particles from surfaces as bleach,” she says. “And here’s the good news: They don’t have the nasty side effects on your health.”
Sprays and wipes
Bleach sprays and cleaning wipes are popular choices to disinfect doorknobs, counters, and shoes. But most conventional wipes and sprays contain antibacterial disinfectants called QUATs (quaternary ammonium compounds), which are registered with the EPA as pesticides. QUATs can irritate your lungs, skin, and eyes. They’re linked to asthma and fertility issues, plus they promote superbug bacteria, says Cooke.
Instead: Choose plant-based cleaners that say “disinfecting” on the label. Powered by enzymes, hydrogen peroxide, and essential oils, they do the same work, Cooke says. Consult the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning for green disinfectants. Always wear gloves and a bandana over your nose when cleaning.
Delicate dryer sheets deliver that fresh-laundry scent and soften clothes. But a 2012 study found they often contain QUATs and fragrances that can aggravate asthma or allergies, and worse. “Dryer sheets are known to have over 1,000 chemicals in them which can disrupt hormones and affect the gut microbiome,” says Christi Buck, a Florida registered dietitian who practices functional medicine.
Instead: Try wool dryer balls dabbed with lavender or grapefruit essential oil to fight static and fluff laundry.
Air fresheners and fragrances
Plugin air fresheners, sprays, and candles release delicious scents, but fragrances can turn into toxins called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when they hit the air. The VOC formaldehyde is especially harmful for people with allergies or asthma, plus children whose lungs are still developing.
Instead: Scent the air with an aromatherapy diffuser and your favorite essential oil.