Spring cleaning trade off: anti-bacterial vs. natural products
In the midst of breaking through a hard water stain at a client’s home, "Clean" Jean Cloe, owner of Park City’s Give Me A Break Home Cleaners, recalls reflecting on the face mask she was wearing to clean.
"The product had ammonia in it and I couldn’t breath it, so I had to put a mask on in order to work," she remembers.
Cleaning shouldn’t have to be deadly, she decided and she began using alternative products for grout cleaning and all-purpose cleaners that use natural or less harmful substitutes for chemicals, despite the price tag. Some "green" cleaners, which are easier on lungs, can cost three times as much, she says.
Now, in addition to "attention to detail" and "personalized service" her advertisement in the Park City Phone Book is one of the few companies that emphasizes "green cleaning products," which use less harmful ingredients.
It’s the height of the spring clean rush and Cloe and her staff of three work weekends to handle extra "one-time" cleans in addition to the 30 homes they regularly manage.
Cloe says Give Me A Break will use microfiber cloths for the bulk of the dusting — a necessary cleaning procedure due to the dry climate in which particles will float. She does not buy Windex, because of its ammonia content, she says, and uses bleach products only sparingly. She stresses that most all of her cleaning supplies are ordered online or in professional cleaning warehouses.
"To me, the idea of it is so much more savory It’s just nice to be able to say ‘I have this disinfectant approved by the FDA and it’s botanical,’" she says.
Recycle Utah Executive Director Insa Riepen observes that European stores don’t even sell bleach. She recommends, instead, that people use white vinegar diluted in water for cleaning surfaces.
Vanessa Battini, who advertises her house cleaning business on Internet classified base Craigslist.org, says she mixes her own products. She uses white distilled vinegar, baking soda, olive oil and essential oils such as orange, lavender and mint, and finds them equally effective.
"I am a strong believer in creating a healthy indoor environment and the easiest place to start is by eliminating ‘traditional’ household cleaning products," she said. "When I took the time to research the ingredients and potential side effects it was not a difficult decision to make the switch."
Owner of Taylorsville professional cleaning supply store Cleaning Supplier, Jim Pahl steers his customers, like Cloe, away from "off-gassing" and toxic products, though he does sell a few in his store.
"If people like to use bleach sure it’s a good, inexpensive way to clean, but caution should always be used with ammonia," he says.
Pahl explains one of the more dangerous accidents happens in the bath.
If someone goes into a shower and pours a lot of bleach around and it goes down into the drain, the chemicals can get trapped, he says, and later, when someone turns on warm water, the fumes will "come up and actually hurt their lives."
Like Cloe, Pahl recommends using microfiber cloths or other tools that don’t require chemicals at all.
U.S. Congress began dedicating the third week of March as "National Poison Prevention Week" in 1961.
The first poison center in Utah was established in 1954, when poisoning was one of the most common injuries a serious problem at that time was "the lack of good information on ingredients," according to the Utah Poison Control Center (UPCC).
Exposure to toxic products according to the center’s 2004 report accounted for 82.1 percent of calls to the UPCC hotline. In Summit County, 458 calls that year were due to exposure and statewide, the average age of those exposed was less than six years of age (61 percent according to the 2004 report).
"The majority of poison exposures reported to the UPCC were unintentional and involved children orally exploring their environment," reads the report, while adult exposures were primarily exposures to household chemicals, pesticides and automotive products.
According to the UPCC’s 2004 numbers, 8.3 percent of the most common substances purported to be the source of the toxic disturbance were household cleaning supplies, and 86.1 percent of all calls claimed to have been exposed to the poisonous chemicals in their own home.
Of course, there is a trade off. Some alternative products, it seems, have not quite matched the strength of the harsher, toxic products.
Even Cloe admits she must occasionally strap on her mask once more to use some of the noxious chemicals she typically avoids.
"We use mostly green products for maintenance cleaning," she explains, but "for one-time deep cleaning, we can’t, because sometimes we have to use harsh chemicals."
"People may need to use ammonia to remove certain things," Pahl confesses. "Ammonia will remove ink from a lot of materials."
Harsher products can also have anti-bacterial qualities, he notes, and in certain instances, the benefit of that type of disinfectant can outweigh the costs.
To report an emergency exposure to harmful chemicals, call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Callers should know the exact name of the product, the amount taken, when the poisoning happened, and the age and weight of the poisoned person.
For more information about household cleaning products, visit http://www.poisonprevention.org.
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