Detox Your Cleaning

TEXT by Celine MacKay | PHOTOGRAPHS by Pure Green Magazine


LAST MONTH I INTRODUCED THE PHILOSOPHICAL TRAPPINGS OF LIVING AN INSPIRED, CONSIOUS LIFE that is the ethos behind Pure Green. However, my journey to living in this way, with these values, began with the very real process of detoxing my life. We talk often about detoxing our bodies through the foods we eat, but I feel we talk less often about the rest of our lives; the products we choose to use and surround ourselves by each day, on our bodies and in our homes. 

One of the places that felt most obvious to start, at least to me, was in my cleaning cupboard. I think we've gotten too used to seeing menacing corrosive or poison symbols on household cleaners, dismissing them because they've never ACTUALLY poisoned us, right? And yet, doctors tell us to keep them locked up when we have kids, and still we spread them around on every surface of the house for us to eat off of, walk on, and touch. Because of effective marketing we're told that "suds" means it's working, and that a strong smell equals "clean". Oh, dear.

The purpose of these columns is not to scare, but it is supposed to make you question. Perhaps you're an old hat at this, and you long ago rid your home of toxic cleaning products and are nodding knowingly as you read this. If that's the case, then hooray(!), and share this with a friend who still needs to work on this. Perhaps this is all news to you and there's a lot to learn. In that case, double hooray!! I'm so pleased you're here. So let's get started.


First, let me preface this by saying that not ALL cleaners are bad. There are many companies out there making responsible products that are lovely to use, and if making cleaners isn't for you, then that's totally fine. But, the majority of products that you'll find on the shelves at regular grocery stores live precariously on the bad side of toxic and carcinogenic. Not good. 

INGREDIENTS—the regulations are scarily lax when it comes to disclosing what is in cleaning products. By law companies are not always required to say, especially if they are classifed as "trade secrets". According to Lorie Owornick, a researcher, "only 1% of toxins are listed on labels, because companies classify their formulas as trade secrets."

BIOACCUMULATION—Many of the chemicals we are exposed to our bodies actually have a lot of trouble eliminating. As a result, they build up in our tissues, so that even if we are exposed to minute amounts, on a regular basis over a lifetime that adds up. These chemicals also end up in our waste water, which means this bioaccumulation is happening in the wild too, getting progressively worse as you go up the food chain; evidence of bioaccumulation has even been found in the polar regions in animals never exposed to humanity. 

CARCINOGENS—there is a really shocking amount of chemicals that we are exposed to each and every day that are known carcinogens. Carcinogens do not cause cancer on their own, but they are directly invovled by laying the groundwork for cancerous growth.

ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS—We have a hard enough time managing our hormones without chemicals messing with them even more, but the sad truth is that many chemicals mess up our hormone levels by fussing with our endocrine system or mimicking the behavious of certain hormones, especially estrogen. This can lead to cancer, or birth defects, among other things. Again, problems surrounding endocrine disrupters are having a profound impact on acquatic wildlife. 

V.O.C's—You've probably heard about these before, but these are chemicals that are "smog-producing", basically meaning that they really negatively impact your home's indoor air quality, which in some cases can be many, many times worse than outdoor air, even in cities. You then breathe that air, and well, you can guess what happens.


Again, while learning to read labels and understand them clearly can be an art form, there are a few basic rules that you can follow to by and large help you choose healthier products if you don't want to make them from scratch.

  • Full-Disclosure: a truly non-toxic cleaning company will have nothing to hide, so their ingredient list will be prominent and easy to find.
  • Recognition: when you read those ingredients, do you recognize most of them? Even if they use the scientific name of certain plants, they will most always put the common name in brackets. This is especially true when it comes to fragrances and surfactants (sudsing ingredients).
  • Claims on the Label: beware if you find products that make all sorts of outrageous claims, like "scrub-free", etc.
  • Third-Party Certification: the regulations for making claims on labels, using words like "natural" and "biodegradable" are really problematic, and oftentimes you may be misled. Look for third-party certifications on the label, like Eco-Cert or Eco-Logo, which ensures these products have been tested by an outside, unbiased organization. However, I feel that I must also share that these certifications are expensive, and not all small companies can afford them, so learning to recognize toxic ingredients is your best bet.
  • Fragrances: if the label says "fragrance", even "natural fragrance" without listing what it is, don't buy it. A natural cleaner will use essential oils for scent, and the word fragrance or parfum/perfume usually signifies problematic ingredients.

This is a vast and complicated topic, but these basic points will take you a long way! We're curious to know, have you thought about detoxing your cleaning cupboard yet? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Stay tuned for a follow up to this post next week with a primer on natural cleaning. But first, we'd love to hear from you! If you've already made the switch, what are your absolute favourite homemade cleaning recipes? Share them with us at with the subject NATURAL CLEANING and we'll include it in the follow up post!