Here’s a site you’ll want to be familiar with: ewg.org. That stands for Environmental Working Group, which is a consumer education and advocacy organization. And importantly, they have invested heavily to create databases for checking on toxicity.
I’m particularly excited about the guide to household cleaners because…well, I’m not a scientist. I had no previous way of knowing whether my goods were what they claimed. And guess what? Some of my “green” labeled products came up with FAILING ratings. What? Yeah. Charlie’s Soap products, which were sitting in my cabinet when I found the database and began searching.
Not all the databases are perfect (being updated often, but not perfect), and of course some of the opinions are subject to your health philosophy (like saturated fat in raw organic cheese being flagged as unhealthful; you probably know I’m a butter-fat advocate, in moderation).
But if you’ve been frustrated by the lack of ingredients on your cleaning products, or the lack of your own knowledge on how to interpret the ingredients which are listed on your personal care products, these sites are for you!
Oh, there are some Apps too…check your app store for EWG. The privately created ThinkDirty app is nifty too…barcode scans your personal care items!
Have you used any of these databases? Have you had ingredient revelations?
Well here’s something that’s an easy changeover from traditional to non-toxic: hand soap.
In fact, it was one of the first things I changed when I became conscious of the negative possibilities of chemical-based care products. Then I began to notice that my daily (mild) headaches were gone for good . . . until I was at a friend’s house and got a headache from the fragrance in her hand soap.
This is an easy change because there are many great options, and let’s face it: most of us don’t have a great deal of personal attachment to the soaps at our sinks. (Changing deodorant was far more traumatic for me. You can read about my experiences with that in my post Deodorant: Love Hate Relationship.)
Bar or Liquid?
It’s really up to you. Bar soaps are luxurious (especially those with a goat milk or vegetable oil base), unless you live in a home with small children, where a bar of soap will inevitably be found in a puddle of water with dirt streaks on top. This is my home, so bar soaps are reserved for the shower, and liquid soaps rule the roost at the sinks.
My favorite liquid soap is an old classic: Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap. (At a great price on iherb.com. Check out my post iherb.com: Awesome Prices Plus $5-off.) If you’ve been around health food stores for awhile, you’ll know this one quite well, and maybe you’ve brushed your teeth with it (I have, but it isn’t pleasant). For those of you new to this soap, the label is amazing. It reports of couple dozen uses for the soap . . . remember, this is a “classic” in the natural care product world, and it came out when there weren’t a lot of choices for things from shampoo to flea control. Also, there is a lot of crazy mantra/philosophy on the bottle (ever square inch of it) which ranges from distressing liberties with Kipling poems to just bizarre political stuff. I’m not kidding.
But, I don’t buy it for the label. In fact, I never display the bottle at all, preferring to buy the 32oz bottle and refill my pump dispensers. This soap is truly concentrated, and must be mixed with water in a 1:1 ratio, at least. (Bonus: a soap requiring this much dilution is really easy on the wallet!) Sometimes I find that even that ratio is too strong, and the pumps clog with the soap over time. Washing out the pumps and adding more water to the soap seems to clear this up.
Speaking of pumps, I love the newer pumps which pump out a pile of foam instead of liquid. (My children think they are cool too.) They seem to reduce soap waste and mess at the same time. You may have these types of pumps already with chemical-based soap in them. If so, it’s an easy thing to wash them out when they are empty and switch to a natural liquid soap.
Dr. Bronners has several other lovely scents: Almond, Citrus, Unscented, Tea Tree, Lavender, and Rose. I have also tried Dr. Woods Peppermint Castile Soap, but found that it was much more dilute, so the value wasn’t what I was hoping, and the clean scent of peppermint was not there. I switched back to the original.
If you are wanting a liquid soap with more of a gel-like consistency, there are several available, including the Lavender Glycerin Hand Soap from Avalon Organics (also available for an amazing price on iherb.com). It’s an elegant solution, and since it is already in a pump bottle labeled with its contents, you’ll have no guest confusion in your powder room.
What about anti-bacterial soap?
This is a concern in many households, especially in the colds season. However, many antibacterial soaps are toxic; the FDA just recently stated that, based upon animal studies, there is valid concern that Triclosan can have an impact on the endocrine (hormonal) system. Also of concern is the now growing problem of Super Bugs, which are bacteria which have become resistant to antibiotics and anti-bacterial cleansers.
Natural soaps made with Lavender, Tea Tree, or Peppermint oils are known to be mildly antibacterial; they won’t kill on contact, but they do inhibit bacterial growth. Researchers believe that because the chemical makeup of the plants, and their essential oils, are slightly different from year to year, it leaves bacteria guessing, so to speak, and never allows them to develop a specific resistance.
However, thorough hand washing with plenty of warm water and soap will wash away bacteria, rather than attempting to kill them on contact. Teach your children (or yourself!) to wash properly and often with a mild soap, and you are better off than depending on a harsh chemical to do the job, while it simultaneously breaks down the natural barrier of their skin. And if you have illness in your home, clean “touch spots” (door handles, light switches, hand towels) often, air out your home at least once a day, discard all used tissues immediately, and quarantine the sick as much as possible.