Thursday 8 December 2016

When clean is too clean

Published 27/01/2010 | 10:51

As much as we rely on antibacterial wipes, sprays and gels – especially in the wake of the H1N1 virus – to keep ourselves and our children germ-free, overusing chemical disinfectants and antibacterial cleaners in the home could be hazardous to you and your baby's health as well as to the environment.

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A recent study published by green organisation Women's Voices for the Earth ( and reviewed by medical scientists) took a look at common antimicrobial chemicals and their associated health impacts.

Ammonia, often used in hard-surface and glass cleaners, can irritate the skin, eyes, throat and lungs and even burn skin on contact, while chlorine bleach is dangerous if mixed with another cleaner containing ammonia, causing chlorine gas to be released, which can trigger shortness of breath, chest pain and nausea.

Other chemicals such as Triclosan and Triclocarban, commonly added to cleaning products, including hand soap, have been linked to endocrine disruption, and the potential of an increased risk of breast cancer.

" There are also concerns that the overuse of antimicrobial products is creating drug-resistant bacteria, more commonly known as ' superbugs'," says the report.

To this end, bacteria have been found in the laboratory, and in some cases in the natural environment, which are resistant to these antimicrobial chemicals.

" Just as not completing a course of antibiotics allows for the growth of resistant bacteria within the body, so does the excessive use of antimicrobial products."

Studies show that in most families women are still doing the bulk of the household cleaning and as the mother's womb is the first environment the baby experiences, the chemicals stored in her body are passed on during pregnancy.

When using chemical cleaners it is best to use sparingly and in a well-ventilated room.

The good news is that armed with a few cupboard staples as well as soap, water and good old-fashioned elbow grease, it is possible to keep your little ones clean, green and germ-free.

Vinegar is not just great for adding a sparkling finish to your glassware, it also has natural antibacterial properties as do essential oils, including thyme, clove and eucalyptus oils. One study found that some properties of thyme oil enabled it to destroy E. coli, a common bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

Here are some more interesting facts: microwaving a sponge for just one minute has been shown in studies to destroy 99.9pc of bacteria on its surfaces, which is just as effective at reducing bacteria as soaking it in a bleach solution for five minutes, while regularly washing dishcloths will also prevent bacterial build-up.

If you're looking for green cleaning products, brands such as Ecover produce a line of washing-up liquid, laundry powder, surface cleaners and stain removers.

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