Welcome, spring! If you’re not from Michigan, spring may be a season that speaks of flowers, sunshine, and green leaves on trees. Around here, it’s just confusion, all the time. Case in point: Thursday, we were easily outside in short sleeves. Saturday we woke up to snow on the ground. What season is this?
Even here, we are starting to get more sunshine than during the dreary winter months. As soon as it hits 40 degrees outside, folks are putting their car windows down, and by 50 or 60, we’re opening our front doors for a while just to catch some rays through the storm windows. It gets me motivated to weed out some clutter in all areas of my life.
Thank you for visiting the Spring Cleaning: Get the Junk Out! Carnival for get the antibacterials out. You can see all the topics here and a list of the star-studded hostesses from all over the blogosphere.
My Story: Why I Talk About Soap
I’ve been enamored with soap and how it works ever since a science class in college, where I conducted independent research on whether antibacterial soap is more effective than regular soap. I wrote about the experiment and findings yesterday; it’s a must read if you have a closet science geek in you!
I think being clean is important, don’t get me wrong. I wash my kids’ hands after we get home from library storytime and before we eat…most of the time. I don’t freak out if I forget though. I use a shopping cart cover and cringe if a little boy sneezes on my daughter’s head. On the other hand, academically I know that a little exposure to bacteria will only make our immune systems stronger, and we’ll survive a cold, or even (*tremble, shudder*) a throw-up bug. The healthy immune system line is a great excuse for not dusting regularly, by the way. 😉 (Photo by KatieW)
Even more importantly, I understand that our bodies are host to literally trillions of good bacteria that keep us ticking. If we get in the business of killing microscopic living things, we had better know what we’re doing. I do know what antibacterial soap does, and I’m not happy about it.
The Facts: Triclosan and Bleach Don’t Just Kill Bacteria
In case you haven’t been around since my very first post (yes, I talked about soap in my first post), you might not recognize the term triclosan. It’s the active ingredient in most antibacterial soaps on the market.
How It Works: Triclosan kills bacteria NOT by brute force (think nuclear bomb) but by working within the bacteria to coax them not to reproduce (think of a disease). It has two major issues:
- It kills both good and bad bacteria, a problem for our healthy flora.
- It contributes to “bacterial resistance” because bacteria who are naturally resistant to the chemical (just like some people don’t get certain diseases even though they’re exposed to them) survive, then reproduce, creating a bacterial population that looks like the dreaded “super bugs” on which antibiotics and antibacterial soaps won’t have any effect. NOTE: This is an edit to the original post, in which I claimed that bacteria can learn to fight against us. Bacteria can’t learn and can’t change their genes. Here is a guest post explaining more about how superbugs happen from my biologist reader at Finding Joy in my Kitchen who pointed out my error. Thank you, SnoWhite!
For regular daily handwashing, it’s just overkill. Soap and water, as I discovered yesterday, works just great. Our Creator provided us with ways to be clean and healthy before laboratories were ever invented. Want more science behind triclosan and some other issues its been linked to? Read this post: The Harmful Effects of Triclosan.
What About Bleach? Bleach is more of a nuclear bomb killer, destroying all life in its path. It’s not as likely to participate in causing bacterial resistance, so it’s a better choice than triclosan when you need to kill bacteria. However, it’s becoming pretty widely accepted that exposure to run-of-the-mill germs is good for us.
Bleach, however, also affects the human nervous system. When you’re pregnant, I bet you get your husband to clean the toilet, right? We just know those fumes aren’t good for us. My friend who sells Shaklee products shared an incredible story of a boy working on schoolwork in his bedroom while his mom did laundry with bleach directly below him. As the fumes came through the ventilation system, he lost his focus and his handwriting visibly worsened.
Did you know the indoor air quality in many homes is worse than the outdoor air quality because of the cleaners we use? It’s just not something I’m willing to mess around with on a regular basis. I keep one bottle around for very, very select times, like these two gems.
Read more about Why Bleach is Bad for You.
The Bottom Line: Triclosan and bleach don’t just kill bacteria, they might hurt you and your family, too.
Take Action: Get the Antibacterials Out
72% of the soap purchased for household use is antibacterial. Gaaaaah! Let’s get that number down closer to zero, which is how many households need antibacterial soap.
Baby Step: Increase your consciousness about where triclosan and bleach are hiding.
Take a walk around your house, or just read a bottle or two as you brush your teeth or do dishes. Look for “triclosan” on your household products (aka triclocarbon in bar soaps and microban in products). You’ll find it in almost every soap or commercial cleaner that claims to be “anti-bacterial”, unless you already have some natural soaps in your house. You’ll also find it in some sneaky places, like toothpaste, antiperspirant, mouthwash, some waterless hand sanitizers (more on those later), shoe inserts, dishtowels and washcloths, sponges, shower curtains, and cutting boards.
You can bet a cleaner has chlorine bleach in it if it warns you not to mix with ammonia. Plus, you can probably smell it.
Understanding how pervasive these chemicals are is the first step to eradicating them from your house.
Making Strides: Commit to finding product alternatives without triclosan and avoid buying any more products with the chemical.
I have a pretty extensive list of possible triclosan hiding spots and easy alternatives here. For handsoap, you can simply buy regular soap, often labeled “moisturizing” or some such name so they don’t look less important than the bottles touting the “antibacterial” label. *raspberries!* Be more frugal by using a foaming pump and even more green by just using a few Tablespoons of castille soap in your pump (directions to fill the pumps here).
Once you know where the antibacs are, you can start to replace them one by one with safer alternatives.
Leap of Faith: Get rid of all bleach and triclosan by using natural cleaners or making your own.
I use three simple products to clean just about everything in my house, except for my dishwasher detergent. Believe me, I tried homemade versions – want to see my failures? I’m a big fan of Biokleen Dishwasher Detergent now!
Take it one step at a time, and decide for yourself whether it’s wise to just use up what you have first and slowly switch over to natural products or jump in with both feet and Freecycle your conventional cleaners.