People across the globe are paying extra attention to the cleanliness of their homes right now thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. News outlets and advertisements depict all the ways in which we can protect our personal spaces by killing germs and viruses on every surface we touch. However, even common cleaning products like Clorox and Lysol contain chemicals that can negatively impact reproductive health.
Some household cleaning products contain chemicals that have been linked to reproductive harm including: a decrease in fertility, irregular periods and menstrual changes, alterations in sexual behavior, disruptions to the onset of puberty, cancers of the reproductive organs, miscarriages, premature birth and other effects. According to Women’s Voices for the Earth, a non-profit organization with the goal of uplifting the connections between gender, health, class, race, and the environment, there are several key chemicals that cause the most harm:
- Glycol ethers, such as 2-butoxyethanol, are solvents commonly found in glass cleaners and all-purpose spray cleaners. Glycol ethers have been associated with low birth weight in exposed mice;
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), are surfactants found in laundry detergents, stain removers, and all-purpose cleaners, that have been found to reduce embryo survival in fish and alter tadpole development; and
- Phthalates are carriers for fragrance in glass cleaners, deodorizers, laundry detergents and fabric softeners. Phthalates are linked to adverse effects on male children, reduced sperm count in adult men, and increased allergic symptoms and asthma in children.
Often, the consequences of using harsh cleaning supplies are not seen until the next generation. Pregnant individuals are at double the risk of chemical exposure because, even at a low level, chemicals can impact developing children and lead to negative developmental birth effects like a decrease in birthweight and cognitive developmental issues.
Due to both ethical and logistical concerns, most research on chemicals in cleaning products and the negative effects they pose on reproductive health has been conducted in laboratories and does not involve human testing. However, this research raises significant cause for concern about the potential impacts of human exposure to these chemicals. For example:
- Pregnant people exposed in their workplace to glycol ethers, commonly found in household cleaners and liquid soaps, were significantly more likely to have children with birth defects such as neural tube defects and cleft lip.
- A California study measured actual emissions of glycol ethers and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) under normal home cleaning conditions. In particular, potentially dangerous levels of these chemicals were seen in smaller, poorly ventilated rooms (such as a bathroom), where floor cleaners were used in combination with air fresheners.
- In the United Kingdom, a study of pregnant persons showed a link between an increase in headaches and depression due to the use of air fresheners and aerosol sprays along with an increase in ear infections and diarrhea in babies.
And yet, recent CDC reports suggest that one of the only ways to effectively kill the coronavirus is through using harsher cleaning measures. But in following that suggestion, The New York Times reports that there has been a significant increase in calls to poison centers, due to accidental exposure to household cleaners and disinfectants, since the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic. So what should we do?
The CDC recommends that THE MOST effective way to combat coronavirus is through more frequent, thorough hand washing and social distancing. Additionally, there are a number of ingredients that offer safer ways to disinfect, such as:
- hydrogen peroxide
- lactic acid
- citric acid
Since cleaners, green or otherwise, are flying off the shelves and these ingredients can be more accessible, we’ve provided a recipe for an all-purpose cleaner you can make right at home.
Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner With Peroxide
When it comes to getting rid of bacteria and viruses on surfaces, you can use hydrogen peroxide on its own; You can attach a spray nozzle right to the top of the bottle! However, if you are looking to get a little more bang for your buck, you might try this mixture with a fresh lemony scent.
So, what can you do to protect your reproductive health, while keeping your space coronavirus free?
- Prioritize the most effective strategies for reducing the spread of the virus such as washing your hands and practicing social distancing.
- Keep your surroundings generally clean with regular cleaners, like soap and water.
- Use a homemade, safe, and cost effective alternative cleaners like the recipe listed above
- Demand safer alternatives from manufacturers of cleaning products and other types of disinfecting technologies.
Join us for our Pro-Choice Power Hour with a special guest from Women’s Voices for the Earth to learn about the harmful effects toxic cleaners have on reproductive health, and the ways you can safely protect yourself and your family during this pandemic.
Thanks and stay safe!