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The Environmental Impact of Cleaning


Few of us look forward to cleaning. But sometimes, household chores can be a pleasant way to wind down after a long day. For an hour or so, you can listen to your favourite songs, scrub the grime away, and then enjoy the pleasant scents that linger.


Your household contains a wide array of cleaning products, including your toothpaste, laundry detergent, and glass cleaner. The effectiveness of a cleaning product is a big part of its value, but it’s also important to consider how products affect the environment once they’re flushed down the drain. What effects do these chemicals have on the waterways?


Chemicals don’t disappear just because we flush them down the drain. Have you heard of non-biodegradability? This term refers to how some chemicals remain intact even after their cleaning job is complete.


Every product has a different variability on the biodegradability scale; something to consider is how lingering chemicals will impact surrounding marine and wildlife.


Every year, March 22nd is World Water Day. We wanted to keep the momentum from World Water Day alive by talking about the environmental impact of cleaning products. First, we’re going to look at how harsh chemicals affect our waterways and how cleaning products are regulated in Canada. Then, we’re going to share a few ways that you can make your cleaning routine greener.


How Chemicals Impact Waterways

Before we dive into this topic, let’s answer this common question:

What defines a harsh chemical?


In terms of cleaning products, a harsh chemical is any substance that poses harm to the environment. It’s a chemical that persists even once you’ve rinsed it away. Harsh chemicals may impact air or water quality. A few examples include ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus, also known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).


What happens when a harsh chemical cleaner enters the waterways? Does it degrade and dissolve in the water, or does it remain semi-intact? Here’s what happens when a harmful chemical enters our water systems:


First, the product travels from the drain or toilet in your home to your local wastewater treatment facility. There, the water is filtered and treated to reduce its toxicity. But not all treatment centres can filter out harsh chemicals—namely, the VOCs found in cleaning products. When the water empties into various waterways, those chemicals persist.


Certain chemicals can take a long time to break down, if they do at all; during that time, they can have toxic effects on the aquatic ecosystem (and/or the humans who drink that water).


What Are the Environmental Regulations for Cleaning Products in Canada?

In Canada, there are Safety Data Sheets for all cleaning products. These sheets detail any potential hazards of a product. While there are safety regulations in place for harm against people and animals due to contact exposure, it can be tough to find data on biodegradability and the accumulative effects of these products in our waterways.


There are measures to control the safety of our drinking water. In Canada, chlorine is used to kill parasites, viruses, and bacteria. Strict control measures are used to maintain the safety of chlorine levels in drinking water.


There are also regulations for the concentration of chemicals in cleaning products. In Canada, concentrations of phosphorus cannot exceed a certain amount (which varies based on the product). Companies that produce products that contain phosphorus may be subject to inspections.


Ways You Can Help

You know that cleaning products can negatively impact the environment; it’s a problem that feels much bigger than the actions of one person. Still, you want to do your part to keep our waterways healthy. It’s up to the consumer to make eco-friendly cleaning choices.


What are a few actionable tips you can use to minimize your impact? Before you start spring cleaning, make a note of these tips:


Take a closer look at labels

As we mentioned earlier, you can’t trust manufacturers to disclose every chemical that their products contain. Instead, look for certifications from third parties that verify the eco-friendliness of cleaning products.


A great example is Ecocert. This non-profit organization uses rigorous standards to test the safety of various products, including household cleaning agents.



Choose sustainable packaging

You already know it’s best to reduce, reuse, and recycle. But even after rinsing a cleaning product container, a few drops of harsh chemicals may linger.


Rather than recycling a potentially harmful package, it’s best to reuse the same one as many times as you can. This helps protect our environment and reduces plastic production. At Saponetti, we sell soap in jars for convenient and eco-friendly refills!


Use what you need

Before you pour your detergent into the laundry or fill a bucket with soap and water, consider the amount of product that you’re using. You may need to use less than you think.


According to the owner of Anago Cleaning Systems, “The amount of product you use is important. To be sustainable, we train our cleaning staff to use the exact right amount of cleaning products.”



Products to avoid

There are a few chemicals that you should always steer clear of. Drain cleaners, for example, are especially harmful. If your drain is clogged, try making a baking soda volcano, or use a drain snake with the help of YouTube.


In general, we suggest staying away from any products with fragrances or perfumes; strong scents can trigger irritation, headaches, and allergies for those with sensitivities. Instead, try ones with essential oils.


When you’re shopping for disinfectants, look for products that contain hypochlorous acid instead of bleach. A great example of this is the Environize Multi-Use Disinfectant. Use it on non-porous surfaces to eliminate harmful bacteria, including Salmonella enterica and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.



The next time you’re searching for new cleaning supplies, you might want to take a closer look at the ingredients listed, packaging used, and whether they have any eco-friendly certifications. We hope this guide helps you make greener cleaning choices!


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