Using household products safely: Part 2

Household products may contain potentially hazardous chemicals that must be used and disposed of properly to be safe.

Using household products safely,” the first part of this series, gave an overview of some of the potential dangers with the household cleaning products purchased every day. The other half of the story is about disposal of these products and choosing non-toxic alternatives when possible.

If consumers want the benefits that many household chemical products provide, then consumers must also accept the responsibility and cost involved in proper disposal of these chemicals to prevent adverse environmental effects. Reliance on traditionally-used disposal methods can injure humans and other living things as well as the environment. These usual disposal methods include throwing household toxicants in the trash, pouring down a drain or sewer or storing them in the home or garage indefinitely. Each of these options can have some potentially negative consequences:

  • Garbage collectors have been injured while unknowingly collecting trash that contained toxic chemicals, including pool chemicals, pesticides, hobby supplies, bleach and other household cleaners.
  • Sewer and septic treatment systems have been biologically upset by the introduction of significant quantities of hazardous household chemicals.
  • Pets have died after drinking from ditches that contained discarded chemicals.

Check with your local Health Department to see where the nearest household hazardous collection program is for your area and what products they accept.

Ultimately, the best way to solve the disposal problem is through prevention: buy only the amount that you need, buy non-toxic products when they are available and use the products up when possible. If this is not possible, give it to family members or neighbors who can use it.

Research non-toxic alternatives for household cleaning, such as:

  • Baking soda – cleans, deodorizes, scours
  • Liquid soap (no petroleum distillates) – cleans most everything
  • White vinegar – eliminates odors, removes mildew, cuts grease, reduces wax build-up and removes some stains
  • Isopropyl Alcohol – disinfectant
  • Corn Starch – shampoo carpets, clean windows, polish furniture
  • Mineral oil – polish furniture
  • Borax – whitener, cuts grease, cleans walls and floors, deodorizes

Several online sites provide recipes using these products for safe, economical cleaning.

As an additional precaution, homeowners can assemble a household Spill Kit. This kit can be used when a chemical spill or leak occurs. Having the necessary items assembled in one location can save precious time in containing a spill in the house, garage or patio. For more information and direction to make your own kit, see the Michigan State University Extension article, “Chemical spills: Build a simple spill kit at home,” by Bindu Bhakta.

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