Use of Cleaning Products

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The Environmental Impact of Household Cleaning Products at Geneva College

What′s the problem?

One of the environmental issues that seems to require much more attention at Geneva College is the harm caused by household cleaning products (including dish soap, laundry detergent, glass cleaner, multipurpose cleaner, etc.) used on campus.

Many of the chemicals contained in household cleaning products can have serious effects upon the environment. They can pollute the water supply and the air and harm local wildlife. In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that the air inside the average home is 2-5 times more polluted than the air outside. Finally, some household cleaning products can be hazardous to human health, causing cancer or reproductive problems. Listed below are a few of these chemical ingredients and their effects

  • Ethoxylated nonyl phenols (NPEs), banned in many countries but still sometimes used in cleaning products, can disrupt the endocrine system. In male fish, NPEs can produce female characteristics.
  • Trisodium nitrilotriacetate (NTA) is an ingredient in laundry detergents and a possible human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance). It can also prevent metals from being properly filtered out in wastewater treatment plants.
  • Chlorine bleach is extremely toxic to fish. Chorine can also bind with marine organic compounds to create toxic substances called organochlorines.
  • Phosphates can cause eutrophication in lakes, ultimately killing aquatic life. Phosphate levels have fortunately been reduced in most laundry detergents, but still exist in high concentrations in dishwasher detergents.

Are Geneva students contributing to the problem?

One hundred Geneva students were recently surveyed regarding their cleaning product use and awareness. These are the results:

  • 100% of Geneva students that were surveyed had their own household cleaning products of some sort while at school.
  • However, only 3% of those students said that at least half of their cleaning products were environmentally friendly.
  • 49% of students regularly recycle empty cleaning product containers.
  • An alarming 75% of students said that they would dump extra cleaning product down the drain.
  • Finally, only 19% of students were aware that the chemicals in some cleaning products are possible carcinogens.

What can I do to help?

One of the most effective ways to reduce the environmental harm caused by household cleaning products is to buy "green," or environmentally-friendly, cleaning products. Laundry detergent, dish soap, multipurpose cleaner and glass cleaner made from natural cleaning agents such as lemon and coconut oil can now be found at most supermarkets and are usually not much more expensive than other cleaning products.

If you would rather not spend the money to buy green cleaning products, you can make your own cleaning products instead. A simple mixture of equal parts distilled white vinegar and water makes a good multipurpose cleaner and can be used to clean countertops, mirrors, and other surfaces. To find more homemade cleaning product recipes, visit

In addition, be sure to recycle empty cleaning product containers. Many cleaning product containers, such as the clear plastic spray bottles that contain glass cleaner, are made from #1 plastic, which is incredibly easy to recycle.

Whatever you do, never dump extra cleaning product down the drain. In doing so, you may be killing aquatic life in the surrounding areas with the chemicals being introduced into the water system. Sewage treatment systems do not remove all toxins from the water. You can dispose of these chemicals at household hazardous waste collection events (click here for more information and a schedule of collection events in Western PA). However, an easier and better solution is to give extra cleaning products away to others who need them.

Finally, if you absolutely must use a cleaning product that harms the environment, use as little as possible. Preventing any amount of toxic chemicals from reaching the environment is always helpful.

For more information about household cleaners, visit the World Watch Institute and Toxic Free.