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About 15 years ago I did a quick survey in a nearby grocery store and the results were shocking. I wanted to find out what ingredients were in the most popular brands of household cleaners dish liquid, laundry liquid, stain remover, toilet bowl cleaners, etc. I walked in with a pad of paper ready to take notes and walked out with a blank pad of paper. I could not find one cleaning product in the grocery store aisle that listed its’ ingredients!

I was able to find contact phone numbers on many of the packages so I wrote down the contact information and began making calls. I talked to representatives from all of the big brands and none of them would give me their ingredient lists, all of them claimed that this was proprietary information and they were not going to give away their trade secrets. Understandable, to a point. What if you were allergic to certain ingredients? What if you suffered from chemical sensitivities or asthma? Some of the companies said that I could go get tested for sensitivity to ingredients and if I called back they would let me know if their product contained the culprit ingredients. So, buyer beware!

Fast forward 15 years it is 2015 and we are still in a situation where we have no idea what is in the cleaning products that fill the cleaning product aisle in all major grocery stores. In Canada, cleaning product manufacturers are not required to list the products ingredients on the label perhaps because there are so many ingredients they couldn’t fit them on the label? Maybe consumers would switch to healthier, more environmentally responsible products once they realized what was in their cleaners?

Although there is no regulatory requirement to list cleaning product ingredients, the Consumer Ingredient Communication Initiative (CICI) is a voluntary, industry led initiative that encourages their member companies to make product information available to consumers. Companies can post their product ingredients list on the product label, on their website, or via a customer service number however this is not required, there is no enforcement, and there are no ingredient notification requirements it is all voluntary.

A quick scan of the website of Canada’s leading laundry liquid shows a lengthy list of 27 ingredients, however the “fragrance” in their product is not specified. Information is out there for many products, but it is incomplete, unclear, undefined. Surfing around the website of the world’s second largest Consumer Packaged Goods company yields even less information you can only find ingredient lists for their European brands, not sure why? Neither company lists their products ingredients on their packages. By contrast, Canadian cleaning product manufacturer Nature Clean lists all of their ingredients for all of their products on every package even ingredients that make up less than 1% of the product.

Why do we need to know what is in our cleaning supplies? Here are 3 compelling arguments

• According to a World Health Organization report, Poisoning is one of the leading causes of death among children. One of the top contributors to childhood poisoning are Household Cleaning Products.

• Allergies are now affecting over 30% of the world’s population, much of this increase is credited to the increased use of household cleaning products commonly referred to as the Hygiene Hypothesis. Traditional household cleaners have also shown to contribute to negative effects on neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal functions.

• Ingredients in many common household cleaners (exammonia, nitrogen, phosphorus) can be very toxic in our natural environment, polluting our air, rivers, lakes, and oceans as well as endangering our soil, plant life, and animal life.

Consumers need to know what is in conventional household cleaning products so that they have the necessary information to make thoughtful, educated decisions about the products they use in their homes. The “buyer beware” scenario that we live with must be changed so that we can all make the best decisions for our personal health, the health of our families, and the health of our environment.

Thankfully there is an increasing number of manufacturers of cleaning products that are listing ingredients on product labels. The Toronto based Nature Clean line of products has been a leader in the cleaning product industry for over 40 years, listing all of their ingredients on product packages, not testing their products on animals, and having their products tested by a third party for biodegradability. There is also more information available about the benefits of, and recipes for, making your own household cleaners using ingredients from your kitchen see this post on the Bell Wellness Center blog. However, it is essential that changes be made at the Federal government level with clear regulations and meaningful consequences that will help better inform and protect us all.

Rob Grand
About the Author

Rob Grand is a leading advocate, spokesperson, and educator on green lifestyle products and issues. Rob has appeared in every major print, radio, and television media outlet in Canada including CBC, the Globe & Mail, and Canadian House & Home. He has also served as a Director of over a dozen environmental non-profit organizations and is the Founder and Director at GrassrootsStore.com.

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