Worried about the effect that cleaning products have on the environment? We give you some advice on cruelty-free cleaning
This time of year is often thought of as the right season to have a blitz through your house, casting off the cobwebs of winter, and letting in the beautiful sunlight of spring and summer.
Despite this, a YouGov poll commissioned by green energy company Good Energy, showed that less than half (49 per cent) of those surveyed said that they still undertake a once-a-year blitz of their homes. A sizeable 30 per cent also confessed that they have never ever attempted a spring clean.
The Wiltshire-based renewable electricity company also found that 41 per cent of people saw spring cleaning as an old-fashioned practice, whilst nearly two thirds (60 per cent) felt their parents and grandparents generation were more concerned about having a cleaner home.
If you’re one of the ones who will be spring cleaning you will be looking for every practicable measure you can take to avoid the exploitation and abuse of animals. When it comes to obvious issues-like eating meat-it’s generally very clear what to avoid. But when you start looking at other facets of cruelty-free living, it requires a little more research. Cleaning and household products are one part of the equation. While it is not difficult to avoid using non-vegan products, it is best to find out as much as possible about these items in advance of going shopping.
There are a few things that make a product unsuitable for vegans. Obviously the inclusion of any animal-derived ingredient is an obvious one. Some products contain milk, some contain beeswax. A number of fabric conditioners contain tallow-a type of animal fat.
Many of the products on shop shelves are highly corrosive and can cause irritation for humans (despite cruel testing on animals). So for some cruelty-free producers there is an additional element to consider-human safety. According to Lloyd Atkin from Bio-D: “The Bio-D range was created to provide consumers with safer, greener and cruelty-free alternatives to standard cleaning products – that ‘don’t cost the earth’.
“In a previous job, the founder of Bio-D used to clean ships. He realised that many home cleaning products contained the same ingredients as industrial cleaners he used to clean ships – which require the use of heavy-duty health and safety equipment such as respirators. He therefore set out to create products that contained no harmful ingredients.
“Our range is the only 100 per cent hypoallergenic home cleaning range in the UK. We’re providing more and more allergy sufferers with an alternative to ‘traditional’ home detergents that often exacerbate asthma, eczema and other conditions. Statistics show that an estimated 21 million people in the UK suffer from at least one allergy and that, since the 1980s, prevalence of allergic rhinitis and eczema in children has trebled. Our fragrance free laundry products are accredited by Allergy UK.”
Marie Savage from cleaning brand Humblestuff adds: “I’ve been a domestic cleaner for over ten years, however, when I wanted to clean my own oven without needing a gas mask, that’s when I began research into more natural cleaning solutions.”
One option is to take an old-fashioned approach to cleaning using some common household ingredients. According to Green Energy you can create ‘sparkling surfaces’ using strange ingredients. A spokesman says: “By mixing together one part distilled white vinegar, two parts water and a hearty squeeze of lemon juice, you can create a great surface cleaner which cuts through grime on most kitchen, bath and floor surfaces.
“Alternatively, by rubbing half a grapefruit over surfaces, sprinkling liberally with some salt and washing off with a sponge and hot water, you can achieve the most gleaming and shiny sink, bath tubs and work surfaces.”
For streak-free windows and mirrors, Green Energy says: “First mix together a 50:50 solution of distilled white vinegar and hot water in a spray bottle and spritz over the pane or mirror. Once applied simply give it a good rub with a cloth or a scrunched up piece of old newspaper and leave it to dry. A great tip for a streak-free finish.
“For polishing your wood, lemons and olive oil offer an alternative to make wooden floors and furniture shine. By using a solution of one part lemon juice to two parts olive oil, not only will this buff your wood to perfection.”
And you can get pots and pans spic and span with a simple home remedy too. “Got stubborn stains on cutlery and utensils that just won’t come off? Well, according to the original domestic goddess Mrs Beeton, nothing beats a solution made from warm water and baking soda which is then scrubbed in hard using a crust of bread. Rinse with water and your pots and pans will be glistening once again. Plus, if you’ve got any rusty cutlery, try using some onions to bring back that shine. Plunge a knife or fork into a large onion three or four times and the rust should come straight off.”
But all is not lost for those who want the convenience and efficacy of purpose-made products. A key element of veganism is concern for the environment and this is something companies are increasingly seeking to address creating formulations with this in mind. Ingrid Hume from Sodason says: “Our product is a unique vegetable based and eco-friendly cleaner. The organic vegetable oil soap is manufactured in specially developed low-temperature saponification process. The production is CO2 – neutral and Sodasan only use powder from Greenpeace energy, therefore work 100 per cent free of nuclear power.”
Rebecca from Ecoleaf adds: “We were dissatisfied with other environmentally friendly cleaning products because we felt they either didn’t work, were too expensive, weren’t cruelty free or were manufactured abroad, ours are made not far from us in Birkenhead. Our range of cleaning products is derived from plant extracts and is based on biodegradable and non-hazardous ingredients. All the extracted plant ingredients are from sustainable sources. Most cleaning products are derived from petroleum-based resources and may contain harsh chemicals such as phosphates, caustics and other chemicals that can be hazardous to the user and the environment.”
Even if a product is free of animal ingredients, if it has been tested on animals, it will not be appropriate. It is generally easy enough to find this out by looking up the company online, but it is worth being wary of vague phrases like, ‘we are against animal testing’, unless this is substantiated with a reassurance that neither the finished product nor the raw ingredients were tested by the company or farmed out for testing by a third party.
While there is an EU ban on testing cosmetics on animals it is still legal to test cleaning products on them. Cruelty Free International, a company working towards ending these tests, says: “Across Europe, countless animals such as rabbits, hamsters, rats and mice continue to suffer and die in household product testing. They are injected, gassed, force-fed and killed to test the ingredients that go into everyday household products such as washing up liquid, air fresheners and dishwasher tablets.”
According to Animal Aid, a campaign group: “Staying ahead of the competition is the number one priority for household product manufacturers. This is what generates the endless torrent of new ‘improved’ versions of everything from washing powders and air fresheners to floor cleaners and paints. What is concealed from the public is the cruelty involved in the production process.
“Animals are still subjected to horrific tests during the testing phase of all new household products, food additives, agricultural and industrial chemicals. 97,743 animals were used for such purposes in 2001. New products mean more animal tests-yet many thousands of ingredients are already available for manufacturers to choose from-how many more do we need?”
The good news is there are plenty of useful options out there. One of the easiest ways to find them is to look for the Vegan Trademark symbol. You can also go on the society’s online database of companies when searching for their approved products. Many of these companies will be smaller ones, so you’ll be supporting small ethical producers in many cases.
Are any common cleaning products harmful to my companion animals?
According to the Humane Society of the United States, a number of common products used for cleaning and household and car maintenance, can be deadly for animals. According to the society: “The HSUS recommends that pet owners use all household products with caution. We also recommend that you put together a pet first aid kit (for dogs and cats) and have a manual readily available. If all of your precautions fail, and you believe that your pet has been poisoned, contact your vet immediately. Signs of poisoning include listlessness, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, lack of coordination and fever.”
- Fumes from nonstick cooking surfaces and self-cleaning ovens can be deadly to birds. Always be cautious when using any pump or aerosol spray around birds.
- Insect controlproducts, such as the insecticides used in many over-the-counter flea and tick remedies, may be toxic to companion animals. Prescription flea and tick control products are much safer and more effective. Pet owners should never use any product without first consulting a veterinarian.
- Antifreezethat contains ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that attracts animals but is deadly if consumed in even small quantities; one teaspoon can kill a seven-pound cat. The HSUS recommends pet owners use a safe antifreeze in their vehicles. Look for antifreeze that contains propylene glycol, which is safe for animals if ingested in small amounts. Ethylene glycol can also be found in common household products like snow globes, so be sure to keep these things out the reach of animals