Allergic reactions to household chemicals – why safe cleaning choices are vital

Alternative cleaning methods and safe cleaning products are of interest to you. However, if we are all honest, price and availability comes into making that buying decision as well, right?

You want to make sure you are your choices are safe and cost effective and that big bumper box of washing powder that is on offer looks really attractive……

Wait a minute though, it might be on offer but is it still the best choice when it comes to the health of your family?

The need for us all to consider safer, more sustainable methods of cleaning is important... really important.

Here in the office, we talk about sustainable sanitisation often but this week we are going to look beyond surface sanitisation

  • Soap
  • Shower gel
  • Disinfectants
  • Washing powder
  • Bleach
  • Anti-bacterial sprays
  • Window cleaner
  • Bathroom cleaner

The list goes on; the majority of these cleaning products can contain chemicals that can have an adverse effect on you, your family and to the world around you.

The UK has some of the highest prevalence rates of allergic conditions in the world, with over 20% of the population affected by one or more allergic disorder. (M. L. Levy, 2004)

There are many major reasons why safe alternatives to traditional cleaners are vital:

  • Human health
  • Allergic reactions
  • Effects on children and pets
  • Environmental impact

More than 150 million Europeans suffer from chronic allergic diseases and the current prediction is that by 2025 half of the entire EU population will be affected (EAACI, 2016)

Why is this?  Why are chronic allergic diseases on the rise?

What is the hygiene hypothesis?

When I was a kid I remember running about all day every day, building ramps for our bikes, making camps in the trees, cooking mud pies, concocting perfume out of flower petals and collecting insects in jars.  At no point in time do I remember dirt being an issue. You washed before you went to bed (and maybe before tea if you got caught looking particularly manky) There was no “Don’t eat that, you dropped it on the floor” the dropped sweet got dusted off and shoved back in your mouth.

The theory behind the hygiene hypothesis is that children nowadays (2000’s) are not being exposed to enough germs to allow their immune systems to recognise harmless and harmful irritants.  Therefore allergies and asthmas are becoming more common.

Children playing marbles

How do you become allergic to something?

You can become allergic to a substance at any point in your life; it takes for your immune system to believe that a substance e.g. food, medicine, chemicals, dust and pollen is harmful to your body. Your immune system produces histamine which results in visible signs of the allergy e.g. rash, swelling, runny nose, itchy eyes, dry skin.  You don’t have to be ill, overweight or unfit to become allergic to something either.

This week something happened in my home which I feel highlights the huge need for us all to keep evaluating the products we use.

I made the wrong choice.

That washing powder that was on offer that I spoke about before? I bought it, and it had a really nasty effect on Stuart.  He took a bad reaction to the washing powder which resulted in a visit to hospital.

Stuart is a fit and healthy man; he trains regularly and keeps on top of the food he eats and the products he uses.  For this to happen was a surprise, it can happen to anyone at any time.

Allergic reaction to washing powder

Allergic reaction to laundry detergent

Fact: In the 20 years to 2012 there was a 615% increase in the rate of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis in the UK (Turner, Paul J., et al, 2015)

Does biological washing powder cause allergic reactions?

Over the years there have been some conflicting reports to suggest that biological washing powders are not the responsible for allergic reactions.

Back in 2008 there was a study done by Dr David Basketter and colleagues from St Thomas’ Hospital, Nottingham University and St Mary’s Hospital.  They claim that it was a myth that biological washing powders can trigger skin irritations and has no scientific basis.

The NHS responded by highlighting that this was a non-systematic review article:

The author has failed to describe their searching methods may fail to detect some publications which could influence the overall conclusion. It is not certain that all studies have shown no effect of these biological powders.

 The quality of the individual studies in the article has not been assessed so the reader is unable to judge how reliable the individual study results are.

You can read one of the news reports covering Dr David Basketter's study here

You can also read the NHS response here

My personal opinion: I don’t think that washing powder in its entirety can be abolished completely when looking at the causes of allergic reactions.  The human body’s immune system decides what is harmful or harmless to each individual, therefore an allergic reaction can occur from a multitude of substances and should not be ruled out.

What impact does my detergent have on the environment?

 The impact your detergent has on the environment is dependent on your buying decision.

Washing powder has a job to do, break down dirt and grease and wash our clothes properly. To allow this to happen, the product needs to have certain ingredients; surfactants.

Surfactants can be derived naturally from rapeseed oil but in most cases these are petrochemical based.

Brands such as ECover make a plant based, non-biological washing powder which eliminates the issues associated with phosphorus.

You can find it here

A biodegradable washing powder available online is 'Bio' you can find that here

Another ingredient that has an adverse impact on the environment, especially aquatic life is phosphorus.

‘Phosphorus, in the form of phosphates or phosphonates, helps wash clothes and dishes, especially in hard water, but its release into waterways can lead to algal blooms that stifle fish and other aquatic life,’*

Turns out that the ‘bargain buy’ that maimed by husband contains phosphonates, so not only was I disfiguring him I harming the aquatic life too – not a good week!!

Surft washing detergent - allergic reactions

Surf liquid laundry detergent containing Phophorus ingredients

 What next

 These changes in your buying habits and sustainable choices take time; it's a gradual process of improvement. But with each small change comes a lesser impact on our health and the environment.

Are you ready to consider a safer way to clean? Maybe this will help you out

Take it one step at a time, start with some changes that are easy to implement we have 4 ways to reduce plastic waste here to start you off

Don’t try to eradicate every single speck of dirt in your home; some bacteria are important.  There is a huge need to have a sensible approach to cleaning, disinfecting and sanitising; killing 100% of bacteria 100% of the time is having an adverse effect on the human body and our environment.

Related content: Problems with strong disinfectants - why bacteria are important

These websites are a great starting point for those of you that want to implement some more eco-friendly, sustainable changes into your homes:

Moral Fibres

Going zero waste

Pebble Mag

This week was a serious eye opener for me, I thought I had things 'covered' but there are always ways to lessen your impact on the environment.

What has this week taught me:  Slow down, make the right choices

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There are a few links in this article, maybe you missed one - we have listed them here for you:



How green is your washing powder

Telegraph - washing powder cleared of causing rashes

NHS response to studies claiming washing powder does not cause allergies

4 ways to reduce plastic waste

Problems with strong disinfectants - why bacteria are important


ECover washing powder

4 alternatives to traditional surface cleaners

Eco-friendly Resources:

Moral Fibres

Going zero waste

Pebble Mag

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