We discover how to make safe, eco-friendly home cleaning products to keep you and your family healthy, mama!
A few months ago our Managing Director, Emilie, saw the documentary film “The Human Experiment” and came away shocked and horrified about the number of dangerous chemicals that are in all sorts of everyday household cleaning products. The movie not only highlights the risks these chemicals pose to the environment, but also links them to a rise in sickness and disease over the last few decades. Emilie was determined to make a change, and came to find out about Marra Hensby at My Pure Earth, who is leading a safe and healthy cleaning and personal care revolution in Singapore, one household at a time.
With a background in environmental management and sustainability, Marra has worked for global corporations like The Home Depot and Williams-Sonoma, helping to shape their environmental policies and corporate responsibility policies. Earlier this year she started hosting workshops “to share ways that people can make small changes in their everyday lives to live a greener lifestyle”. As she rightfully pointed out, if we lock away our cleaning products in a cupboard to keep them out of the reach of children, do we really want to be covering every surface in our home with them (or filling the air with their artificial scents)? Probably not!
Earlier this month the Sassy team attended one of Marra’s workshops (she also offers them for helpers), and we all came away amazed, both at one, how easy it is to make your own products and two, how surprisingly effective simple (and cheap!) ingredients like vinegar and baking soda can be.
Off the bat, Marra hit on those dangerous ingredients at the heart of “The Human Experiment”. Read those labels, mama! The worst offenders to keep an eye out for?
- Phthalates, which are used for making scents last longer (like with air fresheners, dish soap … even toilet paper!) and can also be found in many plastic bottles. Sometimes disguised on labels as “fragrance” or “perfume” (sounds so harmless!), these have been linked to birth defects, decreased sperm count, and even liver cancer.
- Parabens: Anti-bacteria preservatives that have been linked to cancer, endocrine issues (including fertility and menstrual problems), and skin irritation. These are in fact often found in baby and children’s skincare products! The most common parabens to look for on labels are butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben.
- Perchloroethylene (AKA “Perc”): Found in dry cleaning solutions, spot removers and many carpet and upholstery cleaners, Perc is a neurotoxin and known carcinogen. At the very, very least, says Marra, you should take your dry cleaning out of its plastic wrapping so the Perc doesn’t seep into your clothes.
- Triclosan: A common dishwashing detergent ingredient, it’s also in 75% of hand soaps, toothpaste, and a variety of baby products because it’s used to make things “antibacterial”. Ironically it can actually promote the growth of harmful, drug-resistant bacteria!
- 2-Butoxyehtanol: Hold your breath next time you clean your windows or any other surface, mama: this chemical causes sore throats when inhaled, and can even cause unconsciousness along with severe liver and kidney damage.
Right after Marra told us all this – and as horror crept across each of our faces – I immediately pulled out my baby’s sunscreen to check the label and was relieved to see it was both paraben-free and phthalate-free. So I give two thumbs up to Babyganics! (Their Toy & Highchair Cleaner is also free of phthalates, ammonia, and bleach.)
Marra then gave us the good news: simple ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, citric acid and Castile soap are every bit as effective cleaning agents. These possess anti-bacterial, deodorizing, de-greasing properties, and can be found at totally reasonable prices at shops across Singapore. Vinegar is particularly versatile and is great at bringing out shine (just be careful not to use it on marble or granite countertops as it’ll eat away at the stone!). If you can’t stand the smell, you can infuse it with lavender (check out our own DIY cleaner recipe) or cinnamon (I did this at Marra’s suggestion and my kitchen now smells AMAZING).
After presenting us with a handy little booklet of recipes, Marra guided us step-by-step through making an all-purpose cleaner spray, a bathroom soft scrub, and a carpet spot cleaner, providing all of the materials (even BPA-free spray bottles) and giving us tips on achieving the right consistency.
While there are plenty of DIY recipes available out there, I was always too lazy to run around gathering all the proper materials. It was great having Marra there with everything on hand; she also let us know where we could pick up ingredients like vinegar, lavender seeds and citric acid in bulk (Phoon Huat!), and has hard-to-find, all-natural essential oils for sale as well. (Another tip: the tea tree oil on sale at Guardian is not exactly pure).
I loved that Marra provided us with a handy little recipe booklet for all of the above solutions, along with ones for toilet bowl cleaner, toilet bowl fizzies, and all-natural laundry booster. She’s currently working on a follow-up workshop for all-natural beauty products! Helpfully, she also recommended a few of the best cleaning products brands to buy when we don’t have time to make our own stuff, including Method and Ecover. For more info, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, which rates more than 2,000 products. Remember that DIY is a whole lot cheaper, though, mama!
Marra regularly leads workshops for homeowners and renters as well as for helpers; the latter are broken up into three sections: Kitchen & Floors; Bathroom & Laundry; and Natural Pest Control. She’ll also run other workshops covering all aspects of an eco-friendly lifestyle. Each workshop runs for 3 hours and is priced from $95-$115 per person.
The entire Sassy Mama team came away from the workshop feeling happy and enlightened. For the rest of the day we all excitedly traded Whatsapp photos of our newly sparkling floors and tubs (have you ever rushed home to clean before?). I patiently waited 10 days for my lavender and cinnamon-infused vinegar solutions and my apartment’s never smelled better.
At the end of the session – which flew by, by the way, because it was totally hands-on and not at all a quiet lecture – Marra reminded us that’s what most important is to pick your battles. If we try to fix every single thing in our homes, we’ll drive ourselves crazy. But even small steps like swapping out bleach for vinegar can have a massive impact on how healthy our homes can be.