If you’re like many Nutritious Life readers, you probably use natural cleaning products whenever possible to keep icky toxins out of your home. But when the goal is to fight a different kind of icky toxin—AKA a deadly virus—what’s the best plan of action?
Welp, we’ve got some answers ahead. Nutritious Life founder, Keri Glassman, sat down with Lara Adler, environmental toxin educator (on Instagram, of course), to talk about germ-killing and toxins at a time when disinfecting is our number one prio.
Keri: I know “natural” could mean so many things, but in general, are natural cleaning products doing enough during the coronavirus pandemic?
Lara: Certainly not all of the cleaners we use will be effective at killing the coronavirus. If someone is used to using vinegar and water, there’s no indication that that’s strong enough to kill the coronavirus. Under normal circumstances, yes…But these aren’t normal circumstances.
Keri: You’re making me feel better that I jumped ship and went to Lysol.
Lara: Look, there’s a time and place for everything. There’s a time and place for herbs. And there’s a time and place for drugs and medicine. If I get hit by a bus, I want surgery and drugs.
Keri: You’re absolutely right. It’s like food, you do the best you can given the circumstances, but you can’t always have the absolute best as far as being toxin-free goes.
Lara: If after you’ve done a solid clean with chemicals or hydrogen peroxide, you’ve self-quarantined, and you’re not having people in and out of your house, then you can switch to vinegar-based cleaners to keep things clean. But if you have packages coming in and out, air on the side of being cautious and use cleaners we know to be effective.
And I want to be clear, using soap and water still rules all. It’s more effective than bleach at killing the coronavirus and other viruses. It’s better than hand sanitizer. Soap and water still reign supreme here. You can wash your kitchen counters and doorknobs with soapy water.
Keri: What do you think of alcohol?
Lara: I’m looking at what the CDC says is approved for killing coronavirus. I’m not relying on marketing. Alcohol solutions that are at least 60 percent alcohol are effective, but it needs to be 60 percent. I see a ton of people DIY’ing, but unless you’re absolutely confident that your product is 60 percent by volume, just go back to the soap. Plus, hand sanitizer is just for when you’re leaving the house, and you should stay home anyway.
Keri: Any kind of soap?
Lara: Any kind of soap. Soap breaks down the virus very quickly. A 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution also works, but it might be hard to find now. The other type of product I want to highlight is products made of hypochlorous acid. That’s what our white blood cells use to kill viruses and bacteria. Our own body produces hypochlorous acid. It’s more effective than bleach at killing viruses and bacteria, and it’s 100 percent non-toxic. It’s very well-established and safe. The reason it hasn’t been commercialized very broadly as a safe alternative to other products is because the device required to produce it used to be very expensive. You can find it in Force of Nature products. The only thing is it’s not as shelf-stable when exposed to light and oxygen, so it only lasts a couple of weeks. Briotech produces a topical skin spray that uses hypochlorous acid for wound care.
Keri: When this is all over, what chemicals should we avoid the most? I know many of the “natural” cleaners still have unhealthy chemicals in them!
Lara: We use a lot of these products chronically, and there’s no legal requirement for brands to say what’s in them. So it’s hard to make an informed choice. They’ll say “coconut-based surfactant,” but it can still be contaminated with a carcinogen. There’s a lot of vagueness in the space.
The number one thing I want people to be aware of is household cleaners all contain high amounts of synthetic fragrances, which are a significant source of air pollution in our homes and mess with our delicate hormone system. Many of these chemicals, particularly phthalates, are also obesogens, which can alter our metabolism in ways that predispose us to weight gain. The thing is, we spray them in the air, then they evaporate, and we think oh they’ve gone away. But they don’t. A lot of these chemicals, including phthalates, are known as semi-volatile compounds, which stick to all of your stuff: your furniture, your floor, your dust. They don’t disappear. They collect and we are continuously exposed to them. Choose products without fragrance.
Keri: That’s a big one overall, in skincare, too. Like you said, it’s the build up over time.
Lara: And if you have asthma, the problem can be acute. This is why people who have bad asthma can’t walk down the cleaning aisle of the grocery store. They have a hard time breathing.
Keri: What are some of your favorite brands?
Lara: I use Branch Basics. I think they’re super legit and transparent. You can add essential oils for a smell without the fragrance. Keep in mind, with any of these products, we don’t want to fully sterilize everything. The overuse of even non-toxic products can breed antibacterial resistance, and for everyday use [when the pandemic is over], it’s overkill.
Keri: There’s so much more out there about the microbiome and the importance of good bacteria. We’ve gotten more comfortable with germs, but we’re in the opposite mode right now. We’re in a crisis situation.
Lara: The EWG has a household cleaners database. Sometimes in this conversation about toxic and non-toxic products, we lump things into the same category. A skin irritant and a carcinogen are not the same. I look at it through the lens of good, better, best. Good is great.
Keri: It’s very similar to skincare and food. You do the best you can with as many things as you can. It’s better to get your vegetables in even if organic isn’t available. I usually use vinegar as a cleaning product, but now isn’t the time.
Lara: The expression perfect is the enemy of good really applies here.