When faced with a water crisis, one starts to look for ways to keep safe, clear drinking water in the tap and to keep the vegetable patch behind the house alive without the use of municipal water. A grey water system is a solution, but don’t forget – use natural cleaning products.
Grey water systems have become popular, but do you know exactly what you’re pumping into your soil after cleaning and bathing?
HOW DOES CLEANING REALLY WORK?
We associate visible dirt with the presence of bacteria. Bacterial contamination is influenced by many variables and it is difficult to compare the situations in different domestic environments. Wet sites, such as kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, baths, showers and toilets are established as the areas that carry the most potential for cross-contamination within the household. Dishcloths and wet cleaning utensils are a breeding ground for bacteria.
DISINFECTION IN THE HOME
Although disinfection can aid in preventing the spread of bacteria, the most effective methods must be explored. Disinfection includes drying, washing with soap and water and using heat. Although the above-mentioned methods prove to be effective to a degree, he results can be influenced by the type of organism, the temperature and soiling. Soap and water is only effective if applied in a very precise manner and if rinsed properly afterwards. When wiping down surfaces with soap and water only, the result is that the bacteria on the contaminated cloth is spread onto the surface as you wipe.
The results of the use of chemical household products are short-lived and re-contamination occurs within 90 minutes to three hours, especially in the wet sites around the house. As consumers, we cannot rely on marketers to take responsibility for educating us on the correct use of their products.
Vinegar kills 99% of bacteria, 80% of mould and is the most inexpensive non-toxic solution to all-purpose cleaning and laundry.
Oxygen bleach and chlorine bleach clean and disinfect. The active ingredient is hydrogen peroxide which is non-toxic and inexpensive.
DANGERS OF CHEMICAL DETERGENTS
Chemical cleaning products release volatile organic compounds (VOC) that are toxic and carcinogenic. Carbon-based chemicals easily become vapours or gases and spread in the atmosphere while one is cleaning. Sources can be solid or liquid with short-and long-term adverse health effects.
Multiple studies have concluded that the use of cleaning products in spray bottles is directly linked to inducing and elevating asthma in adults and wheezing and asthma in pre-school children. Toddlers who were exposed to these products prenatally showed symptoms later in life, around the age of three to four years old. Children whose mothers make use of chemical-based cleaning products during pregnancy are increasing the risk of wheezing in their children during early childhood.
The work environment also creates risks of chemical exposure and a large number of asthma cases were reported for cleaners and workers in offices and hospitals, as well as for domestic workers who exposed to domestic leaning products.
Even though domestic products might be less toxic than industrial cleaning products, they are still classified in the top five substances that are listed in human exposure complaints. Users of domestic cleaning products also have no training in how toxic these products might be and are at more of a risk than occupational users who take the necessary precautions to use these products safely.
When we clean our bodies and our living spaces, we expect to remove oil, dirt and bacteria. Chemicals containing oil and dirt will not break down, and thus become toxic to the environment. These toxins cause damage to soil, water systems and plant life. We can see that this becomes a problem when our grey water systems are allowing all of these chemicals to seep into the ground.
A NOTE ON GREY WATER SYSTEMS
Important areas to consider when using grey water systems are hand basins, showers, baths and washing machines. These are the main pipe outlets that will run into a grey water system. We need to pay extra attention when using and cleaning these areas, making sure that no chemical goes unnoticed as it will have an effect on the quality of the grey water. It is therefore recommended to completely cut out the use of chemical products in these areas and switch over to strictly environmentally friendly products. These products are widely available and are just as effective, in my experience sometimes even more effective, than their chemical counterparts. These products are also very affordable and accessible and if you love creating your own products, you will save even more money.
WHAT TO AVOID
- Fabric softener
- Chemical laundry detergents
- Chemical household cleaners
- Chemical dish soap
- All-purpose liquid cleaners containing ammonia
- Air fresheners
- Glass cleaners
- Furniture cleaning sprays
- Carpet cleaners
- Most body soaps and shampoo
BETTER CLEANING PRACTICES
Switch rags frequently to prevent breeding and spreading bacteria on wet cloths. Sponges can be put in the microwave for two minutes. This will kill bacteria by drying them out.
IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER
Kitchen sinks are considered black water because of the amount of pesticides, blood and oil they contain. Unless we consume fully organic and vegan diets, our kitchen sinks are contributing to environmental pollution. The effects of the oil washed down our drains are considered equal to the effects of oil spillage in the sea.
Using a natural, biodegradable dishwashing liquid and cooking without oil as much as possible help to minimise the impact. It is also important to note that water from dishwashing machines is not connected to grey water systems as the dishwashing detergent is considered to be too abrasive. It might be a good idea to switch to a natural dishwashing detergent for the dishwasher. Shop for alternatives – plant-based ingredients are fully biodegradable. Recommended eco-cleaning brands include: Better Earth Earthsap; Pure Simple; Nu-Eco; Triple Orange and Greenman.
WHERE TO SHOP
Faithful To Nature (online) They have a strict policy about the ingredients of the products sold on their website and have alternatives available to everything on the ‘What to avoid’ list.
Wellness Warehouse (online and in-store) Offers household cleaning and laundry products as well as an array of other products.
- Bloomfield SF et al. Cross-contamination and infection in the domestic environment and the role of chemical disinfectants. Journal of Applied Microbiology. 1997; (83):1-9.
- Le Moual N et al. Domestic use of cleaning sprays and asthma activity in females. European Respiratory Journal. 2012; (40):1381-1389.
- Sherriff, A et al. Frequent use of chemical household products is associated with persistent wheezing in pre-school age children. Thorax Journal. 2005; (60): 45-49.
- Zock J et al. The use of household cleaning sprays and adult asthma. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2007; (176): 735-741.
- Zock J et al. Update on asthma and cleaners. Archives Ouvertes. 2010; (2): 114-120.
- Eriksson E et al. Household chemicals and personal care products as sources of xenobiotic organic compounds in grey wastewater. Water SA. 2003; (29):135-146.