04.Cleaning chemicals and natural alternatives
The commercial cleaners in this trial that had the strongest smell and were more likely to cause mild or severe irritation in trialists were the sodium hypochlorite/sodium hydroxide based cleaners — Ajax, Selleys, Domestos and White King.
Sodium hypochlorite, a liquid bleach with several uses such as chlorinating pools and purifying drinking water (depending on the dilution), is a corrosive chemical that can cause skin and eye irritation and burns upon contact. It can also produce corrosive gasses if mixed with other household products such as toilet cleaners, so only use these bleaches with water.
The TGA’s National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee (NDPSC) set out the warning and safety phrases that must appear on household cleaner’s packaging in order to reduce the potential for harm. It’s important that you follow these warnings when using the products, wearing the appropriate protective clothing, gloves and eye protection.
Also ensure there’s adequate ventilation in your bathroom to minimise inhaling harmful fumes. Inhalation may cause nasal irritation, sore throat and coughing. The TGA assured us that a thorough rinsing of these chemicals will ensure the bathroom is safe for the family to use afterwards.
SELLEYS Rapid Mould Killer comes with the warning: “Not recommended for people with respiratory problems”, and according to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, frequent use of common household cleaning sprays (at least once a week) may be an important risk factor for adult asthma. The study found no associated risk with non-spray products, which don’t generate an irritating mist.
The natural alternative
Orange Power Shower, Bath & Tile Cleaner claims to be “the greener cleaner … that really works!”, but, unfortunately, as a mould and soap scum remover it only rated OK overall. It scored below average for removing mould and just average at removing soap scum.
On the upside, trialists thought it was easy to use, non-irritating and had the most pleasant smell of all the commercial products. It claims to use natural orange oil and fruit acids and is free of bleach, chlorine, ammonia and phosphates so would be a better alternative to people with sensitivities to chemicals — as long as they don’t mind using a little elbow grease.
Some of the trialists commented:
- “Pleasant smell. Fairly easy to use.”
- “Mild, non-irritating smell. Had to use a lot of elbow grease to get anything clean. Not a very effective cleaner."
McKenzie's Bi-Carb Soda was also included in our trial as a natural alternative. Trialists were asked to sprinkle on the powder and scrub with hot water, which many found more time-consuming than their regular cleaner.
They weren’t too impressed by its cleaning capabilities either. While it is non-irritating and has a pleasant (undetectable) smell, trialists found it was less effective at removing both mould and soap scum.
Some of the trialists commented:
- “Don’t think I would use this. Can’t see the difference in the way I normally clean the bathroom, ie with water only.”
- “Good because it’s environmentally friendly. Also liked the aspect of no smell. Needs more time to use effectively and needs more effort and doesn’t leave the bathroom as shiny clean as the others.”