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Disinfectants: A Double-Edged Sword

Posted on August 21, 2014
by Wendy Stackhouse

Do you always choose anti-bacterial cleaning products? Or never?

Dr. Patricia Hunt of the Center for Reproductive Biology–and the researcher who discovered the dangers of BPA in plastics–has published an article in Nature Science Journal reporting on the health hazards of disinfectant agents found in common household cleaning products.

Dr. Hunt discovered that the fertility of the mice in her lab had decreased dramatically in connection with the disinfectant used to clean their cages. And the residue from the chemicals lingered for months after the use of the chemical was discontinued.

What is in disinfectants?

The villain here is called quaternary ammonium (quats).

“Quats are the chemicals that enable you to have a little dollop of conditioner and let it easily glide and be distributed throughout your hair. They also have anti-microbial properties and are commonly used as preservatives.” Chemical of the Day

Sounds good, right? Let’s go deeper.

From the Chemical Safety Database:

“Exposure to diluted solutions can cause mild and self-limited irritation. Concentrated solutions of quaternary ammonium compounds are corrosive and can cause burns to the skin and the mucous membranes. They can produce systemic toxicity due to their curare-like properties. They can also cause allergic reactions…Other signs may include: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, anxiety, restlessness, coma, convulsions, hypotension, cyanosis and apnoea due to respiratory muscle paralysis; death may occur within 1 or 3 hours after ingestion of concentrated solutions.”

So we know we don’t want to touch that stuff, but…

What are quats found in?

Shampoo and conditioner have already been mentioned. Other products include disinfectant sprays and toilet bowl cleaners. Disinfectant wipes on counters leave chemical residue behind to get on your hands, in your food. Chemical cleaners kill germs, but leave behind worse things.

But what about the germs?

Most germs can be killed with simple soap and water. Vinegar, borax and some essential oils kill the bacteria found in a typical home. Washing in hot water and drying on a hot setting kills just about anything. Unless you know a dangerous bacterial agent has made its way into your home, you probably don’t need the kind of disinfection offered by quat-containing products.

A healthy immune system will be made healthier by exposure to common bacteria, like those brought into the house by pets. Common sense cleaning and conservative use of disinfectants can do the trick in a typical home.

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