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GUIDE TO SAFER
HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS

Becoming a Less-Toxic Consumer

First of all, know that you can make a difference! This booklet was developed to help you make that difference by becoming a consumer of less-toxic products.

As an informed consumer, you can have an impact on the amounts and types of household products produced. By shopping for less-toxic or non-toxic products, you send a message to manufacturers which encourages them to produce safer alternatives to hazardous household products. If your local store doesn't stock products that are recommended in this booklet, talk to the store's manager and ask him/her to consider selling the product. For suggestions on where to find some hard-to-find products, contact the offices listed in Additional Resources.

Vote with Your Dollar!

Reading Product Labels

Federal law requires that most hazardous household products include specific types of information about the product on their labels.

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) regulates labeling of products which contain pesticides.

The Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) regulates labeling of all other hazardous products.

Most product labels tend to advertise the virtues of the product rather than emphasize information on product safety. The consumer must know what to look for and how to read the fine print on a label.

Reading a Pesticide Label

When pesticides are registered they are subjected to tests that examine the acute or immediate hazard associated with that product. The signal word on the label can give you a general indication of the level of toxicity (lethal dose) of the product:

  1. Brand Name
  2. Common Name of Primary Chemical(s)
  3. Ingredients Statement - Every pesticide label must name and list the percentages of all active ingredients (i.e. the ingredients that kill the pest). Manufacturers are now required to list several inactive, inert ingredients that have hazardous qualities (e.g. petroleum distillates).
  4. Type of Formulation - Label tells what form the product is in (e.g. powder).
  5. Pests Registered Against - Label includes a list of the pests the pesticide has been proven to be effective against in California registration tests.
  6. Child Hazard Warning
  7. Net Contents
  8. Directions for Use - The label must tell you how to use the product within its legal requirements and for best results. Watch for special directions for use on vegetables.
  9. Warning statements and signal words - This section includes recommendations on protective clothing and equipment and on precautions to take to avoid exposure of children and pets. May contain warnings about toxicity to fish. Includes the signal words (see discussion on previous page) that indicate relative acute toxicity to humans). Labels do not indicate any long-term or chronic hazards (e.g. cancer or birth defects) of the chemicals contained in the product. Many products have not been tested for their long-term effect on humans.
  10. Misuse Statement/Liability
  11. Registration and Establishment Numbers - Every pesticide must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Labels must contain the registration number (EPA Reg. No. XX) and an establishment number (code for the manufacturer) (EPA Est. No. XX).
  12. Name and Address of Manufacturer -Manufacturer can be contacted for additional information. The manufacturer can supply you with more detailed information about product constituents in their "Material Safety Data Sheet."

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

Cleaners, Polishers, & Deoderizers

Cleaners

The right tool makes a big difference! Buy vegetable-based or citrus-based soaps instead of petroleum-based soaps/detergents. Oil is a limited resource.

For ThisTry This
Surface CleanersFind a combination that works for you, and always keep some ready in a squirt bottle. You'll find that weak acids like vinegar & lemon juice are good at cutting grease.

Mix: 1 quart hot water, 1 tsp vegetable oil-based soap/detergent, 1 tsp borax, & 2 tbl vinegar.
Note: vinegar is used here as mild acid to cut grease; borax is used as a water softener, esp good in areas with hard water, to prevent soapy deposits.
Or, mix 1/2 cup vinegar in 1 quart of warm water.
Or, dissolve baking soda in hot water for a general cleaner.

DishesHandwashing:
Use vegetable oil-based soaps/detergents.

Automatic dishwasher:
Automatic dishwashing detergents have a very high level of phosphates.

Products with Drain OpenersPut a strainer on all drains.
Pour boiling water down the kitchen drain once a week to keep it grease free.
Toss a handful of baking soda and 1/2 cup vinegar down the drain. Cover the drain, sealing in the carbon dioxide gas bubbles as they agitate your clog loose. Let sit 15 min. Rinse with 2 qts. boiling water. Follow with plunger.
Most bathroom sink clogs are caused by hair. Prevent with a good sink strainer.
Use a metal snake to unclog stubborn drains. A snake is a great investment.

Roots in drains:
Do not use copper sulfate-based root control products for drains blocked by roots. This product releases copper into the Bay (toxic to marine life).
Have drains cleared by a professional who uses mechanical root removal techniques or non-metalic, foaming herbicides.
Have breaks in sewer lines repaired to prevent further entry of roots.

Glass Cleaners1/4 cup white vinegar / 1 qt. water.
The pros use a squeeze of dishwashing liquid in gal. water.
A quality squeegee is the pro's secret to streakless windows.
Oven CleanersMix 2 tbl liquid dish soap & 2 tsp borax in 2 cups of warm water. Apply and let sit for 20 min., then scrub.
Or, use a non-chlorinated scouring powder, like Bon Ami. Or use a baking soda, salt, and water paste.

Excerpted from an article written by: Alicia A. Flynn & Rory E. Kessler - Santa Clara County Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Program


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