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June 2019

UPDATE: The dangers of harsh chemicals, and why we clean with bacteria

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Environment and Green Hygiene

People are becoming increasingly aware of the impact that harsh cleaning chemicals can have on both the environment and on one’s health.

This is because there are a number of potentially harmful substances frequently found in everyday cleaning products. These include (just to name a few):  

  • Phthalates (more frequently referred to as “fragrance” on the label) and responsible for endocrine disruption, 

  • Perchloroethylene or “PERC - a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen

  • Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS” considered to be the leading cause of contact dermatitis

  • Sodium hydroxide, which can cause severe burns

According to research carried out by The Environment Group - a non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting human health and the environment - 53% of cleaning products under review contained lung-harming ingredients. In addition, well-known carcinogens like formaldehyde and chloroform were found in several cleaners. Some products are potentially fatal if inhaled or swallowed, some can cause irreparable damage to skin and eyes and others have the potential to cause foetal and reproductive damage following prolonged exposure. 

A recent article on webwire entitled “ Work-Related Asthma and Mitigating Employee Exposures to Cleaning Chemicals and Disinfectants”  tackled exactly this issue, highlighting the fact that for millions of asthma sufferers, exposure at work to allergens and irritants is either causing - or exacerbating - their asthma. According to the National Institute of Health, there are more than 250 substances which are known or believed to cause or exacerbate work-related asthma, and these substances are found in many chemicals, including cleaning solutions and disinfectants.  And it’s not only asthma. For cleaners, housekeepers and maintenance staff itchy skin, rashes, sore eyes and burns can all be traced back to one common denominator; cleaning products. 

There is also an increasing body of evidence that shows that chemical products can play havoc with our skin’s microbiome. (For more on the skin’s microbiome, read our blog “Is good hygiene making us sick?)  According to dermatologist Toral Patel, M.D., the skin microbiome is vital not only for skin health but also for overall health. "A healthy microbiome can protect against skin infection by preventing the overgrowth of pathogenic organisms," Patel says. Your skin microbiome can also fight against external and environmental factors, as well. "It can also help keep inflammation in check, promote wound healing, and act as a barrier to some allergens and environmental toxins."  

But harsh chemicals in cleaning products annihilate even the “good” bacteria colonising our skin, leaving us open to skin conditions like rosacea, acne, and psoriasis. Initial recognises this fact and is actively supporting the skin’s microbiome with our new range of bio-soaps. Read more about those in our blog post “Can bacteria on your hands make you healthier?”

And what about the environment? APEs - a type of cleaning compound with bioactive consequences - have been banned in the UK for their effect on an organism’s endocrine system. And to go back to bleach, advocates of this ubiquitous cleaner will claim that water processing and treatment rapidly reduce bleach to chloride ions, and that there is no real possibility of the formation of trace toxic by-products, however bleach is formed from the organochlorine family of chemicals which are rarely found in nature and which can take centuries to decompose. Greenpeace has called for a complete end to organochlorine production.

Here at Initial, we’ve wised up to the harm that prolonged exposure to certain chemicals can cause to both our colleagues, customers and the environment. As a business, we take health and safety extremely seriously and as a result, have moved away from the use of harsh cleaning chemicals in our business. Our bathroom deep cleaning service uses environmentally friendly bio-preparations that contain bio-enzymes, as does our eco-cap urinal odour control product and the cleaning sprays we use to support it.   We even wrote a blog about how the future of hygiene will contain bacteria; which you can read here. We are proud to be able to offer bio-preparations for both bathroom deep cleaning, as well as for hand hygiene purposes.

[Learn more about our environmentally-friendly water saving products]

Contact the experts at Initial to find out how you can have a clean and healthy workplace without the health risks caused by harsh cleaning chemicals.  

Contact us


Discover the hygiene hotspots in your office and find out which of our products and services will help you achieve piece of mind. 

Discover the Hygiene Hotspots in your office

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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