Cleaning: the dirty truth

Germophobes listen up: this war we’re raging on bacteria is causing more harm than good.

Without wanting to go all Daily Mail on you, do you know just how many chemicals are lurking in your cleaning products? It's ironic really, that we use all these sprays and gels to eliminate germs and safeguard ourselves against illness, when they're in fact making us more susceptible to it.  

No one can deny the satisfying sheen a particularly toxic blend of chemicals can provide a shower door – but you only have to inhale a spritz to know it ain't good for the lungs. 

If they stand any chance of fighting off infection, our immune systems need to be strong. If they’ve never been exposed to germs, they won’t be. So, on the contrary to preventing any ailments, our obsession with being 99.9 per cent germ free is making us more unwell. Lack of exposure to germs means that conditions like asthma, eczema and IBS (all of which have all increased in recent years) become more likely.

Research published in JAMA Pediatrics found having a dog in earlier life was linked to a 13 per cent lower risk of asthma in school age children. Farm exposure was linked to a 52 per cent lower risk. The message is ringing through loud and clear – dirt isn't the enemy – cleaning products are. 

It’s high time we reevaluate our attitudes towards cleaning. While I'll always be a sucker for a glinting stone surface, eliminating all bacteria isn't the goal. The chemicals used to kill the germs are far scarier than the germs themselves.

Take laundry detergent: it seems innocuous enough: smells fresh, gets sheets crisp and, perhaps most importantly, eradicates even the toughest red wine stains (surely I can't be the only one to enjoy a nice glass of Claret in bed from time to time?) What’s not to love? Well - a lot, now you mention it. Petrochemicals, carcinogens, optical brighteners. The word ‘perfume’ is used to hide a multitude of sins – and a host of studies suggest highly fragranced products emit some of the most harmful chemicals.

So what happens when you want to be green but you’re also a bit of a clean freak? How can we keep bed linen fresh and blouses free of wine stains without damaging the earth in the process? See below and thank me later. 

4 Glorious green cleaning brands

Mangle & Wringer

This, as far as I'm concerned is THE best green cleaning brand. Perhaps I'm biased because we ran a story on it in Country Living. Founded by Vanessa Willes – who was inspired by her late cleaning lady and friend Bette to make traditional, non-toxic products that are kind to skin and the environment. All products are made in a converted Cotwolds hay barn and products never never NEVER contain any dyes, detergents, fillers, perfumes, phosphates, optical brighteners or petroleum. Their original cold pressed soap has only one ingredient: 100 percent coconut oil. Products include pure laundry powder, glass cleaner, natural bleach and beeswax polish 



This American import has quickly gained traction since coming on sale in the UK. All products are cruelty free, biodegradable and come primarily from plants, not chemicals. Available in supermarkets ranging from Waitrose to the Co-op.

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DR Bronner 

Established in 1948, the Dr Bronner team are 'fighting for a marketplace where consumers are not mislead and where organic standards are applied to body care just as they are to food.' A good fight if ever there was one. What's more – they believe in fair prices for farmers and respect for land and people. Packaging is 100 per cent recycled and all efforts are made to minimise waste. Products include an all-purpose soap – and when I say all-purpose, I mean all-purpose: it can be used for face, body, hair, dishes, floors – WHATEVER, as well as toothpaste, skin lotions, haircare and a magnificent biodegradable cleaner. All in groovy retro packaging. 

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Kinn Living 

This selection of simple cleaning and beauty products was put together by a London-based mother and daughter team who wanted to 'embrace a clean beauty way of living'. Products – including natural bathroom cleaner, floor wash and washing up liquid are luxury, organic and plant-based. 

Sarah Barratt