There is a lot in the news lately about all the toxic chemicals in our bodies, homes and the environment. Toxic chemicals are hidden where you least expect them. They are hidden in cleaning products, foods, carpets, siding, paints, wood and that list could consume this entire post. As a chemist, husband and father of two awesome daughters, I am very concerned about all the toxins in and around our home. When it comes to toxic chemicals I understand the adage "ignorance is bliss". Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of toxins around us. Perhaps you do too. But the war against toxic chemicals does not have to be overwhelming. It takes a while and cumulative exposure to start seeing the negative health consequences so you can be resolute in your goal of eliminating them but take it one battle at a time. Approaching it this way will ensure you win the war without being overwhelmed. In this post, I am going to focus on three important areas where toxins hide out and where you can make significant progress without any sacrifice. Bathrooms, kitchens and outdoor living space (including vinyl siding).
Part 1: VINYL SIDING
Since it is spring and most people are starting to clean their vinyl siding, open up their decks, pools, patios and getting ready for grill season, it's a great place to start.
So let’s start with vinyl siding cleaners and multi-purpose outdoor cleaners. Most vinyl siding manufacturers tell you to clean their products with a diluted solution of bleach. No big deal, right? Wrong!
Bleach is corrosive and is an eye, nose, lungs, and throat irritant. It can be toxic to your family and also to your pets. Even after bleach dries it leaves a residue that your pets can get on their paws and lick or if you have infants or toddlers they can wind up ingesting bleach.
Making things worse is that bleach-based cleaners often contain other toxic ingredients like solvents (VOCs Volatile Organic Compounds) that when combined with bleach can compound the toxins your family breathes.
Most people think that bleach kills mold, mildew, and algae on their vinyl siding. This is not necessarily true. Bleach will “bleach” the growth but rarely kill the spores. In fact, using bleach on siding, composite decking, fabrics, wood, etc. will create a much better environment for the growth of mold, mildew, and algae than before you cleaned with bleach. Seem counterproductive? It is. Here’s how.
Bleach can contribute to the creation of microscopic pores that will actually accelerate the oxidation and color fade of your vinyl siding making it look older than it is. Those pores are also great places for spores to grab onto and colonize. On composite decks and wooden decks, bleach-based cleaners break down the lignin in the wood (composite decks are up to 50% wood fiber) creating hospitable environments for mold, mildew, and algae. Bleach-based cleaners will also do similar things to outdoor fabrics and outdoor painted surfaces
So what do I use? NO BLEACH! There are many good products on the market that are inexpensive vinyl siding cleaners and do not contain bleach. Here are my tips on finding the best vinyl siding cleaner and outdoor multipurpose cleaner.
Zero VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). VOC’s are solvents. And most VOC’s are toxic to breathe. Even more toxic than bleach.
Must remove oxidation. Oxidation is the whitish, chalky substance on your siding or painted surfaces.
Must remove algae, mold, and mildew stains.
ONLY use a concentrated cleaner. Many cleaners are RTU (ready to use). This form of packaging consumes large amounts of plastic that wind up in landfills or recycling centers that may or may not recycle it. Concentrated cleaners SAVE MONEY and reduce the amount of plastic consumed.
Inexpensive. A premium vinyl siding cleaner concentrate should not cost more than about $39/gallon.
Multipurpose. Use a product that allows you to buy a little more which saves money and that can be used as a patio furniture cleaner, deck cleaner, composite deck cleaner, etc.
My two favorites are:
Meets all of my criteria (No bleach, no VOC, concentrated, removes oxidation, mold, mildew, algae, multipurpose, inexpensive).
Dr. Bronners Castille Soap
Meets most of my criteria except for removing oxidation, mold, mildew algae. It’s a good solution if you need a very light cleaning and want a non toxic vinyl siding cleaner.
PATIO, PATIO FURNITURE, DECK, AND BRICK CLEANERS
Ok. I think we have beaten the bleach horse to death so I can easily sum it up. You and I are not going to use bleach around our home anymore.
So what do we use to clean our patios, patio furniture, pool deck, or bricks?
Simple. The two recommendations I made above will work really well for these surfaces too.