Return to Resource Center            or click a book above to go to another volume

Petroleum distillates

This category of chemicals is found in some metal polishes, and can irritate the eyes and lungs.  Long-term exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys, eyes, and skin. As a bioaccumulative chemical compound, petroleum distillates violate White Glove’s Green Cleaning Policy, and they are not found in any of our cleaning products.

pH Scale (Alkaline and Acidity)

The best lay definition we have found for understanding the pH scale is the following, which is given on the EPA Web site (www.epa.gov/acidrain/measure/ph.html):

Acidic and basic are two extremes that describe chemicals, just like hot and cold are two extremes that describe temperature. Mixing acids and basics can cancel out their extreme effects; much like mixing hot and cold water can even out the water temperature. A substance that is neither acidic nor basic is neutral.

The pH scale measures how acidic or basic a substance is. It ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH less than 7 is acidic, and a pH greater than 7 is basic. Each whole pH value below 7 is ten times more acidic than the next higher value. For example, a pH of 4 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 5 and 100 times (10 times 10) more acidic than a pH of 6. The same holds true for pH values above 7, each of which is ten times more alkaline—another way to say basic—than the next lower whole value. For example, a pH of 10 is ten times more alkaline than a pH of 9.

Pure water is neutral, with a pH of 7.0. When chemicals are mixed with water, the mixture can become either acidic or basic. Vinegar and lemon juice are acidic substances, while laundry detergents and ammonia are basic.

Chemicals that are very basic or very acidic are called “reactive.” These chemicals can cause severe burns. Automobile battery acid is an acidic chemical that is reactive. Automobile batteries contain a stronger form of some of the same acid that is in acid rain. Household drain cleaners often contain lye, a very alkaline chemical that is reactive.

Pollen

Plants produce microscopic round or oval pollen grains to reproduce. Trees, weeds, flowers and grasses produce pollen grains that are small, light and dry. These pollen grains can easily become airborne when the wind blows. Pollen levels vary throughout the year and these levels can differ depending on where a person lives.

A single ragweed plant can generate a million grains of pollen a day. Pollen is not just an outdoor issue—it gets carried inside on clothing and pets and can blow in through open doors and windows.

Pollen can be a major component of house dust during the months when trees and grass are pollinating (between March and June in most areas).

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)

PDDEs are chemical compounds used as flame retardants primarily in plastics, especially polyurethane foam and high impact polystyrene, but also in paints, textiles, and electronics.  These chemicals are major components of commercial formulations often used as flame retardants in furniture foam plastics for TV cabinets, consumer electronics, wire insulation, back coatings for draperies and upholstery, and plastics for personal computers and small appliances. The benefit of these chemicals is their ability to slow ignition and rate of fire growth, and as a result increase available escape time in the event of fire.

Although use of flame retardants saves lives and property, there have been unintended consequences. There is growing evidence that PBDEs persist in the environment and accumulate in living organisms, as well as toxicological testing that indicates these chemicals may cause liver toxicity, thyroid toxicity, and neurodevelopmental toxicity. Environmental monitoring programs in Europe, Asia, North America, and the Arctic have found traces of several PBDEs in human breast milk, fish, aquatic birds, and elsewhere in the environment. The mechanisms or pathways through which PBDEs get into the environment and humans are not known yet, but could include releases from manufacturing or processing of the chemicals into products like plastics or textiles, aging and wear of the end consumer products, and direct exposure during use (e.g., from furniture).

Salmonella

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that has a high potential for contaminating food because it can be found in meats and animal carcasses.  The bacteria is passed to humans if meat is not cooked thoroughly, or if people who have touched raw meat contaminate surfaces without washing their hands well. Salmonella can result in very nasty stomach upsets presenting with diarrhea and vomiting which may be accompanied by chills, shaking, headaches and generally feeling unwell. These symptoms can last up to three days so it is important to ensure dehydration doesn't occur by taking plenty of water sipped slowly.

Sanitizer

A substance that reduces the number of microbes to a safe level, but do not kill all of them, is called a sanitizer.  To “sanitize” and to “disinfect” are used interchangeably.

Skin, Shedding of Human

Human beings shed a great deal of dead skin continuously every day. In fact we shed and regrow our outer skin cells about every 27 days; that’s nearly 1,000 new skins in a lifetime.  On a daily basis, we lose 30,000-40,000 dead skin cells from our body every minute.  Our dead skin is the main component in household dust, and it provides sustenance for dust mites that can also be found in dust throughout our homes, but in greatest concentrations on mattresses, pillows, and carpets.

Solvents

A solvent is a substance that dissolves another substance creating a chemical bond resulting in a solution.  The most common solvent in everyday life is water.  Most other commonly-used solvents are organic (or cabron-contining) chemicals.  The resulting solution is not a mixture where one compound is added to another without a chemical bond forming.  A way to think of mixtures and solutions is to compare a cup of water with sand mixed in versus a soda where all of the ingredients are uniform to create a new substance. While some solvents are harmless, others are known to have harmful effects if ingested in large amounts.  Green cleaning involves the responsible use of solutions containg trace amounts of solvents.

Sterilization

Eliminating all microorganisms is the process of sterilization.  This is the highest, and most effective level of killing microorganisms; in fact, sterilization destroys all forms of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms.  Sterilization is generally used only in hospital environments.

Doing away with most, but not all, microorganisms is the process of “disinfecting.”  Substances used are called disinfectants.

Surfactants

Ingredients in most cleaners, surfactants improve the penetrating power of water, create suds, and dissolve grease. The name is a conjunction of the terms surface-active ingredient, which describe its function.  Most surfactants are skin and eye irritants, and most are quite toxic to aquatic animals, hence the importance of their biodegradability. Green cleaning involves the responsible use of non-toxic surfactants.

Return to Resource Center            or click a book above to go to another volume