Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Musings on Chemical Cleaners

My summer readings are extremely eclectic as a rule. This year, I read "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan. While not directly related to the green movement, this book and some other thoughts I'd heard in my American history class about chemicals. Together, they have given me an interesting hypothesis about why we have so many different chemicals in our houses.

A long time ago in a household far away (also known as the preindustrial era), chemical cleaners did not exist. After all, coal tar dyes, which allowed the gorgeous colors we take for granted like mauve, only were discovered in the 1860's. People used things like vinegar,lemons, and such to clean.

But when chemical products hit the market, they came into vogue. I remember vividly an advertisement shown in my history class: A beautiful woman smiles happily as the text proclaims, "Clean your hair with chemicals!". Chemicals were vogue, the new wave, the way of the future. Of course people used them.

But why so many? Well, Freidan gave me some perspective on this. When women became primarily housewives, as happened in the 40's and 50's, they had many emotional problems stemming from the under use of their abilities. As part of a marketing campaign, companies used this feeling of boredom. They advertised the woman as "the household expert" and began to sell "specialized" products: different cleaners for the bathroom and kitchen, different glass polish for mirrors, windows, interior and exterior.

This adds up to the average cleaning closet full of dozens of chemical cleaners. Not all of them are good for the environment, and not all of them are good for us. They won't change if we don't make them. Use your copy of GoodGuide and your knowledge of green cleaners. Remember, one cleaner may do the job of ten, and the chemical-free ones may work as well as the chemical ones.

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