Consider before consuming

If you've ever stood in the grocery aisle and wondered what exactly is inside the chemical cocktail of cleaning solutions that people mop, scrub and polish their homes with, then you'll be glad to know you don't need to drag a c

If you’ve ever stood in the grocery aisle and wondered what exactly is inside the chemical cocktail of cleaning solutions that people mop, scrub and polish their homes with, then you’ll be glad to know you don’t need to drag a chemical dictionary with you to the store.

Seventh Generation, a green cleaning company based out of Burlington, Vermont, has recently issued an iPhone application that allows shoppers to suss out the ingredients in chemical cleaners.

What exactly is the “ammonia-d” in Windex that gives your windows and mirrors that signature streak-free shine?

According to Seventh Generation’s label-interpretation guide, it’s a pH adjuster that is irritating to the eyes and respiratory system at high concentrations but does not build up in living organisms.

Volatile organic compounds, which are commonly found in hard-surface cleaners, however, are much more harmful, causing nausea, headaches and cancer in both animals and humans.

“People breathe in about 20 pounds of air in a day,” said Martin Wolf, director of product sustainability and authenticity for Seventh Generation.

“No one really thinks about what they spread into the air, whereas people are much more conscious of what they’re eating.”

The label-defining application allows consumers to understand the effects of the chemicals they’re releasing into their homes.

“It’s one thing that consumers are demanding more and more of these days,” said Wolf.

Seventh Generation sent its staff out to the grocery store to write down common ingredients used in cleaning products.

Their label reading guide lists ingredients as innocuous as baking soda and bamboo to much more harmful substances such as petrochemicals that have hormone-mimicking properties and build up in the systems of organisms.

The iPhone application, however, is only as good as the companies that choose to list their ingredients, said Wolf.

“The big problem is that most manufacturers don’t put their ingredients on the label.”

In Canada, there are no health regulations that stipulate that companies must list the ingredients inside a cleaning product.

It’s a similar story in the US.

“There’s a voluntary program (in the US) where companies can list ingredients,” said Wolf.

“But even if they do, most of them list the information online, which isn’t very accessible to people when they’re shopping.”

Until there is government regulation, companies will continue listing ingredients online, or not at all, said Wolf.

For those without an iPhone, Seventh Generation allows users to search ingredients off their website as well as providing a pdf version of their guide that can be printed off.

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Contact Vivian Belik at

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