The Executive Housekeeper Volume 21 No 3

Page 42

Toxic chemicals and all-natural solutions:


Are your cleaning products “chemical-free”? Or “all-natural”? These phrases sound appealing, but they’re also misleading.


or most people, “chemicals” are hazardous, unnatural, harmful substances that should be avoided wherever possible. They are viewed with suspicion and distaste – who knows what might happen to your health if you clean with something brimming with all sorts of nasty chemicals? It’s better to go for all-natural solutions instead, because if it’s “natural”, it must be good. “Chemical” is a word that is frequently misunderstood and misused, by hospitality and cleaning industry professionals and laypeople alike. After all, a “chemical” is any distinct compound or substance. While it is more commonly used to refer to artificially produced or refined substances, it is nevertheless scientifically correct to refer to plain old water as a chemical. By this definition, everything is made of chemicals! However, much to the dismay of chemists everywhere, the term has been given a new meaning. Marketers have been quick to take advantage of consumers’ perceptions that chemicals are nasty things and reinforce this idea even further, such that these negative associations now speak far more loudly than the


true meaning of the term. Language is constantly shifting and evolving, for better or for worse. It can be convenient to exploit these semantic shifts when the majority of the population hears one thing while scientists hear something else – but perpetuating these misconceptions is unhelpful when original meaning is lost. It is still worth noting that this fear of ‘chemicals’ isn’t entirely misplaced. It’s probably fair to say that artificially produced substances are more likely to be harmful compared to naturally occurring substances, especially if we know nothing about them or how they might react with our bodies or the environment. A growing number of individuals experience genuine pain as a result of coming into contact with particular harmful substances, often without knowing the precise cause of their suffering. This alone is enough to make anyone suspicious of

unknown substances, particularly in the case of the cleaning and personal care products they may encounter in a hotel or motel. Their experiences are valid and cannot be dismissed, even without a proven direct causal link. The answer for many people is to turn to “all-natural” solutions. After all, if it’s natural, it must be good, right? Natural products won’t cause undue harm to the environment or nasty allergic reactions, or trigger other dangerous health effects. “Natural” represents the preferable second half of the dichotomy, at least as far as health and safety is concerned. And yet, even a cursory glance at the diversity of what we find in the natural world demonstrates that, in many cases, natural definitely isn’t good – at least, not for humans. A blue-ringed octopus, for example, is a beautiful creature that can easily kill a human thanks to an entirely natural