For decades, household cleaners have advertised products that “kill 99.9% of bacteria.” Have you ever wondered what this means and whether it's healthy or harmful to remove all bacteria from your home?
In this blog, we’re taking a closer look at microbes — the good, the bad, and the (not-so) ugly. We're making a case for good bacteria, why you shouldn't go on a germ-killing spree, and the best ways to cultivate a healthy home environment.
Does Bacteria-Free Mean Healthy?
Over the last few decades, and especially since 2020, we’ve spent more time than ever cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing our homes. With the promise that a germ-free environment prevents disease, we've become obsessed with scouring every surface and corner of our homes.
But is living in a bacteria and germ-free bubble (read: sterile) healthy? What if store-bought cleaners exaggerate the threat germs pose to our health? And what if there are worse side effects from using these cleaning products?
First, not all bacteria are bad.
Less than 1% of bacteria can make us sick. In fact, we need bacteria to be healthy! Without bacteria, our immune system would be weakened and more susceptible to disease. Our body thrives on a fancy cocktail of bacteria—especially in our gut, respiratory tract, and skin.
The same goes for our home environment. Some kinds of bacteria help fight the not-so-good kinds. And when we go around eliminating them all, we’re making it easier for mold, fungus, and disease-causing bacteria to thrive in our homes.
In nature, billions of bacteria live in oceans, soil, and living things. They create oxygen and help maintain balance in the environment, keeping ecosystems healthy and in harmony. The same applies in our homes and bodies. Together, they form the community of microorganisms known as our microbiome.
Studies confirm that sterile homes that lack microbial diversity have higher fungal growth — and not the healthy kind.
Have you experienced a moldy corner in your bathroom that just won’t give up? It could be caused by over-disinfecting. As helpful bacteria are destroyed, stubborn mold can gain strength, making a forever home of your bathroom corner.
With all the misinformation and confusing marketing around what “clean” means, it's easy to want to disinfect every inch of our homes to eliminate all bacteria. But this has proven to be worse for our home environment. What can we do to preserve microbial diversity while safeguarding our health?
The first step to cultivating a healthier home is understanding the difference between cleaning and disinfecting and the role household cleaners play.
Cleaning vs Disinfecting
According to the CDC, there's no reason to disinfect your home unless someone is sick. Most of the time, cleaning is enough to keep you and your family healthy.
Cleaning usually refers to washing with soap and water, tidying up, and removing dust. When there’s a big spill or too much pet hair on your couch — the job calls for cleaning. The key to cleaning is removing. Cleaning removes dirt, dust, spills, crumbs, and your fur baby's pet hair.
Disinfecting is about killing bacteria, germs, and viruses. To disinfect, you need harsher chemicals, like ammonia or bleach. Most conventional all-purpose cleaners contain these chemicals and anything else that says "kills 99.9% of germs." These types of chemical disinfectants do their job of killing harmful bugs, but they do much more than that.
Household disinfectants don’t discriminate.
This doesn’t mean you should never disinfect. If someone in your household is sick, disinfecting can be beneficial (just be mindful not to overdo it.) For the most part, you can get away with simply cleaning regularly to keep your home healthy.
Are Household Cleaners Good For You and Your Home?
Our body is home to more than 380 trillion viruses 😱 Most harmlessly coexist, while some cause disease and others fight them. The same is true for our home environment. There are billions of tiny microorganisms that coexist with us in our homes. And getting rid of all of them with chemical disinfectants can cause health risks and toxic living spaces.
Ironically, most conventional cleaning products that whiten clothes, disinfect bathrooms, and remove grease from pans actually pollute our home environment — especially the air.
Did you know that the harsh chemicals in household cleaning products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can lead to serious health effects like asthma, allergies, and headaches?
Using household cleaners that contain VOCs (spoiler alert: most do!) essentially poisons the air quality in your home. To keep your home environment healthy, always read labels and use cleaning products with VOCs sparingly (in ventilated spaces) or opt for products made from natural, fragrance-free ingredients that are just as effective, like ours.
Most disinfecting chemicals generally fall into two categories — ammonia or bleach. Both are quaternary ammonium compounds, also known as “quats” or QACs. Manufacturing QACs requires highly toxic chemicals, including benzyl chloride, a known endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruption can lead to reproductive and development issues, weakened immunity, and increased cancer risk. Which disproportionately affects vulnerable communities and communities of color often located near quats manufacturing plants.
Contrary to what marketing household cleaners would have us believe, exposure to germs is good for us. It strengthens our immune systems, trains them to adapt, and offers protection from allergies. Living in a sterile bubble can make us and our families more prone to developing allergies and asthma. Studies show that the rise in allergies and asthma is strongly connected to having low exposure to microbes during childhood.
To keep our homes healthy means finding a balance between reducing bad germs and allowing the good ones to do their thing 🤝 By being mindful about our cleaning and disinfecting habits, we play a role in preserving the microbial biodiversity in our homes, that is essential for our health.
Back to Basics
Household cleaners meant to clean have a messy environmental impact. Most of them come in plastic packaging, which is a topic for another day 📌
At Sqwishful, our mission is to help you clean and leave the world cleaner by making household cleaning products align with what they promise — a clean home. And that includes our planet. We envision a world where cleaning improves our home environment and microbiome.
In our products, you’ll never find:
❌ Harsh chemicals
❌ Plastic (duh)
❌ Synthetic dyes or glues
❌ Ingredients that harm your health in any way
We use gentle, earth-friendly ingredients instead of harsh chemicals. We craft cleaning tools from natural materials, not plastic. And we encourage clean cleaning in our homes. The kind that allows us to go back to basics and back to cleaning from a place of health and harmony.
Call it Sqwishful Thinking, but we’re here to change the cleaning industry.