Cambrian: Opinion

Cleaning chemicals are pesticides by a different name

Dianne Brooke
Dianne Brooke

“You, Dianne, may be very pleased to know that at Small Wonders Preschool, I was required, before working there, to take a course in safer cleaning practices!” my friend, Mindy, grinned.

Knowing what a fanatic I am about chemicals — all the cleaning products I grew up with, all the junk we are convinced to buy, buy, buy to make our lives presumably easier only to find out they’re causing asthma, weakening our immune systems and disrupting our endocrine systems — she was happy to share this step they were taking.

“I must say I was pleasantly surprised when I was asked to take a cleaning class for educational venues. I clean Small Wonders Preschool and as of July 2016 all workers are to take the class. It was online and informative. Some information seemed to be common sense, such as, ‘When you spray a pesticide, it will only kill the bug it is sprayed on and will not solve the problem. In fact it creates more of a problem for children that are closer (because of their size) to the treated area. The spray travels to other surfaces where little hands may touch.’

“The class also posited that cleaning chemicals are and should be considered pesticides. This means the go-to 409 is considered a pesticide and Pine-Sol is a definite no-go. There are new procedures to follow if pesticides are used in the preschool areas. They must be documented, and a pesticide notice must go up in the area.

“One of the key ideas of the class was to prevent pests as opposed to killing them with pesticides. For example, if you are getting beetles in an area, begin with putting a door sweep on the bottom of the door to prevent them from entering in the first place. One negative thought about the class itself was the lack of real world examples of what to use in place of common cleaners, such as offering baking soda as an option instead of a powdered cleanser.”

In 2000, our state passed the California Healthy Schools Act (HSA). It is a right-to-know law meant to encourage districts to adopt more reasonable means of controlling pests and making our physical school environments safer. It’s bad enough having cockroaches, but adding toxic pesticides on top of that has only exacerbated the situation.

The training Mindy told me about was addressing “pesticides,” and she explained that schools now qualify cleaning products as such. It’s about time! I know Coast Unified School District has a job to report and log anytime herbicides or such are applied to the fields or facility. The district has also introduced nesting boxes for birds of prey to help mitigate the rodent population. (I still think a crack team of Jack Russell terriers would not only be entertaining but highly effective in that quest of field maintenance. … OK, they might also dig the place up trying to get to them so, maybe not!)

“A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest. Disinfectants, insecticides, herbicides, sanitizers, fungicides, and repellents are all considered to be pesticides,” the California Department of Pesticide Regulations says on its website ( The website also lists exempt “inert ingredients” that are worth noting — vinegar, cinnamon, mint, sodium bicarbonate. … There are plenty I cannot pronounce and have no idea what they are but, it is worth noting. All of this is not to say they won’t or can’t use potentially toxic substances in their procedures, but they must look for, as Mindy mentioned, “prevention” methods first, announce the use, record it and take any precautions necessary to keep our kids safe.

For ideas like “HYDROGEN PEROXIDE kills meaner germs than vinegar although vinegar does quite well at that as well as destroying mold,” try websites like WebMD ( where I found these two recipes:

▪  All Purpose Disinfecting Cleaner: 2 cups distilled water/1½ to 3 tsp. liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s)/ 1 tsp. tea tree oil. Mix and spray.

▪  Toilet Bowl Cleaner: 1 cup Borax. Pour into toilet bowl before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush.

Further consider, DO NOT ACCEPT “GREEN” / “NATURAL” on labels as automatically useable. The market is flooded with “green-washed” products to entice you to “do the right thing.” The best bet is to easily make your own. Environmental Working Group is a nonbiased research group that rates all manner of products we use everyday if you are confused or concerned what to use:

Finally, soap and hot water … do a mighty fine job of it all! Thanks, Mindy, for giving me hope. The shift in mindset from over-the-counter cleaners, so to speak, is encouraging to me. With the rampant increase in cancers and autoimmune disorders, one can only hope that this awareness may help to stem this flow. It’s a heck of a long road, but, I am dreaming of that day …

Dianne Brooke’s column appears weekly and is special to The Cambrian. Visit her website at Email her at