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(7) Be a Toxic Detective

Students will do an inventory of cleaning and maintenance products used in their school and home and discuss the safety of those cleaners. Together, students will look for alternatives that are more environmentally friendly.

Video clip:
Start video after you hear: “But what would happen to our economy if many Americans began to consume less? Would a reduction in spending create an economic crisis? Stop video after hearing: “I do it because I want to make a small change. I hope other people will follow my example. In Holland we have a saying, 'consum minder.' It means to consume less than you really need.” (same as previous activity)

Before cleaning products were available in stores, people cleaned using ingredients like soap flakes, baking soda, vinegar, borax and lemon juice. Using these cleaners can save money, help protect the planet and reduce health risks.

Ask students to make a list of the products in their homes that might be toxic, or take students to the school’s supply room and do an inventory of the products there. Ask students to read the labels and make a list of ingredients. (Ask students not to open the containers, and to wash their hands well after handling the products.)

Visit the library or use the Internet to research these ingredients and their effects on the environment. Go to to find detailed information on more than 5,000 chemicals.


(a) How did your grandparents get their clothes, bodies and homes clean?

(b) What are some reasons you might want to buy cleaners in the store?

(c) When do you need to clean with an anti-bacterial soap or a disinfectant? (Note: using these cleaners unnecessarily could increase a bacteria’s resistance to the product.)

(d) If our grandparents were able to clean their homes with homemade recipes, why did companies decide to make other kinds of cleaners ?

(e) Compare the differences in the costs of cleaners. For instance, compare the cost of baking soda and vinegar to other store-bought cleaners.

(f) Some of the ready-made non-toxic cleaners are more expensive-why?

(g) Who are and where are the toxic polluters in your community? See

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