Wood & leather part 1: Why to avoid commercial wood and leather cleaners and polishes

Commercial polish and cleaners  for use on leather and wood are things you really want to avoid. They consist mainly of hydrocarbons distilled from crude petroleum oil, such as naphtha, as well as synthetic waxes, solvents, artificial fragrances, preservatives, surfactants, and propellants if they are in an aerosol form. Is this cocktail of hazardous ingredients and likely carcinogens really something we want to spray or smear around our homes, often onto surfaces that we frequently touch or eat off, such as tables and sofas?

Employees who are forced by the nature of their work to be exposed to these toxins are protected to some extent by permissible exposure limits , medical surveillance, protective clothing, etc. Yet at home we voluntarily introduce them into our immediate environment, endangering ourselves and our friends and families from both long-term, low level exposure as well as potential accidental poisoning.

The US Center for Disease Control states that petroleum distillates such as those found in most wood and leather cleaners and polish “can affect the body if they are inhaled, come into contact with the eyes or skin, or are swallowed.”  When they coat the wood and leather surfaces of our homes, furniture and clothing, we are bound to be exposed, as well as obviously while we are using them. Effects of short-term exposure are “dizziness, drowsiness, headache and nausea” as well as “irritation of the eyes, throat, and skin”. Less is known about long-term exposure as “there have been few toxicologic studies, either on animals or man.” I’m quoting a 1978 report. But the same ingredients are still in use in these products today, with aerosols more popular than ever. A recent NY Times article gives guidelines on how to deal with poisoning from furniture polish, whether though inhaling, swallowing or skin contact. Why on earth are we still supporting this industry and using these poisons in our homes?

It is even more mysterious when you consider how extremely easy it is to make and use completely safe (edible in fact) and effective substitutes, from readily available ingredients, that are also a whole lot cheaper.

In two posts coming soon, I’m going to give you two recipes for use on both leather and wood. One is a super simple nourishing cleaner for regular use as often as you like. The other is a luxurious balm for occasional use. Together they do a really thorough job of cleaning and caring for wood and leather, as well as protecting and preserving the finish and restoring the softness and lustre. These recipes are so effective you won’t need to use them often. They are lovely to breathe, beneficial to your own skin too, and good enough to eat. I can’t wait to share them.

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