What was it that made us use so many chemicals? Why should we reach the “cleanest” point? Moreover, how was our perception of cleanliness shaped? And why is that the work of us, women, in the first place? What made people believe that we do this work voluntarily and willingly?
No matter how much we cleaned it, we were simply not convinced. The house should smell “excellent” and it should be possible “to eat off the floor” (what kind of a fantasy is this?). Moreover, the house should look “sparkling” when the guests come since cleanliness is next to godlikeness. Was it really clean? Perhaps we should have used some more bleach, maybe even a little more. It seems like it is still not clean enough, maybe a bit more hydrochloric acid…
Now the news:”17-year-old İ.A. fell from the sixth floor of a building in the Suruç district of Şanlıurfa. She was wiping the windows. The young girl who was seriously injured was taken to a hospital but could not be saved despite all the interventions”, “Ayşegül Ağaç, who was living in Gaziantep, lost her balance as she was wiping the windows and fell to the concrete from the third floor”, “34-year-old Meryem Kasap who mixed bleach and hydrochloric acid while cleaning a bathroom in Side, Manavgat –a district of Antalya– died due to poisoning in a poorly ventilated space”, “In the Akçakoca district of Düzce, Violica Boaca Bener lost her life while cleaning due poisoning caused by mixing of bleach and nitric acid”, “Four months ago, a family living in the Afşin district of Kahramanmaraş, mixed bleach with oil remover to clean their home. One of the family members died and another member is still struggling to survive”, “In Bolu, 43-year-old Gülseren Dinlemez’s body burned due the chemical substances that splashed around when she poured liquid sink opener over the powder sink opener to open the clogged sink”…
Dangerous chemicals in our homes
When we read the Düzce news on this platform and learned that another woman had died, we rolled up our sleeves and prepared a “Dangerous Chemicals in Our Homes” brochure. In fact, the know-how of “never mix the hydrochloric acid with bleach” which has spread like ancient wisdom is based on bad experiences. Nonetheless, both domestic workers and those of us who clean our own homes continue to lose our lives, get injured, and have accidents for the sake of making the house “cleaner”. We hope that this brochure will be distributed as extensively as possible. We tried to explain the dangers of hazardous chemicals –which are related to our profession– in our homes, keeping in mind the cases of both injury and loss of life on account of falling from heights. You can access the entire brochure which we prepared as the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, Chamber of Chemical Engineers, Istanbul Branch from this link . If I may go over some of the points without being boring:
- The National Poison Solidarity Center (114) is an institution that you can call and get advice in cases of poisoning.
- Never mix products containing chemical substances with other products!
- Do not use more products than the one that is necessary. Using more amounts may kill more bacteria, but it also causes us to be more exposed to harmful substances more.
- Do not use the products in poorly ventilated rooms, do not breathe the vapors directly!
- Do not use or store the products in containers that are different from their original packaging!
- Products with different hazard symbols or products which carry the risk of causing dangerous reactions when mixed should not be stored in the same area.
- Empty bottles of the products should not be kept, and they should not be used for anything else.
- Check the label of the product that you buy and be sure to read the instructions before use!
- Use the products only for the intended purpose as indicated on the label!
- Always wear protective gloves and goggles if recommended by the manufacturer!
- Keep the products away from food, out of reach of children and animals!
If we take a look at the most frequently used hazardous cleaning products that have sneaked into our lives, we can find surface cleaners that contain ammonia, sodium hypochlorite and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether acetate. Ammonia fumes can cause eye and skin burns as well as lung irritation. When touched, sodium hypochlorite causes severe burns on the skin and in the eyes, ethylene glycol ether monobutyl acetate is toxic if swallowed.
NEVER MIX the surface cleaners with bleach because when the “ammonia” in the surface cleaner and the “chlorine” in bleach combine, chloramine gas, which can cause serious respiratory problems and even death, is released. Do not mix any product containing these two chemicals with each other!
- The content of bleach is sodium hypochlorite. NEVER mix bleach with other cleaners. Many people lost their lives because they mixed a lime remover with bleach or hydrochloric acid with bleach.
- The dishwashing detergents for the machines may contain cationic, anionic, or non-ionic solutions that can cause skin irritation. The hand wash products are more diluted; if swallowed, they may cause irritation in the mouth, throat, and the digestive system.
- Oven cleaners can contain alkaline solutions/caustic soda solutions (sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide). These are highly corrosive chemicals and can burn the skin and the eyes. When swallowed, they are fatal.
- Rust and lime removers are acidic solutions. If the product is heated or applied to metal surfaces that are not resistant to acid such as aluminum and copper, NO (Nitrous oxide) and NO2 (Nitrogen dioxide) gases are released. Nitrous oxide can cause direct tissue poisoning or circulatory system failure, a septic shock, which is triggered by sepsis (blood poisoning). Nitrogen dioxide, on the other hand, is a very toxic gas, and its symptoms are headache and dizziness that occur as a result of inhalation. It causes damage to the eyes and respiratory system and can result in respiratory system failure if abused.
Our sensitivities are new products for the capital
In fact, it is all about chemistry. What is important is under what conditions which products we use and how we use them. Whereas these are the issues to be taken into consideration when using these products, it becomes our duty for both ourselves and the environment to publicize information on alternative cleaning methods and products. Some of us who have already started to use some simpler methods; but do we exactly know the effects of these products? For now, it would be meaningful to carefully handle the hazardous chemicals in our homes and to use alternatives with natural ingredients as much as we can.
And the capital thought about solutions that would benefit itself. First of all, since the regulation of the production processes of products including raw materials to which human beings are exposed through touch or breathing is very important, it is necessary to avoid using products that are non-accredited. When you examine the information on the labels or websites of many products sold as “natural” and marketed as “harmless”, you can see that they include countless chemical substances. It does not mean that a product which includes various chemicals is “absolutely harmful”, the hazardousness level of a product can only be determined by examining each and every material included in that product. However, let’s not forget that the products put on the market with a label “chemical free” –a marketing tactic– are actually chemical compounds.
What was it that made us use so many chemicals? Why should we reach the “cleanest” point? Moreover, how was our perception of cleanliness shaped? And why is that the work of us, women, in the first place? What made people believe that we do this work voluntarily and willingly? And why seeing it as a women’s job made it a low-paid job?
I walk around a toy store; and I come across, for sure, ironing, kitchen and cleaning toy sets with a picture of a smiling girl on them. “Come on girl, get up and help your mother” (is the little girl supposed to perceive this as a kind of game?). Furthermore, they tell us stories beginning with our childhood: Snow White is very happy while she is doing all the housework of the seven dwarfs; Cinderella smiles and sings when she does the housework.
“I would not let you put your hand from hot water to cold water…” Oh, so, we are supposed to keep cleaning with hot water…
Great service! We are explaining the secret of a long life…
In the occasional distracting news about the oldest people in the world, I find women’s suggestions particularly interesting: Emma Morano who is 102 years old said “I never wanted to be under the yoke of anyone”, Leanra Becerra who is 127 years old said “The secret to a long life is lots of chocolate, lots of sleep and never getting married”, Jessa Gallan who is 109 years old said “I have never been married, stay away from men”… I
It is our invisible labor that keeps the society running and alive. Let’s break it down!
Especially the cleaning work –that is unpaid and done in reference to a love– we perform when the man is not at home (it is almost magic; you come home and find it “immaculate”) is stealing our lives. Our share of house cleaning is injury, loss of life, body aches, in other words, occupational diseases.
The system once again brings women face to face
Particularly women who have recently entered the labor market could transfer housework to domestic workers. Once again, since men do not feel any responsibility about this matter, women undertake the organization and two women occupying the position of employee-employer find themselves face to face. This creates a new inequality.
Domestic workers who often work uninsured and insecure jobs are getting organized. Amongst the priority issues are the demands to be included in the social security umbrella under the Labor Law No. 4857 and Occupational Health and Safety Law No: 6331 and to improve the working conditions of migrant domestic workers.
Rebelling against the hard work imposed on us by the patriarchy and increasing our women’s solidarity will be the antidote.
“When the house is not clean, I do not feel comfortable”… You will, dear
Crossing the discussion, the main factor that shapes our perception is the system itself. The notion of “cleanliness” changes over the years, it can be differentiated with the introduction of new products to be sold, and in the advertisements X products are recommended for better cleaning experience and Y products for the maintenance of your machines. The point is that we should be cautious and careful about the perception of cleanliness that is imposed on us.
Long story short
There are no chemicals that are strong enough to clean all that dirt in the world. But if we become “bad” women, we can see the smurfs, we can put on our personal protective gear and through our women’s struggle scrape off the dirty plates of patriarchy with plenty of bleach and a scrubbing pad. This piece was a bit messy. Against the cliché of “I am messy, not dirty”, a rebellion of a friend of mine who said, “What is ‘dirty’ and why is it legitimate to be ‘messy’ but not ‘dirty'” came to my mind.
In other words, let the shit take over the house. Peace is in rebellion…
* Some of the discussions have been deepened and extended with the contribution of some of my beloved friends to the presentation in Yoğurtçu Park Women’s Forum.
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan
 An idiom used in Turkey to promise women that they will not have to work hard. (Editor’s note.)