Pure Effect Insights with Pär Svahnberg

Cleaning with food - lemons


Meet Par Svahnberg, Ph.D in organic chemistry, CEO of Toxintelligence and advisor to Pure Effect in product development. At a time of natural and ecological ideals it’s easy to get lost in the ingredients and headlines. But we believe in calibrating the compass and balancing the discussion, so we interviewed Pär to share the viewpoint of an expert.

A lot has been written in the media about the health and environmental trend of cleaning with food. What do you think about cleaning, for example, with lemon and vinegar?
It is generally not very clever to clean with food. And why would it be? True, vinegar can get rid of limescale because it is a very acidic chemical. But believing that vinegar or lemon means “chemical-free” cleaning is completely wrong. Everything is made of chemicals, even vinegar and lemon. I wouldnt give my children vinegar and lemon to clean with, as advertising in the subway suggests. It is incredibly acidic to the skin and also stings.

So cleaning with food in order to clean without chemicals doesn’t work. Could you explain why?
Cleaning is generally about removing greasy dirt from a surface by making the dirt water-soluble. This means the cleaning product would have to contain a surfactant. Surfactants are rarely found in food. We’d have to count how many lemons would need to be grown and shipped per year to clean with them. What’s best for our health and the environment is if we use things for what they are intended.

Eco-labeling and short ingredients lists are usually recommended as what to look for if you want to choose mild products. Is this correct? Could you eco-label a lemon, for example?
A lemon probably wouldn’t be eco-labeled because it contains a lot of limonene, which has the following harmonised chemical classification in the EU: Very toxic to aquatic organisms, with long-term effects.
Regarding the length of the list of contents, I think it’s a bit of a tall tale. A piece of fruit contains hundreds of chemicals, a normal meal around 10,000 chemicals, et cetera. The important thing is, of course, which chemicals the cleaning product contains, and how well it cleans at a particular time for a particular purpose. Not the number of chemicals it contains.


Natural ingredients are often highlighted as the healthiest for us humans. Is what which comes from nature always harmless? What’s your opinion, for example, of choosing between synthetic and essential perfumes?
A chemical’s origin is irrelevant to its toxicological properties. There are over 130 million different chemicals in our world. Most of them are natural. Of course, these over 100 million different natural chemicals don’t have the same characteristics. Sugarcane is natural, morphine is natural, as is cotton. These three chemicals have much more similarities with their synthetic cousins —sucralose, amphetamine and nylon—than with each other. Mineral oil and toadstool are also from nature. A chemical’s properties are due to its chemical structure, not its origin. When it comes to scents, it must be remembered that essential oil and perfume are the same from a purely toxicological standpoint. They have the same characteristics, what separates them is their origin. Many common organic ingredients like peppermint, lavender and essential oils are now classified as allergenic.

How would you recommend that people choose cleaning products if you want to choose what’s best for the environment and sustainability?
Choose concentrated products that clean efficiently. Think about the leading dishwashing liquid; it is a brilliant example of a good cleaning product. It delivers great dishwashing results every time and is long-lasting. The same should be true when choosing any cleaning products. Generally, we should eat food and clean with mild cleaning products. It’s what’s best for the environment, sustainability and our health.

Text: Linda Rosendahl Nordin

Pär Svahnberg

Name: Pär Svahnberg
Doctor in Organic Chemistry, MD Toxintelligence and part of Pure Effect Advisory Network
Reading right now: I mainly read nonfiction and bedtime stories for my children.
Prefer to listen to: Lately, I’ve been listening to Kent’s penultimate album, Tigerdrottningen, which is insanely good.