Our world is full of toxins and pollutants that are hard to avoid. You might think that keeping your home clean keeps them out, but the reality is that our cleaning products are full of toxic chemicals. These chemicals can have serious side effects from skin irritation to lung problems if not used properly.
If you don’t know what chemicals you should avoid, it can be hard to choose which products to buy. Common toxic cleaning products to avoid, contain these chemicals and should be used carefully:
- Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
- Sodium Hydroxide
2-Butoxyethanol Is Used To Create a Streak-Free Shine
2-Butoxyethanol is a chemical that is used in window and multi-purpose cleaners. It is a clear, colorless liquid that smells sweet like ether. It is also found in:
- Varnishes and latex paints
- Liquid soaps
- Industrial cleaners.
It is a popular ingredient because it dries quickly without leaving a residue.
2-Butoxyethanol belongs to a group of glycol ethers that are powerful solvents. Companies are not required to list 2-Butoxyethanol on ingredient lists, making it difficult for the consumer to determine which cleaning products contain them. It’s a reasonable assumption, however, that the big cleaning brands use it as an ingredient.
2-Butoxyethanol May Be Responsible for a Variety of Health Problems
Like other cleaning products, the fumes from 2-Butoxyethanol can cause sore throats when inhaled. Exposure over several hours can lead to:
- Eye and nose irritation
- Metallic taste in the mouth
If you are cleaning with these products, make sure the room is well ventilated.
Animal testing has determined that 2-Butoxyethanol could be a carcinogen, causing liver cancer in animals. Animals that have been exposed have also had problems with red blood cell destruction. High levels of exposure have also led to congenital disabilities, though this has not been proved to be the case with humans.
Use Substitute Cleaning Products
For streak-free windows, use the cleaning methods of your grandparents and great-grandparents – diluted vinegar and newspaper. Purchase natural cleaners or make your all-purpose cleaner with baking soda and vinegar.
If you must use cleaning products with 2-Butoxyethanol, whether at home or work, make sure to always clean in a well-ventilated room and use a mask, goggles, and gloves.
Ammonia Is a Naturally Occurring Chemical
Ammonia is a widely used cleaning chemical that shows up in jewelry and metal polishers, and window cleaners. Unlike many other chemicals on this list, ammonia is commonly found in nature and even in the human body. It is essential to building proteins and other complex molecules.
Ammonia is a strong-smelling colorless gas that dissolves easily into water. The ammonia most people use as a cleaner comes in liquid form, but it can be an added ingredient to other cleaning products. The ammonia you find in cleaning products is called ammonia hydroxide.
Good for breaking down grease and stains, ammonia is a popular chemical to add to cleaning products because it dries quickly. It can be used on a variety of surfaces, including porcelain, countertops, and tiles, without damaging them.
Ammonia Is an Irritant
The fumes that ammonia produces can be highly irritating. The side effects that many people experience are:
- Eye, nose, and skin irritation
- Breathing problems
Swallowing ammonia can cause burns to the mouth, throat, and stomach.
Another hazard of ammonia is how it reacts to other chemicals. For example, if ammonia is mixed with bleach or a product containing bleach, it creates a gas that can cause chronic breathing problems or even death. Always check your cleaning product ingredients to prevent dangerous mixing.
What To Use Instead of Ammonia
Surprisingly, you may be able to find a substitute for ammonia-based window cleaners at the bar. Vodka makes an excellent glass and window cleaner as it leaves behind no streaks and leaves a shine behind on metal and mirrors.
Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are good substitutes for ammonia as a cleaner and disinfectant. Toothpaste is a great silver polish. Choose an eco-friendly product for cleaning your floors and carpets.
Chlorine Is Found in Products Containing Bleach
Chlorine is another chemical that is present in a lot of cleaning products, especially bathroom cleaners and laundry products. It is also in our drinking water to kill harmful bacteria. It is used industrially to:
- Bleach paper and fabric
- Make pesticides
Chlorine can be in gas and liquid form. During the First World War, Chlorine Gas was used as a chemical weapon. That shows how dangerous and deadly this chemical can be.
The way most people interact with chlorine cleaners is with bleach. Chlorine is a component of most bleaches. As you already know, bleach is dangerous when mixed with ammonia, but it has health risks on its own. Another mixture to avoid is bleach and citrus products, which forms airborne particles similar to smog.
Chlorine and Bleach Need To Be Handled Carefully
The risks from chlorine increase based on the length of exposure. Chlorine gas can be absorbed through the eyes and the skin and can cause lung problems when inhaled.
Signs of chlorine gas exposure are:
- Blurred vision
- Skin irritation and blisters
- Coughing and chest tightness
- Burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
The longer the exposure, the more likely someone is to develop long-term health problems, like lung problems. There is no evidence that chlorine can cause cancer.
How To Limit Your Exposure To Chlorine
As chlorine is present in drinking water and swimming pools, it is hard to avoid altogether. Remember, it is doing an important job keeping our water clean from harmful bacteria. However, there are ways to limit any additional exposure.
Use eco-friendly scrubbing products to clean your bathroom. Vinegar and baking soda are great for getting out tough stains. Soap and water are also a safe choice. If you want to cut out some of the chlorine in your water, there are filters you can buy to attach to your taps.
Perchloroethylene Keeps Your Delicate Clothing in Good Condition
Despite being called dry cleaning, this process for cleaning your clothes uses liquid solvents to remove stains. It is called dry cleaning because no water is involved.
Perchloroethylene (Perc) is the chemical that is commonly found in dry cleaners, as well as carpet and upholstery cleaners. Environmental studies have shown that when
are dry-cleaned, Perc residue is left behind on the clothes, which then vaporizes into the air in your home.
Percs Can Be Bad for Your Well-being
Perc is both a known neurotoxin, meaning it can affect the brain, and a possible carcinogen, or a cancer-causing substance. Although it has not been proven that dry cleaning chemicals can have adverse health effects for the everyday consumer, other groups have seen problems:
- Dry Cleaner Employees: Unlike dry cleaning customers, who have limited exposure to the cleaning chemicals, employees spend long periods of working with Perc. The EPA found that workers who did not use personal protective equipment were at risk of health complications.
- Residents of Buildings That House a Dry Cleaner: Residential buildings will sometimes have commercial space housing a dry cleaner. Residents of these buildings will sometimes experience dizziness and loss of coordination.
Are There Better Options for Dry Cleaning?
Sometimes the clothes you have cannot be put in a regular washing machine and still need to be dry-cleaned. Some of the methods that are showing promise are:
- Liquid Carbon Dioxide: Liquid CO2 is what gives soda its bubbles. This is a particularly green method of cleaning clothes because the CO2 is reusable and doesn’t need to be heated up the way Perc does.
- Wet Cleaning: This cleaning uses water-based technology with biodegradable detergents.
Before you take your next load of dirty clothes to the dry cleaners, research dry cleaners in your area that use these methods for cleaning. A simple internet search should do the trick.
The best way to avoid being exposed to dry cleaning clothes is to buy clothes that can be cleaned in a washing machine. For spot cleaning clothing stains, purchase eco-friendly brands, or use undiluted castile soap on the stain. It might require a little more hard work than the Perc cleaners, but it is a safer choice.
Phthalates Make Your Home Smell Nice
Phthalates are toxins that are found in many household products. They are used in plastic products, from toys to food packaging. You can also find them on vinyl floor and wall coverings. They make plastics more flexible and harder to break.
There is not just one type of phthalate. They are a whole family of chemicals, divided into two subcategories:
- High Phthalates: Includes diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), and dipropylheptyl phthalate (DPHP). These are mostly used in PVC products such as flooring, wall coverings, cables, roofing materials, etc.
- Low Phthalates: Common low phthalates are di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). You’ll see these in cosmetics and cleaning products, as well as medical devices, inks, and adhesives. Low phthalates are riskier than high phthalates.
Phthalates show up in cleaning and personal care products as a fragrance. You’re most likely to find them in air fresheners and hand soap, but they’ve even been used in toilet paper. Unfortunately, it can be hard to determine if your cleaning product is made with phthalates, as they are usually included in the ingredient list as “fragrance.”
Phthalates Can Affect Your Health
The health effects of phthalates are primarily endocrinological, meaning they affect hormones. Studies have linked them to lower sperm counts in men and a higher risk of breast cancer in women, as well as fertility issues. Exposure to phthalates may also increase the risk of asthma in children.
How Do You Avoid Phthalates?
Phthalates are in pretty much everything we use, so it can seem fruitless to try to avoid them. However, it is possible to limit your exposure to them, especially in cleaning products. A few ways to pick phthalate-free products are:
- Choose Fragrance-Free Cleaning Products: In recent years, there has been a shift to more natural cleaning products, and it is not hard to find fragrance-free cleaners. Choose products with labels that say “no synthetic fragrance” or “phthalate-free.” Use essential oils as room fresheners.
- Avoid Plastic Bottles: Most cleaning products come in plastic bottles, but again, as with the rise in natural cleaning products, there are more cleaners available in glass bottles. Another benefit of glass is that it is more easily recyclable. If you can’t avoid plastic, look for bottles with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5, which are phthalate-free.
- Invest in Some House Plants: Houseplants are natural air cleaners, and by converting the carbon dioxide in your home to oxygen, they will remove the phthalates in the air that are coming from your cleaners or other items containing phthalates.
Plastics and fragrances are a constant presence in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with them and all the risks they pose to our health. Take these steps to limit them in your home and make it a healthier place to be.
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds Kill Germs and Bacteria
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats) are a disinfectant found in cleaning products. They are certified by the EPA as pesticides and claim to be anti-bacterial. You are likely to find quats at home in:
- Disinfectant wipes
- Antibacterial hand soap
- Alcohol-free hand sanitizer
Quats also make their way into your laundry via fabric softener and dryer sheets. They are chemical softeners and bind to the fibers of your clothing to make them less rough and more flexible.
What Can Quats Do To Your Health?
Like most cleaning products, quats produce fumes that users can inhale. These fumes can cause breathing problems and can contribute to asthma. Experiments with mice have shown decreased fertility after exposure to quats, although that hasn’t been proven in humans yet.
Other side effects of using quats are skin irritation and rashes. Eye irritation can occur if the chemical gets in the eyes. If you are using products containing quats to clean your home or workplace, use protective goggles and gloves.
Like other antibacterials, quats are contributing to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is an even greater health risk than breathing problems and skin rashes.
Use These Cleaning Products Instead
There is no real reason to use cleaning products made with quats to keep your home clean. They are most useful in large settings that see a lot of people, such as hospitals and schools. You are better off using soap and water to wash your hands.
If you want to keep your laundry soft, add a little white vinegar to the wash cycle. This is a natural cleaner that has the added benefit of removing soap residue in the rinse cycle and preventing static cling in the dryer.
Choose natural cleaners with ingredients such as orange to keep your home clean. Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant that you can add to a bottle of water with a little vinegar to create your own disinfectant spray.
Sodium Hydroxide is a Powerful Degreaser
Sodium hydroxide is used in manufacturing a variety of products, like:
It shows up in your cleaning products in oven cleaners and drain decloggers. It is also known as caustic soda and lye and is a byproduct of chlorine production.
As a drain cleaner, sodium hydroxide converts the fats and greases that clog the drain into soaps, which then dissolve in water. The same chemical effect happens when it is used as an oven cleaner, and the soap can be wiped up with a paper towel or sponge.
How Is Sodium Hydroxide Bad for Your Health?
Sodium Hydroxide is a very strong corrosive and exposure can cause skin and eye irritation. Other health problems are:
- Breathing difficulty and throat swelling
- Abdominal pain, including nausea and diarrhea
- Blood pressure abnormalities
Most of these health problems are caused by long-term exposure, more than you would experience from regular household use.
What You Can Use Instead To Clean Your Oven and Drains
If your oven has a self-cleaning feature, use that instead of oven cleaners. Using this feature cleans your oven with high heat, around 880o Fahrenheit.
This will incinerate any food debris, leaving behind a small amount of ash that can be wiped up with a sponge or cloth.
Clean out clogged up drains with a snake tool that mechanically loosens the clog and pushes it through the system. A baking soda and vinegar solution can also degrease your drain.
Triclosan Is Found in Anti-Bacterial Products
Many of us choose anti-bacterial soaps because they sound like they are the most effective at keeping us clean and safe. However, what is the chemical that gives the soap its antibacterial properties and does it have any side effects?
Triclosan is a chemical that is added to a lot of consumer products to reduce bacterial growth. You can find it in:
- Body washes
It can be absorbed through your skin or mouth.
Triclosan’s Benefits Are Outweighed by the Negatives
Although a lot of these products are regulated by the FDA, as time goes on, research is showing that exposure to triclosan may have side effects. In 2016, the FDA banned over-the-counter antiseptics containing the chemical (Mayo Clinic). There is no proof that these products work better than regular soaps.
Unlike some of the other chemicals and cleaning products on this list, there are not many direct health risks associated with using triclosan. Some animal studies have shown that triclosan can cause problems with the thyroid, but it’s inconclusive if the same happens to humans.
The main problem with triclosan is that its use may be leading to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is a huge threat to the health of our nation. As bacteria are exposed to anti-bacterial products, it begins to mutate to be able to survive them. Bacteria that can’t be killed by antibiotics is a problem for anyone who gets an infection.
How To Avoid Using Products with Triclosan
The good news is that the FDA is aware that anti-bacterial products aren’t any more effective than regular cleaning products and are taking steps to remove them from shelves. To avoid using these products, take a look at the ingredient lists. You can also choose alcohol-based hand sanitizers if you must use sanitizer.
How To Use These Cleaning Products Safely
If you have cleaning products at home that contain these chemicals, make sure that you are using them safely to limit any adverse reactions.
- Always use gloves to prevent skin irritation
- Use goggle to keep cleaners from accidentally splashing in your eyes
- Use a mask to limit the fumes you are inhaling
- If you do get a chemical in your eye, wash it out quickly with water
- If possible, make sure the room you are cleaning is well ventilated. If this is not possible, only clean for short periods of time and take breaks to get fresh air
- Never mix cleaning products. Labels are not always clear and you never want to risk combining bleach and ammonia
- Keep these products away from children and animals
If you use these products and start to feel ill, contact poison control online or by phone. If anyone accidentally swallows a cleaning product, call 911 and get immediate medical assistance.
Choose Safer Cleaning Products (Or Make Your Own)
As consumers become more aware of the toxic chemicals that make up their cleaning products, more and more are choosing safer options. You can choose to buy products that have cut out the toxic chemicals, or you can even go the make-your-own cleaner route.
Natural Cleaning Brands to Investigate
The natural cleaning product industry has been growing exponentially, and there are now products available that can clean every part of your house. Here are some of the nationally available brands that you should check out on your next shopping trip:
- Ecos: Ecos has been around for over 50 years, creating plant-based cleaning products. They have been nationally recognized for their environmental work. Their products include laundry detergent, soaps, household cleaners, and even pet products.
- Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day: Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day products are made with ingredients derived from plants and essential oils. All of their packaging are recyclable. They produce household cleaners, laundry products, air fresheners, and personal care products.
- Method: Method is working to create plant-based cleaners in an eco-friendly way, limiting water waste and using renewable energy. The method has a wide range of products, from laundry to body wash.
- Puracy: Puracy is a relatively new brand on the market and is dedicated to making non-toxic, plant-based cleaning products. They have partnered with doctors and chemists to make sure their products are safe. Puracy has a wide range of cleaners, including household, pet, laundry, and baby products.
- Seventh Generation: Seventh Generation was founded 30 years ago and has made it their mission to create clean, plant-based products that don’t harm the planet. Their product line includes household cleaners, laundry products, baby products, and feminine and personal care products.
- The Honest Company: The Honest Company was founded by actress Jessica Alba after she had trouble finding clean products for her family. They have an extensive list of products, from cleaners to diapers to makeup.
Make Your Own Cleaning Products
If you want to be 100% certain you know what your cleaning products are made of, you might want to make them yourself. You may already own a lot of the ingredients, and homemade cleaners have the added benefit of being inexpensive to make.
Stock up on these ingredients to make pretty much all the cleaning products you need:
- White Vinegar
- Baking Soda
- Rubbing Alcohol
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Borax Powder
- Essential Oils for Scents
- Herbs and Citrus
You can find recipes for homemade cleaning products online. Here are a few examples:
If you decide to make your own cleaning products, be sure to use new containers and spray bottles. Never reuse an old cleaning product bottle as this could cause cross-contamination. If you can, choose glass containers, which last longer and are recyclable.
To replace air fresheners and other products that contain phthalates, make your own room sprays with essential oils or herbs from your garden. You can also make homemade potpourri. Maybe you’ll even discover a new hobby.
Cleaning Doesn’t Have To Be a Health Hazard
Learning about the toxic chemicals that make up your cleaning products can be scary, and you might be feeling uncertain about how to proceed. We’ve given you several options to help make the decision a little easier.
Just remember, most of these products are not going to cause major damage if you only use them occasionally. If you don’t feel like changing your cleaning products, just using them more safely can help. No matter what products you choose to use, you’ll have a clean home for your family.