Are there toxic chemicals lurking under your kitchen sink? Find out the 7 toxic household cleaners to avoid and the problem with “natural” store-bought cleaners.
Are you cleaning with conventional, store-bought household cleaners? You may want to think twice about using them. Why? They are toxic household cleaners. Check out the labels. There are often warning signs of toxicity and instructions to call Poison Control if ingested or exposed to skin. Read on for advice on how to avoid toxic cleaners and how to make non toxic cleaning products.
Types of Toxic Household Cleaners
Toxic chemicals in conventional household cleaners vary in their severity – from acute (immediate) hazards such as skin or respiratory issues, chemical burns or watery eyes to chronic (long term) hazards such as cancer, fertility issues, ADHD, compromised immune system and more.1
Most toxic chemicals found in household cleaners fall into these categories:
- Carcinogens – which cause or promote cancer
- Endocrine disruptors – which mimic human hormones and cause false signals within the body and lead to issues such as infertility, premature puberty, miscarriage, menstrual issues, ADHD and even cancer.
- Neurotoxins – which affect brain activity and cause issues such as headaches and memory loss
7 Household Cleaners to Avoid
1. Air fresheners
The fragrances (even those marked unscented) can trigger asthma and allergies. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reviewed 2,000 household cleaning products in 2012 and found that 53% of cleaning products contain ingredients harmful to the lungs AND 22% of cleaning products contain chemicals known to cause asthma in otherwise healthy people.
2. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets
The fragrances and other ingredients used to make them can cause asthma, allergies or lung irritation.
3. Cleaning products with artificial fragrances
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that one-third of the substances used in the fragrance industry are toxic, yet because the formulas used for these fragrances are trade secrets companies aren’t required to disclose the ingredients used.
4. Antibacterial products
The ingredients used to kill bacteria in these soaps can can encourage the development of drug-resistant superbugs.
5. Corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners
These are the most acutely dangerous cleaning products on the market. The ingredients in these cleaners can cause severe burns on the skin and eyes, or if ingested to the throat and esophagus.
6. Bleach and ammonia
Separately these cleaners produce fumes with high acute toxicity to eyes, nose, throat and lungs and should not be used by people with asthma or lung issues. Used together, these products produce a a toxic gas that can cause serious lung damage.
7. Products that create suds (shampoo, liquid soap, bubble bath, laundry detergent)
Ingredients such as 1,4-dioxane, diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, etc. are known carcinogens linked to organ toxicity.
In addition to acute and long-term health issues, many of these chemicals pose health hazards to the environment too. When these cleaners are used in sinks, bathtubs or showers, they go down the drain and may threaten water quality or wildlife. Sudsing agents in shampoos, liquid soaps and detergents and phosphates used to soften hard water in detergents pose a huge threat to our water supply. 2,3,4
Can Inhaling Some Cleaning Products Make You Sick?
Yes, ingestion can cause esophageal injury, stomach irritation and prolonged nausea and vomiting. Never mix chlorine bleach with any other household cleaning products and especially not with ammonia. Doing so can result in different types of poisonous gases being released, which can cause very serious breathing problems.
Can Household Cleaners Affect Pets?
Yes, cleaning products with ingredients such as bleach, ammonia, chlorine, glycol ethers or formaldehyde can put pets at risk for cancer, anemia, liver and kidney damage. Ammonia, found in oven cleaners and window cleaning formulations, is an irritant to the mucous membranes.
The Problem with “Natural” Store-Bought Cleaners
Even many “all-natural” cleaners found in grocery and some health food stores have harmful chemicals and may even score worse than conventional cleaning products. Mother Nature Network researched a few common natural cleaning products and found that a leading all-purpose cleaner fared worse in the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning Guide. Check out the results.
The other problem with natural store-bought cleaning products is that they often cost twice as much as conventional store-bought cleaners. In many cases, old-fashioned vinegar, baking soda, essential oils and other inexpensive ingredients found in your pantry can clean just as well or better than conventional or natural store-bought cleaning products.
Make Your Own Household Cleaners
Instead make your own homemade cleaners for less than a dollar AND use natural ingredients you probably already have around your home. I’ve got 10 homemade household cleaners you can make right now with ingredients in your kitchen and check out my own recipe for an DIY natural household cleaner that can be used for everything from kitchen countertops to bathroom sinks.
Top Tips for Avoiding Toxic Household Cleaners
- Check out the labels. There are often warning signs of toxicity and instructions to call Poison Control if ingested or exposed to skin.
- The most acutely dangerous cleaning products are corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acidic toilet bowl cleaners, according to the Washington Toxics Coalition.
- Shop for cleaners, laundry detergents, and personal care products labeled “fragrance-free” or “unscented”. It does not always mean its fragrance-free.
- Avoid store bought air fresheners. Identify the smell and eliminate or prevent it. Open a window. Ventilating your home with outdoor air has been shown to reduce symptoms associated with asthma, allergies and infections.
- Make your own household cleaning products, it’s inexpensive and so much better for you.
More DIY Recipes You Might Like
- Homemade Carpet Freshener
- DIY Poo Pourri: After You Poo Spray
- DIY Natural Disinfectant Spray (Homemade Lysol)
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto.com / Mirage_studio
- How Toxic Are Your Household Cleaning Supplies, Organic Consumers Association, http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_279.cfm.
- Toxins in Household Cleaning Products, Green Wiki, http://green.wikia.com/wiki/Toxins_in_Household_Cleaning_Products.
- Household Cleaner Ratings and Ingredinets, Environmental Working Group, http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/findings.
- Environmental Working Group’s Updated Cleaning Guide, Mother Nature Network, http://www.mnn.com/family/protection-safety/blogs/environmental-working-groups-updated-cleaning-guide.