We were all shocked to learn about the potentially harmful additives and chemicals in our food, personal products, and cosmetics and rightfully so! But when it comes to cleaning products, we weren’t as surprised. After all, most cleaning products have a big bold warning on the back saying anything from “use in a well ventilated area” to “call poison control immediately if swallowed or applied to skin”. Regardless of the warning, it’s pretty obvious the products are not always safe.
The good news is many companies are offering less toxic cleaning solutions. But just like cosmetics, there is not a governing body regulating claims such as “natural” or “non-toxic”. So again, it’s time to be proactive! Let’s talk about some of the common toxic ingredients and why they should be avoided.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
Ammonia: Found in many floor, tile, and glass cleaners. It is poisonous if swallowed, irritating to respiratory passages when inhaled, and can burn skin on contact. (Note: Never mix ammonia-containing products with chlorine bleach. That produces a poisonous gas.)
Antibacterials and Disinfectants: These include a list of ingredients from bleach to triclosan. Found in most products labeled “antibacterial”. They cause skin and eye irritation, may contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and are potential carcinogens. Some research suggests antibacterial cleaners aren’t preventing illness any more than regular cleaners. This might be because most infections are viral, not bacterial. Many experts believe the frequency and thoroughness of cleaning is more important than the type of cleaner.
Butyl Cellosolve: (also known as butyl glycol, ethylene glycol, monobutyl) Found in glass cleaners and many all-purpose cleaners. They are considered highly toxic when inhaled and are poisonous when swallowed.
Chlorine Bleach: (Sodium hypochlorite, chloramine, hydrochloric acid or trihalomethanes) Found alone and in a variety cleaners. It is extremely irritating to the eyes and lungs.
Diethanolamine and Triethanolamine: (DEA and TEA) Found in detergent and cleaners, typically ones that produce suds. They are suspected to produce carcinogenic nitrates and nitrosamines, which have been linked with stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancer.
Fragrance: (many names, a common one is phthalates) Found in many cleaning products. They may cause respiratory irritation.
Hydrochloric acid: Found in toilet bowl cleaners. It can cause skin burns and irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract.
Naptha: Found in floor and furniture polish and glass cleaners. It can cause headaches, nausea, and central-nervous-system symptoms.
Nonylphenol ethoxylates: (NPEs) Found in just about any cleaning product. They are thought to be a hormone disruptor, potentially threatening the reproductive system of animals.
Petroleum Solvents: Found in many cleaners. Many ingredients are derived from petroleum, including some of those above such as APEs and naptha. Other toxic ingredients derived from petroleum, including formaldehyde, can be found at trace levels in a variety of household cleaning products.
Phosphates: Found in laundry and dishwasher detergents. High levels of phosphates in streams, rivers and oceans kill marine life and alter the ecological system.
Sodium hydroxide: (lye) Found in oven, drain and metal cleaners. It is corrosive and irritating to eyes, nose, and throat and can burn them on contact.
Sulfuric acid: Found in drain cleaners. It can severely damage skin, lungs, and eyes.
Now – we have some more bad news…manufacturers are not required to list all ingredients on the label. And the order of the ingredients is not representative of the amount of each ingredient used. So even if you memorize the list above, you cannot guarantee you are getting a safe product. Well now what? Obviously we still need to clean our house! Check out the tips below.
TIPS FOR SAFER CLEANING PRODUCTS
Don’t Buy Cleaning Solutions
Ok, we’re not being crazy here! We’re not saying don’t clean, just think of cleaning in a different light. Instead of chemicals, how about steam, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda? We’re working on posting some homemade cleaning solution recipes so stop back soon! But until then, check out this link to Greener Choices.
Buy Safer Brands
Even though the ingredients mentioned above work for a lot of jobs, we haven’t switched over entirely. Here are some safer brands we use: Norwex, Seventh Generation, Method, Green Works, and Mrs. Meyers. (Please note, although not required, some companies claim to disclose a full list of ingredients. Seventh Generation is one of them.) And we are continually trying new “safer” cleaning solutions and products so make sure to check our cleaning product reviews.
Check These Sites
Great news! There is a product database called GoodGuide that rates the safety of thousands of products including cleaning solutions. You can search a particular product or just check their “top rated” list and decide which product is right for you. Also, download the GoodGuide app to your phone (iPhone or Android) so you can scan a product’s barcode and find out its safety rating!
Also, Natural Products Association has recently created a standard definition for the term natural as it relates to cleaning products. The NPA uses a set of guidelines to determine if a product can be certified natural and receive their seal. Click on the link above to see a list of cleaning products they have certified.
Source: Greener Choices by Consumer Reports (see full article here)