You assume popular household cleaners are safe, but how harmful are the hidden toxins in your cleaning products?
The average household has about 62 toxic chemicals in it. These ingredients cause asthma, reproductive disorders, hormone disruptions, cancer, and neurotoxicity. Occasionally products cause an immediate reaction, such as skin burns from accidental contact or a headache from fumes. Still, exposure over time leads to different problems because it adds to the body’s quantity of chemicals stored in the tissues at one time or creates a toxic burden. There’s a high chance that if you look at the ingredients label on all of your home cleaning products, you will probably come across at least eight hidden toxins.
We can’t completely control our exposure to toxic chemicals. Once we leave our homes, who knows what lurks in the spaces we visit, but we can limit our exposure in our homes.
Here are the eight scariest substances hidden in your cleaning products and how to replace them with safer, more natural options that work just as well.
You can find phthalates in fragranced household products, like dish soap, air fresheners, cleaning detergents, or even toilet paper. With proprietary laws, manufacturers don’t have to disclose the ingredients in their scents so that you won’t find phthalates on a label. If you spot “fragrance” on the label, there is a high probability phthalates are present.
Many phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that interfere with the production of the male sex hormone, testosterone, which is necessary for the proper development and function of the male reproductive organs. Early in life, interference with testosterone activity can have irreversible effects on male reproduction. Phthalate exposures in humans are:
- The reported cause of changes in sex hormone levels.
- Altered development of genitals.
- Low sperm count and quality.
There’s a link between phthalates and reduced female fertility, obesity, preterm birth, low birth weight, worsening allergy, asthma symptoms, and altered toddler behavior.
A healthier choice is fragrance-free or all-natural organic products, like Nurturals, that use essential oils. Aerosol or plug-in air fresheners can particularly trigger asthma or migraines, so it’s best to avoid them. Choose natural air fresheners that use plant hydrosols.
Triclosan is another hidden toxin in most liquid dishwashing detergents and “antibacterial” hand soap.
What’s the risk to your health? Triclosan is an intrusive antibacterial agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. “Both triclosan and its close chemical relative triclocarban (also widely used as an antibacterial), are present in 60 percent of America’s streams and rivers,” says environmental scientist Rolf Halden, co-founder of the Center for Water and Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Triclosan is toxic to algae, so it disrupts the river’s ecosystem. An expert panel convened by the Food and Drug Administration determined insufficient evidence for a benefit from consumer products containing antibacterial additives over similar ones not containing them.
Avoid antibacterial products and choose soap (without “fragrance” on the label) to wash your hands when possible. A humble bar of soap is even effective at destroying viruses. When choosing a hand sanitizer, choose an alcohol-based product and make sure triclosan isn’t an ingredient.
If you’re not already cringing, look at what other hidden toxins might lurk in your cleaning products.
3. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”
You can find perchloroethylene in Carpet and upholstery cleaners, dry-cleaning solutions, and spot removers.
The risk to your health is worth knowing. Perc is a known neurotoxin.
Acute exposure to PERC is a cause of dizziness, blurred vision, and loss of coordination, according to The U.S. Occupational Safety and Human Safety agency, or OSHA. Long-term exposure can even trigger mild memory loss. Researchers conducted studies in the 1970s that suggested perchloroethylene, commonly known as PERC, was a carcinogen.
People typically inhale PERC when they pick up their clothes from the dry cleaner or expose themselves to the fumes after carpet cleaning. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that dry clothes cleaned with PERC can elevate chemical levels throughout a home, especially in the room where the garments are stored.
For a healthier option, choose a “wet cleaner” that uses water-based technology rather than chemical solvents for dry cleaning.
Because wet cleaning is free of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, it eliminates health and safety risks. When your carpets need cleaning, choose a company that uses non-toxic cleaning products. Nurturals concentrate is ideally suited to clean carpets, spot treat carpets, or as a stain remover on clothes.
You will typically find 2-Butoxyethanol in multipurpose, window, and kitchen cleaners.
What’s the risk to your health? 2-Butoxyethanol is a carcinogen that can enter your body through your lungs or your skin if it comes in contact with chemical products. Inhalation can irritate the nose and throat, and exposure can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. It is a colorless liquid that can harm the eyes, skin, kidneys, and blood.
The law does not require manufacturers to list 2-butoxyethanol on a product’s label. Still, they could record it as 2-Butoxyethanol, ethylene glycol mono butyl ether, ethylene glycol butyl ether, ethylene glycol n-butyl ether, Butyl Cellosolve, butyl glycol, butyl Oxitol, glycol butyl ether, Dowanol EB, Gafcol EB, Polysolv EB, or Ektasolve EB if they choose to do so.
Cleaning your home in stuffy rooms with 2-butoxyethanol products can expose you to air higher than workplace safety standards.
The healthier choice might be surprising, but Diluted vinegar and newspaper effectively clean mirrors and windows. Nurturals Kit & Kaboodle all-purpose cleaner effectively cleans mirrors, windows, and almost all surfaces, especially with a microfiber cloth.
5. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”
Quats are disinfectant household cleaners labeled “antibacterial” and fabric softener liquids and sheets.
What’s the risk to your health? Like the previously mentioned triclosan, quats are another antimicrobial that can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Quats are a type of chemical used to kill viruses, bacteria, and mold. Breathing in quats can trigger asthma symptoms and other upper respiratory tract irritations and irritate the nose and throat.
Consider a healthier choice like felt wool dryer balls, or fill a spray bottle with 1 cup distilled white vinegar and 1 1/2 teaspoons tea tree essential oil (a natural antimicrobial). Shake well and spray 10 to 15 times on your wet clothes before starting the dryer.
Chlorine is in toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, and scouring powders.
Chlorine poses a severe risk to your health. According to the CDC, symptoms of chlorine exposure include blurred vision, burning pain, redness and blisters on the skin, burning in the nose, throat, and eyes, coughing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, fluid in the lungs, nausea, vomiting, watery eyes, and wheezing.
The International Journal of Molecular Sciences lists chlorine as a thyroid-disrupting chemical.
Consider healthier options. For scrubbing, use baking soda or non-toxic Bon Ami. Clean toilets with vinegar or with Nurturals Love My Loo. To whiten your laundry, baking soda, vinegar, borax, lemon juice, and hydrogen peroxide are all-natural whiteners.
7. Sodium Hydroxide
Sodium hydroxide is in drain and oven cleaners, and the health risk is especially worth considering.
Also known as lye, sodium hydroxide is highly corrosive. The CDC states, “It can irritate the eyes, skin, and mucous membrane; an allergic reaction; eye and skin burns; and temporary hair loss.”
Above all, consider a healthy alternative and make a paste with baking soda. It will clean the grimiest of ovens, although you may need to apply more time and effort. Use a plumber’s snake to unclog a drain or follow Crunchy Betty’s baking soda and vinegar solution.
Ammonia is an ingredient in glass cleaners and polishing agents for bathroom sinks, fixtures, and jewelry.
Ammonia evaporates and doesn’t leave streaks, making it ideal for window cleaning, but that crystal clear view comes with a very toxic price.
Ammonia is a colorless, corrosive, alkaline gas with a pungent odor. As stated in a paper in the NCBI, “high concentrations of ammonia caused severe damage to the respiratory tract, particularly in the tracheobronchial and pulmonary regions. Death was most likely to occur when damage caused pulmonary edema. Nonlethal, irreversible, or long-term effects occurred when damage progressed to the tracheobronchial region, manifested by reduced performance on pulmonary function tests, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, emphysema, and bronchiectasis. Non-disabling reversible effects were manifested by irritation to the eyes, throat, and nasopharyngeal region of the respiratory tract.”
Consider a healthy alternative and raid your home bar. Spray vodka directly onto the glass and wipe for a streak-free shine.
You can also use Nurturals Kit and Kaboodle, Love My Loo, or Piece of Cake to tackle bathroom and kitchen sinks and metallic fixtures.
Cleaner Living is all about supporting the homeowners and vacation rental landlords of Central Oregon with only the purest, non-toxic, and most effective cleaning products we have engineered ourselves expertly.