Harmful Chemicals to Avoid in Household Cleaners


Cleaning your home keeps your family healthy. By killing germs, bacteria, and viruses — and reducing the number of allergens in the air — you’re keeping illnesses out of your home. Sadly, many of the common cleaners in your home are probably doing more harm than good.

According to Toxic-Free Future, an advocacy group promoting the use of safer chemicals, the most dangerous cleaners on the market are drain cleaners, oven cleaners and acidic toilet bowl cleaners. Why? Because they contain corrosive chemicals that can cause skin, eye, throat and esophagus irritation.

Before you stock up on chemicals to clean your home, take note of the chemicals listed in this article.

Chemicals that are dangerous to your overall health

Bleach and ammonia. The two most common cleaning agents are chlorine bleach and ammonia. Both can produce highly irritating fumes, which can pose a risk for those that suffer from asthma, lung problems or heart problems. Mixing bleach and ammonia creates a dangerous gas that can cause significant damage to the respiratory system.

Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA). Some cleaners contain foaming agents diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA), both of which are known to cause long-term health problems.

Mixed with nitrates, these foaming agents can form carcinogenic nitrosamines that can easily penetrate the skin. Nitrates are often present as undisclosed preservatives in some cleaning supplies and can even occur as unintentional contaminants.

Alcohol ethoxylates. Cleaners that contain alcohol exothylates — including industrial cleaners and personal care items — such as shampoo, shower gels and dish soap may contain 1,4-dioxane, another suspected carcinogen.

Butyl cellosolve. Also known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, butyl cellosolve can cause brain and nervous system damage, as well as kidney and liver damage.

Perchloroethylene (PERC). PERC is found in fabric cleaners, including dry cleaning agents and carpet cleaners. This chemical has been found to be carcinogenic if inhaled over time.

Formaldehyde. Found in some heavy-duty disinfectants, formaldehyde is another ingredient you should avoid. Exposure to high levels of formaldehyde could cause cancer or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, a neurological disease that slowly reduces the brain’s ability to control the body.

Formaldehyde can also affect the brain’s chemical balance, resulting in depression, mood swings, irritability, headaches, insomnia and attention deficit disorder.

2-Butoxyethanol. 2-Butoxyethanol is a common ingredient in multi-purpose and window cleaners to break down dirt and oily residue. It is easily recognizable by its sweet and mild floral scent. Unfortunately, this chemical has been linked to extreme liver and kidney damage, chronic drowsiness, and pulmonary edema.

Chemicals that can affect your hormones

Some chemicals can interfere with the body's natural chemical messages by blocking or mimicking the paths of hormones.

Phthalates. Phthalates are found in certain cleaners in the form of a fragrance. They are suspected to affect the body’s endocrine system. One of the most common forms of phthalates, phthalate DEHP or diethylhexyl phthalate, has actually been shown to reduce sperm motility in men.

Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs). APEs are used in laundry detergents and other cleaners. They can mimic estrogen in the body. One study showed APE multiplied estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells in a test tube. Other possible hormone-related health effects include genital defects, such as undescended testicles and urethra malformations.

Fragrances. According to a study by The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, one-third of all substances used by the fragrance industry are toxic and can cause acute respiratory issues for people with allergies or asthma, including irritation, headache, sneezing and watery eyes.

However, many fragrances are labeled as trade secrets. Companies aren't required by law to list the substances they use to scent their products. Instead, they list them generally as "fragrance.”

Chemicals that linger in the environment

Most chemicals break down harmlessly during the water treatment process. However, some don’t. Instead, they linger indefinitely in groundwater and local waterways, contaminating the Earth and posing a threat to plants, fish and wildlife.

Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs). When hormone-mimicking APE chemicals enter wastewater and go through the water treatment process, they break down into two less common APEs.

Not only are these types more toxic, but they also do not break down in water or soil. A USGS test on found APEs found that they are present in 69% of waterways, and male fish exposed to APEs have been shown to have reduced fertility rates.

Phosphates. For years, phosphate was common chemical additive, prevalent in laundry detergents and other cleaners. That was until research came to light on its environmental effect.

Phosphates act as a fertilizer in the water. As a result, algae blooms, depleting oxygen in the water to the point that it kills other plants, fish, and microorganisms in the area.

Many states have now banned the use of phosphates in laundry detergents. However, they are still used in dishwasher detergents.

Other options for cleaning your home

With the rising popularity of do-it-yourself and green cleaning in recent years, people are resorting to soap, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, borax and other safe ingredients to create their own all-purpose cleaners, degreasers and drain openers.

Vinegar is a very effective multi-purpose household cleaner, though the concentration of vinegar that’s available at your local grocery store isn’t powerful enough for effective cleaning.

Green Gobbler’s 30% Vinegar is six times stronger than over-the-counter vinegar. With it, you can cut through grease and grime with ease. It is also effective at removing soap scum, mildew, and rust, and can also be used in your washing machine to clean and freshen your laundry. And since it is derived from corn, it poses no health risks to its users or the environment.

If using vinegar is a little too foreign for your liking, try using Green Gobbler’s Cold Pressed Orange Oil instead. It is an all-purpose cleaner made with 100% natural, food-grade ingredients and is safe to use around children and pets.

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