Toxicology Report: When Housecleaning Hurts


Everyone knows that cleanliness is an important measure in guarding against sickness, but did you know that the very products that we use to protect ourselves can actually cause sickness themselves? There are many common household cleaning brands on the shelves that clearly state the dangers of their use, and still many more that do not. Are you aware of what is in your cabinet? We did some research on the topic and this is what we found...

The most startling information on the subject that we found is the lack of appropriate labeling of the dangerous chemicals that are in these products. In the fall of 2012, the Environmental Working Group released their "Cleaners Database Hall of Shame." According to a press release on the study, "Just 7 percent of cleaning products adequately disclosed their contents. To uncover what’s in common household cleaners, EWG’s staff scientists spent 14 months scouring product labels and digging through company web sites and technical documents. EWG staff reviewed each ingredient against 15 U.S. and international toxicity databases and numerous scientific and medical journals."

Another startling finding of the study showed that several brands what is called "greenwashing" to trick consumers into buying products that they think are safe. For example, Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner is labeled “non-toxic” and “biodegradable,” yet it contains 2-butoxyethanol, a solvent absorbed through the skin that damages red blood cells and irritates eyes; a secret blend of alcohol ethoxylate surfactants, some of which are banned in the European Union."

Among the other more obvious products that clearly label their inherent dangers, they also warn against "Mystery Mixes" such as Target's Up & Up and Wamart's Great Value cleaning products. According to the report, "Ingredient labels are mandatory for food, cosmetics and drugs--but not for cleaners. Bowing to pressure from customers and to the threat of federal regulation, most companies list some ingredients on labels and web sites or in worker safety information. But a few companies disclose nothing. Others may list one or a few ingredients or use vague terms like 'surfactant' or 'solvent.'" So keep your eyes peeled for these words when scanning the ingredients list, and if there is nothing listed, the EWG says "No information could mean something to hide."

Finally, if you are concerned about having harmful cleaning products in your home, do what makes sense! The EWG suggests that consumers "Read labels carefully and pay special attention to warnings. Don’t buy any products labeled 'poison,' 'danger' or 'fatal' if swallowed or inhaled." And remember, there are many ways these products can affect your health, some more obvious than others. According to the National Library of Medicine, "Toxic substances in [certain cleaning] products can cause harm if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. People respond to toxic substances in different ways. At high doses a toxic substance might cause birth defects or other serious problems, including brain damage or death." So, there are several ways they can enter your body and cause harm, and there are several different symptoms of that harm--some that might not be detectable until long after you have actually come into contact with the substance, and while that might be manageable for a house without children, what is most disturbing is the fact that these noxious chemicals are not completely necessary to their cause. Everyday liquid soap (find a natural brand, Dawn) kills 99.9% of harmful bacteria. A simple rubbing alcohol and water solution (1 part alcohol, 2 parts water) will take care of the rest. The remaining alcohol residue evaporates almost instantly, leaving nothing behind but H2O. 


So why do we think that we need the products that contain dangerous ingredient? It's like combating gun violence with bombs--it just doesn't make sense. Read those labels and decide for yourself: are the risks of this product worth the results they achieve? Will this product help improve wellness in my household? Do I fully understand what is in this product and what that means? If you answered "no" to any of these questions, then it's probably best to put that product back up on the store shelf.

One last thing before we go. Did you know you can use ketchup to remove tarnish from copper pots? Or that lemon juice and baking soda can be used to scrub the bathroom tile? What about vinegar to clean and remove mildew on wooden floors? Real Simple magazine's list of "66 All-Natural Cleaning Solutions" has some great recipes for affordable DIY household cleaners. Give them a try, let us know what you think, and if you have any green recipes of your own, please feel free to comment and share!