Household cleaning products aren’t the best for us. We know. We have heard it all before. But you still need to clean the bathroom and mop the floors.
But have you ever considered why these everyday products are so toxic? I mean, how toxic can they really be if it’s ‘safe’ to use them.
Manufacturers aren’t required under any law to list all ingredients in consumer products, which means dangerous and toxic chemicals often go unlisted. And the longer the FDA doesn’t require ingredients to be listed, toxins continue to persist in our homes.
It seems the US is on the slow train to adopting stricter regulations around chemicals. There is a growing disparity in standards between the EU and US—to the extent it touches almost every element of most Americans’ lives. In cosmetics alone, the EU has banned or restricted more than 1,300 chemicals while the US has outlawed or curbed just 11.
Dangers of Household Cleaners
The biggest danger household cleaners pose is the lack of clarity on their ingredient labels. Because companies are not required by law to list all the chemicals used to make that shower cleaner, we aren’t able to make appropriate decisions about what we bring into our homes. In fact, only 7% of cleaning products properly disclose their ingredient list.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and preserving human health and the environment. They conduct many studies each year on, keep track of policy that impacts our health, and they have become big advocates on safe products.
The EWG took notice of the lack of transparency in cleaning products and spent 14 months researching the chemical make-ups of dozens of household cleaners. They found some startling stats:
- 53% of cleaning products contained ingredients known to harm the lungs.
- About 22% contain chemicals that caused asthma to develop in otherwise healthy individuals.
- The chemical 1,4-dioxane, a suspected human carcinogen, is a common contaminant of widely-used detergent chemicals.
- Chloroform can escape in fumes released by products containing chlorine bleach.
- Quaternary ammonium compounds (“quats”) like benzalkonium chloride, found in antibacterial spray cleaners and fabric softeners, can cause asthma.
- Sodium borate, also known as borax, and boric acid are added to many products as cleaning agents, enzyme stabilizers or other functions. They can disrupt the hormone system.
- Many leading “green” brands sell highly rated products, among them Green Shield Organic and Whole Foods’ Green Mission brand. But not all cleaners marketed as environmentally conscious score high. Some “green” brands, including Earth Friendly Products and BabyGanics, do not disclose ingredients adequately.
To better understand what a ‘toxic chemical’ is, we must also look at volatile organic compounds.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
But first, to understand the dangers of cleaning products, we must first understand volatile organic compounds or VOCs. These are compounds that are emitted as various gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs are often the main components of household cleaners and commonly found in:
- Air fresheners
- Aerosol Sprays
- Moth Repellants
- Automotive products
Just to name a few.
All these items release VOCs when used, and some even emit these toxins in storage.
EPA studies have shown levels for a dozen of the most common VOCs to be 2-5 times higher inside the home. Using cleaners with VOCs poses a risk not just during the cleaning session but long after you’re done, as these compounds remain in the air long after you’ve put the mop away.
So what exactly can a VOC do that is so harmful? Well, health effects range from eye and throat irritation to headaches, to liver and kidney damage. Key symptoms include:
- Conjunctival irritation
- Nose and throat irritation
- Allergic reaction
- Skin irritation
The average household clean contains 62 toxic chemicals and OCs and it isn’t just those predisposed to illness that are impacted by these toxins. Chlorine bleach and quaternary ammonium compounds, for example, are classified as asthmagens, meaning they may cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy people.
The best way to reduce exposure and eliminate risk is to use safer products that don’t contain VOCs.
Choosing a Safer Product
There are two main alternatives you can use when eliminating traditional cleaning products from your home. Buyer safer products or make your own.
When it comes to buying a safer product, you must always read the labels and look for the EWG Verified seal for safer products.
The seal indicates products that are less harmful to you, your family, and the environment. In addition to meeting strict guidelines for ingredients, the seal also indicates safe manufacturing procedures.
Cleaning products with the EWG Verified seal have been reviewed for:
- Human health implications
- Environmental impact
- Reproductive/development toxicity
You can learn more about the standards and find product recommendations at
But if you are looking to steer clear of the cleaning aisle altogether, you can make great alternatives at home, with the items you’ve already got in your kitchen.
Vinegar. With its high acidity, white vinegar makes a great household cleaner. Whether you dilute it with a little water or use it directly, you can use it for soap scum, glue remover, windows, mirrors, floors—it’s even a great stain remover.
Baking Soda. Not only is baking soda a great deodorizer, but it’s also great for lifting grease, dirt, and grime from a host of surfaces. When you start combining with vinegar, you’ll almost never need to buy a cleaning product again.
When it comes to that nice clean smell, you probably won’t get that from vinegar. But adding in essential oils will help you with that clean smell, without filling your home with toxic chemicals that can have negative effects on your health.
Yours in Good Health,