You assume popular household cleaners are safe but many are harmful and toxic.
The average household has about 62 toxic chemicals in it. Many of these ingredients have been linked to asthma, reproductive disorders, hormone disruptions, cancer, and neurotoxicity. Occasionally products cause an immediate reaction like skin burns from accidental contact or a headache from fumes but exposure over time leads to different problems because it is adding to the body’s quantity of chemicals stored in the tissues at one time, or toxic burden.
We can’t completely control our exposure to toxic chemicals. Once we leave our homes who knows what was used in the spaces we visit but we can limit the exposure we have in our own 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 good.
Products: Often found in fragranced household products, like dish soap, air fresheners, cleaning detergent, or even toilet paper. With proprietary laws manufacturers don’t have to disclose the ingredients in their scents so you won’t find phthalates on a label. If you spot “fragrance” on the label, there is a high probability phthalates are present.
Health Risks: Many phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that interfere with the production of the male sex hormone, testosterone, which is necessary for 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 has been linked to changes in sex hormone levels, altered development of genitals, and low sperm count and quality. Phthalates have also been linked with reduced female fertility, obesity, preterm birth and low birthweight, a worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms, and altered toddler behavior.
Healthier Options: Choose fragrance-free or all natural organic products, like Nurturals, that use essential oils. Aerosol or plug-in air fresheners can be particularly triggering to asthma or migraines so it’s best to avoid them. Choose natural air fresheners that use plant hydrosols.
Products: The majority of liquid dishwashing detergents and “antibacterial” hand soap.
Health Risks: 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 that there is insufficient evidence for a benefit from consumer products containing antibacterial additives over similar ones not containing them.
Healthier Options: 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.
3. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”
Products: Carpet and upholstery cleaners, dry-cleaning solutions and spot removers.
Health Risks: Perc is a known neurotoxin. Acute exposure to PERC is linked to 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. In the 1970’s studies were conducted that suggest perchloroethylene or PERC, as it is commonly called, was a carcinogen. Exposure to PERC is typically through inhalation upon picking up clothes from the dry cleaner or the fumes that linger after carpet cleaning. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that clothes dry cleaned with PERC can elevate levels of the chemical throughout a home and especially in the room where the garments are stored.
Healthier Options: For dry cleaning choose a “wet cleaner,” that uses water-based technology rather than chemical solvents. Because wet cleaning is free of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, it eliminates health and safety risks. When you have your carpets cleaned choose a company that uses non-toxic cleaning products. Nurturals concentrate can be used to clean carpet, spot treat carpet or as a stain remover on clothes.
Products: Multipurpose, window and kitchen cleaners.
Health Risks: 2-Butoxyethanol is a carcinogen that can enter your body through your lungs, or your skin if it comes in contact with products containing the chemical. 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. Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label but if it was it could be listed as 2-Butoxyethanol, ethylene glycol monobutyl 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. Common abbreviations for 2-butoxyethanol include BE and EGBE. Cleaning your home in unventilated rooms with 2-butoxyethanol products can expose you to air at levels higher than workplace safety standards.
Healthier Options: Diluted vinegar and newspaper is effective at cleaning mirrors and windows. Nurturals Kit & Kaboodle all-purpose cleaner is effective at cleaning mirrors, windows and almost all surfaces especially when used with a microfiber cloth.
5. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”
Products: Disinfectant household cleaners labeled “antibacterial,” and fabric softener liquids and sheets.
Health Risks: Like the previously mentioned triclosan, quats are another type of 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 as well as irritate the nose and throat.
Healthier Options: Use 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 anti-microbial). Shake well and spray 10 to 15 times on your wet clothes before starting the dryer.
Products: Toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, and scouring powders.
Health Risks: 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.
Healthier Options: For scrubbing use baking soda or non-toxic Bon Ami. Toilets can be cleaned with vinegar or Nurturals Love My Loo. To whiten your laundry baking soda, vinegar, borax, lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide are all natural whiteners.
7. Sodium Hydroxide
Products: Drain openers and oven cleaners.
Health Risks: Also known as lye, sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive. The CDC states, “It can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and mucous membrane; an allergic reaction; eye and skin burns; and temporary loss of hair.”
Healthier Options: Make a paste with baking soda, it will clean the grimiest of ovens; although you may need to apply a bit more time and effort. To unclog a drain use a plumber’s snake or follow Crunchy Betty’s baking soda and vinegar solution.
Products: Glass cleaner and the polishing agents for bathroom sinks, fixtures and jewelry.
Health Risks: 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 that has a very 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.”
Healthier Options: Raid your home bar, spray vodka directly onto 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, as well as metallic fixtures.