How Safe are your Household Cleaners?

Has it ever crossed your mind that the products you use to clean your home may be toxic? It NEVER crossed my mind until I started getting into clean beauty. Then I learned about clean produce. Then I learned about clean CLEANING PRODUCTS! I know, a double entendre there. Who would have thought the products you use to clean your home would be harmful to your body. I sure didn’t. 

First, let’s talk about PLASTIC.

I try really hard to reduce our plastic use because we gotta save the turtles, HELLO! And also because plastics release chemicals that are toxic to our bodies. Some plastics contain hormone disrupting chemicals. No, you’re not going to feel the effects of it immediately. But imagine how much exposure you have to cleaning products on an everyday basis (at home, at restaurants, grocery stores, etc) and how much you accumulate over time. 

Most containers that I have seen for cleaning products are not even recyclable. Ew. Not cool. 

If I can, I try to get refillable cleaning products and transfer it to a glass jar. I can’t always do that, but the effort is definitely there! I always want to reiterate that I am not 100% toxic free or that I am living the clean and sustainable life perfectly. 

I’m just here to share everything that I’ve learned during my journey to cleaner living. I want to reassure you that you do not have to be perfect when you are switching to safer products or acting sustainably. 20% effort is way better than 0% effort. 

Now, how are those ingredients looking like?

My favorite resources to double check my product ingredients is and the Think Dirty app. You can download both of these apps to your phone and scan products and see whether the ingredients are clean!

Here are 8 of the most common ingredients found in your cleaning products and why they are a health concern:

1. Phthalates

Health Risks: Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts, according to a 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health. Although exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also happen through skin contact with scented soaps, which is a significant problem, warns Alicia Stanton, MD, coauthor of Hormone Harmony. Unlike the digestive system, the skin has no safeguards against toxins. Absorbed chemicals go straight to organs.

2. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Health Risks: Perc is a neurotoxin, according to the chief scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney General’s office. And the EPA classifies perc as a “possible carcinogen” as well. People who live in residential buildings where dry cleaners are located have reported dizziness, loss of coordination and other symptoms. While the EPA has ordered a phase-out of perc machines in residential buildings by 2020, California is going even further and plans to eliminate all use of perc by 2023 because of its suspected health risks. The route of exposure is most often inhalation: that telltale smell on clothes when they return from the dry cleaner, or the fumes that linger after cleaning carpets.

3. Triclosan

Health Risks: Triclosan is an aggressive antibacterial agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Explains Sutton: “The American Medical Association has found no evidence that these antimicrobials make us healthier or safer, and they’re particularly concerned because they don’t want us overusing antibacterial chemicals — that’s how microbes develop resistance, and not just to these [household antibacterials], but also to real antibiotics that we need.” Other studies have now found dangerous concentrations of triclosan in rivers and streams, where it is toxic to algae. The EPA is currently investigating whether triclosan may also disrupt endocrine (hormonal) function. It is a probable carcinogen. At press time, the agency was reviewing the safety of triclosan in consumer products.

4. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”

Health Risks: Quats are another type of antimicrobial, and thus pose the same problem as triclosan by helping breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They’re also a skin irritant; one 10-year study of contact dermatitis found quats to be one of the leading causes. According to Sutton, they’re also suspected as a culprit for respiratory disorders: “There’s evidence that even healthy people who are [exposed to quats] on a regular basis develop asthma as a result.”

5. 2-Butoxyethanol

Health Risks: 2-butoxyethanol is the key ingredient in many window cleaners and gives them their characteristic sweet smell. It belongs in the category of “glycol ethers,” a set of powerful solvents that don’t mess around. Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label. According to the EPA’s Web site, in addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Although the EPA sets a standard on 2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, Sutton warns, “If you’re cleaning at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards.”

6. Ammonia

Health Risks: Because ammonia evaporates and doesn’t leave streaks, it’s another common ingredient in commercial window cleaners. That sparkle has a price. “Ammonia is a powerful irritant,” says Donna Kasuska, chemical engineer and president of ChemConscious, Inc., a risk-management consulting company. “It’s going to affect you right away. The people who will be really affected are those who have asthma, and elderly people with lung issues and breathing problems. It’s almost always inhaled. People who get a lot of ammonia exposure, like housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma.” Ammonia can also create a poisonous gas if it’s mixed with bleach.

7. Chlorine

Health Risks: “With chlorine we have so many avenues of exposure,” says Kasuska. “You’re getting exposed through fumes and possibly through skin when you clean with it, but because it’s also in city water to get rid of bacteria, you’re also getting exposed when you take a shower or bath. The health risks from chlorine can be acute, and they can be chronic; it’s a respiratory irritant at an acute level. But the chronic effects are what people don’t realize: It may be a serious thyroid disrupter.”

8. Sodium Hydroxide

Health Risks: Otherwise known as lye, sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive: If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes, it can cause severe burns. Routes of exposure are skin contact and inhalation. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts for days.


Greenwashing is where companies will use keywords and phrases to market to consumers that they are a clean brand. You’ll see terms like, “natural, vegan, cruelty free, or biodegradable,” leading you to believe they are clean. But these companies are just using these buzzwords to get you to buy! Check out these products that are greenwashed:

My goal to help you become informed and be your own advocate. Nobody is looking out for your health more than you are.

Here are a list of some of my favorite clean cleaning products:

  • Branch Basics (Save $10 off your order with this link!)
  • Trumans
  • Blue Land
  • Seventh Generation (Can be found at retail stores)
  • Mrs. Meyers (Can be found at retail stores)
  • Method Cleaning (Can be found at retail stores)
  • Ever Spring by Target
  • Dr. Bronners

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