Common Household Cleaning Ingredients to Avoid

Green cleaning products are becoming more common, but not all cleaning products that are marketed as “eco-friendly” or “organic” are truly good for the environment or your health. According to Environmental Working Group, there are no federal safety standards that must be met and no requirement for testing data or notification before releasing a household cleaning product in the marketplace. They are assumed to be safe until proven otherwise and they do not even have to disclose all the chemicals that are present.

The words natural, non-toxic, organic, and biodegradable when used on cleaning products are not regulated either, so it’s important to be aware that products marketing themselves as green or environmentally friendly may not be any safer than other toxic products.

For example, the company called Earth Friendly Products puts the known toxins phenoxyethanol and methylisothiazolinone in their Dishmate dish soap. Seventh Generation also has benzisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone in their dishwashing soaps and all-purpose cleaner and the Planet brand has them in their laundry soap.

Methylisothiazolinone is a biocide similar in chemical structure to Agent Orange. It may be neurotoxic and has been linked to nerve damage, allergies, immune disorders, and brain cell damage. Benzisothiazolinone is another type of biocide also linked to immune system toxicity, allergies, and cancer. Phenoxyethanol is another name for ethylene glycol which is discussed in more detail below.

A good guideline to use when shopping for cleaning products, is to make sure the ones that you buy are free from the aforementioned and following ingredients, all of which are known toxins or have known negative impacts on the environment.

Ethylene glycol. Found in many sprayable surface cleaners, ethylene glycol has been shown to damage red blood cells. People with prolonged exposure to this substance often develop anemia, and even in small doses, it can lead to feelings of fatigue. Ethylene glycol aerosolizes easily, so you continue breathing it in for a long time after you spray. It is also known as 2-butoxyethanol.

Dye. Avoid any cleaning product that lists dye as an ingredient. This term is unregulated, so “dye” may refer to any number of chemicals, some of which are toxic.

Ethanolamines. Including monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA). Studies suggest that ethanolamines may contribute to the development of asthma, especially in children. They also cause allergic reactions in some pets, and they build up in the water supply after you wash them down the drain. Some types of ethanolamines are known carcinogens.

Pine oil. This may sound like a safe and natural ingredient, but pine oil can actually react to form formaldehyde if it’s exposed to high levels of ozone. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and since it’s hard to know when there are high levels of ozone in the atmosphere, it’s best to just avoid pine oil entirely.

Alkylphenol Ethoxylates. Once applied to your surfaces, these chemicals break down into alkylphenols, which are known to cause hormonal imbalances in humans and animals. They accumulate in the water supply and cause harm to aquatic ecosystems.

Many of these toxins are banned or strictly monitored in other countries like Canada and the European Union but still widely used in the United States.

The ingredients listed above are some of the most toxic, so if you avoid them, you’ll be doing yourself, your family, and the environment a huge favor. However, there are many others to be on the lookout for as well like pthalates, sodium hydroxide, perchloroethylene, triclosan, quarternary ammonium compounds, and chlorine to name a few. The key to finding truly green cleaning products is reading the label carefully. However, many of these products have more than one name and some are not required to be listed, so it can be difficult to know what you’re getting even when your vigilant.

Like any other toxin, many chemicals in household cleaning products can disrupt hormones, neurotransmitters in the brain, and the autonomic nervous system, and impair immunity, which can have profound consequences on one’s mental, physical and spiritual health, by contributing to conditions like adrenal fatigue/chronic fatigue, chemical sensitivities, and other autonomic nervous system disorders; depression, anxiety, paranoia, and obsessive compulsive disorders; obesity; cancer; autoimmune disorders and more. Your home should be kept free of these substances to achieve optimal health.

When in doubt, reach for peroxide or baking soda as all-purpose cleaners. They’re all-natural, affordable, safe, and capable of tackling even the toughest cleaning tasks. Lemon and vinegar are other options. There really is no need for chemical use or spending a lot of money on a manufactured cleaning product. A clean house does not have any scent.


Environmental Working Group Decoding the Labels

EWG Cleaning Supplies: Secret Ingredients, Hidden Hazards


Du S, McLaughlin B, Pal S, Aizenman E. J Neurosci. In vitro neurotoxicity of methylisothiazolinone, a commonly used industrial and household biocide, proceeds via a zinc and extracellular signal-regulated kinase mitogen-activated protein kinase-dependent pathway. 2002 Sep 1;22(17):7408-16

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