Chemicals in Household Cleaners

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ACAT’s Green Cleaning Service | Green Cleaning RecipesListen to the APRN story: Anchorage Non-Profit Offering Green Cleaning SolutionsWe buy household cleaners to create a healthy environment, yet cleaning products may contain harmful chemicals. These include chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer, reproductive damage, depression of the central nervous system, skin irritation, asthma, thyroid disruption, and liver and kidney damage.Cleaning product ingredients are not evaluated for safety before going to market and companies are not required to list all ingredients on their product labels. Even those products advertised as “natural,” “green,” or “organic” may contain harmful substances.Unless you know exactly what is in a product, you cannot know for sure whether it is safe or toxic.Alaska Community Action on Toxics works at the community, state, and national level to raise awareness about dangerous chemicals in cleaning supplies and to advocate for precautionary policies that will protect public health and the environment.

  • We hold Green Cleaning Parties to demonstrate safer alternatives. Please contact us if you are interested in hosting a Green Cleaning Party in your community.
  • We are working on state policy to eliminate the use of toxic industrial cleaners in Alaska’s public schools.
  • We are working to close current loopholes in federal law to require companies to test their products for safety before they go to market and to fully disclose all product ingredients.

Safer Alternatives:

Here are three steps you can take right now to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals:

Green Seal
  • Choose Non-Toxic Household Cleaners. Look for companies that state that they list all ingredients on the label and read it carefully. Avoid products containing ammonia, diethaolamine, glycol ethers, monoehtanolamine, phthalates, alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEs), nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), xylene or triclosan. Look for products that are certified by Green Seal, an independent, non-profit organization whose standards include the requirement that “the undiluted product shall not contain any ingredients that are carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins.”
Green Cleaning Supplies
  • Make Your Own Non-Toxic Cleaners. You can make safe, effective, and affordable household cleaners using basic ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, and borax soap. Download our Green Cleaning Guide and Recipe Book PDF to get started.
  • Use Methods that Safely and Effectively Remove Dust When you sweep, vacuum, or dust, you may actually increase your exposure to certain chemicals. Chemicals that are released from products over time and bind to household dust include a class of toxic flame retardant chemicals known as PBDEs found in some furniture and electronics and the plasticizer bisphenol-A (BPA). You can minimize your exposure to contaminated household dust by damp mopping and dusting and by using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

Some Ingredients to Avoid:

Avoid products that contain any of the ingredients listed below. Remember, product labels may not list all ingredients, so you may need to call the manufacturer to find out what chemicals are in the product.

  • Alkyl phenol ethoyylates (APEs) and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are surfactants found in laundry detergents, stain removers, and all-purpose cleaners. These chemicals have been found to reduce embryo survival in fish and to alter tadpole development.
  • Diethaolamine (DEA) is a skin and respoiratory toxicant and a carcinogen. It is used in a wide range of household cleaning products.
  • Glycol ethers are solvents commonly found in glass cleaners and all purpose spray cleaners. They have been associated with low birth weight in exposed mice.
  • Monoethanolamine may cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage, as well as depression of the central nervous system. Inhalation of high concentrations – when cleaning an oven for example – can cause dizziness or even coma. Monoethanolamine is found in many cleaning products, including oven cleaners, tub and tile cleaners. Laundry pre-soaks, floor strippers and carpet cleaners.
  • Phthalates are carriers of fragrance in glass cleaners, deodorizers, laundry detergents and fabric softeners. Phthalates have been linked to adverse effects on male children, reduced sperm count in adult men, and increased allergic symptoms and asthma in children.
  • Xylene is a neurotoxin that can lead to memory loss, loss of consciousness and even death in extreme exposures. It may damage liver, kidneys, and the developing fetus. It is a solvent used in some spot removers, floor polishes and ironing aids.
  • Triclosan is an antibacterial agent used mostly in personal care products, but also found in some cleaning products and dish soap. Triclosan is a skin irritant and suspected carcinogen. Lab animal studies have shown that triclosan affects reproduction, can disrupt thyroid hormone, alter development, and impair important functions at the cellular level.
  • Avoid aerosol products which may contain propane, formaldehyde (a carcinogen, neurotoxin, and central nervous system depressant), methylene (a carcinogen, neurotoxin and reproductive toxin), and nitrous oxide.

Fact Sheets on Chemicals of Concern found in Cleaning Supplies: