Guide to Healthy Household Cleaning Supplies
Did you know that there are no federal regulation of chemicals in household products?! That means that there are no safety standards and no testing data required before selling the product to consumers like you! Chronic exposure to chemicals contributes to the body’s toxic burden, or the number of chemicals stored in our tissues at a given time. That means that all of the chemicals in our environment influence our health, often contributing to chronic disease. While there are numerous toxins that we are exposed to, we do have options to reduce our toxic exposure!
Toxic Ingredients in Cleaning Products
Found in: most fragranced household products like air fresheners, dish soap
Labeled as: ‘fragrance’
*companies don’t have to disclose phthalates
Health Implications: Endocrine, reduced sperm count, asthma, migraines
2. Perchloroethylene (PERC)
Found In: Carpet & upholstery cleaner, spot remover, dry-cleaning solution
Health Implications: Neurotoxin, carcinogen,
Found In: Fabric softener (solution and sheets), ‘antibacterial’ cleaners
Health Implications: Promote growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria, endocrine, carcinogen
4. Quartenary Ammonium Compouds (QUATS)
Found In: Fabric Softener (solution and sheets), ‘antibacterial’ cleaners
Health Implications: Promote growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria, skin irritant, asthma
Found In: Window, kitchen and all purpose cleaners
Labeled As: Labeling is not required
Health Implications: throat irritation, narcosis, pulmonary edema, liver and kidney damage
Found In: Polishing agents ad glass cleaner
Health Implications: Asthma, chronic bronchitis (with chronic exposure)
Found In: Toilet bowl cleaner, mildew remover, tap water, laundry whitener
Health Implications: respiratory irritant, thyroid disruption
8. Sodium Hydroxide
Found In: Oven cleaner, drain declogger
Labeled as: also known as lye
Health Implications: Skin burns, throat irritation
Non-Toxic Cleaning Products
Did you know that the average American is exposed to over 100 toxic chemicals from home and personal care products? Choose these healthier products:
These are just some examples of healthy cleaning supplies that are available for purchase. As a general rule, products with Green Seal and EcoLogo meet strict health and environmental standards and are therefore great certifications to look for in your home cleaning supplies.
Seventh Generation Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Emerald and Cypress & Fir
Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap
The Honest Co. honest auto dishwasher gel, free & clear
Green Shield Organic Glass Cleaner
Martha Stewart Clean Wood Floor Cleaner
Cleaning Supplies You Thought Were Healthy, but AREN’T!
Who knew that many cleaning products marketed as “natural” or “green” contain toxic chemicals? It is quite common in the cleaning product industry to hide ingredient information from consumers. Here are some examples of products that appear healthy but really are not!
1. Green Works Naturally Derived All-Purpose Cleaner – poor ingredient disclosure, contains colors, fragrances, and preservatives known to cause cancer, asthma and respiratory concerns, and skin allergies.
2. Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner – poor ingredient disclosure, contains carcinogenic chemicals and other compounds known to harm respiratory health, skin health, reproductive and developmental health, and chemicals that harm the environment.
3. Sun and Earth All Purpose Cleaner – poor ingredient disclosure, contains carcinogenic chemicals and other compounds known to harm respiratory health, skin health, reproductive and developmental health, and chemicals that harm the environment.
4. Trader-Joe’s Next to Godliness Multi-Purpose Cleaner, Cedarwood and Sage – poor ingredient disclosure, contains carcinogenic chemicals and other compounds known to harm respiratory health, skin health, and chemicals that harm the environment.
5. Seventh Generation Brand – The Seventh Generation brand gets good scores overall in EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, but there are exceptions. A few products score poorly because they contain the preservative methylisothiazolinone and others because the ingredients include the cleaning agent sodium borate. Methylisothiazolinone is toxic in the environment and may cause allergic reactions. Sodium borate is listed as an endocrine disruptor in the European Union.
DIY: Recipes for Non-Toxic Cleaning Products
One way to reduce your toxic exposure is to start making your own household cleaning supplies out of safe yet effective ingredients!
ALL PURPOSE CLEANING SPRAY:
1 tablespoons borax
1 tablespoon washing soda
1 teaspoon dishwashing soap
1 cup vinegar
4 cups hot water
25-30 drops essential oil
Whisk all ingredients well in large bowl, then pour into spray bottle. Spray on, then wipe surface clean with a damp cloth. Can be used to clean and disinfect almost any surface!
1 ½ cups vinegar
1 ½ cup water
5-10 drops essential oil (optional)
Mix ingredients in spray bottle. Spray on glass & use squeegee, crumpled newspaper. (Tip: Use newspapers that are at least 2 weeks old to avoid black fingers!), or a lint-free rag to get a streak-free shine. Also works well to shine chrome and countertops after you’ve disinfected them.
1 cup vinegar
½ cup baking soda
8-10 cups hot water
1 tablespoon borax
1 tablespoon washing soda
30 drops essential oil (optional)
Mix vinegar & baking soda together in bucket; add hot water, Borax, washing soda, & essential oil and mix until all powder is dissolved. Use mop or sponge to wipe down floor; wipe dry with clean dry towel.
¾ cup olive oil
Juice from ¼ lemon
1 tablespoon vinegar
3-4 drops lemon essential oil (optional)
Dampen rag & squeeze out excess water. Dip damp rag into furniture polish, then wipe on surface of furniture. Buff off with an old towel. Can also be used to polish stainless steel!
1 bar soap (e.g. Dr. Bronner’s pure-castile)
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
Place bar of soap in a large microwave safe bowl. Heat in the microwave for 2 minutes, until soap turns to foam. Quickly stir foam until it becomes small soap chips, then mix well with borax and washing powder. Allow to cool completely, then store in airtight container. Use 1-2 tablespoons per load. (This detergent works best in warm or hot water; for cold water washing you may want to first dissolve in ¼ cup of hot water.)
¾ c. baking soda
Juice from ½ lemon (about ¼ c.)
3 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons liquid dishwashing soap
½ c. vinegar
10 drops essential oil (optional)
Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl to make a paste; use a scrub brush or sponge to apply to tub, shower walls, & sinks. (Be sure to test a small area to make sure paste does not scuff tub surface; if so, eliminate the salt from the mixture!) Rinse well w/ water and a wet rag, then dry w/ a clean rag or old towel.
For a more list of healthy products, more information about toxic ingredients, and more DIY recipes, visit ewg.org.
Sholl, Jessie. “8 Hidden Toxins: What’s Lurking in Your Cleaning Products”. Experience Life. Lifetime Fitness. October, 2011. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
“Decoding the Labels”. Environmental Working Group. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
*I’d like to acknowledge my collegues Casey, Maria and Jenna for assisting me with gathering this information.