What you need to know to avoid unsafe cleaning products
Keeping a clean house is healthy for you and your family. However, some chemicals in the cleaning products can be harmful not only to you and your family but can do irreversible damage to the environment. As we clean, we may inhale those chemicals, absorb them through our skin, or make contact with mucous membranes. And when we finished, most people will pour their left-over product down the drain where they end up in our waterways and threaten aquatic life.
Next time you’re in the cleaning supplies aisle in your local supermarket you may notice terms like, natural, environmentally safe, eco-friendly, organic, and bio-based. These words are great selling points, but they can also be misleading. Take a closer look at the labels. There are literally hundreds of ingredients with multi-syllabic names that go into a wide range of cleaning products on the market. Fortunately, you don’t need a Ph.D. in chemistry to make an informed decision. Here are some of the things to look out for.
EPA Safer Choice Logo
One of the easiest ways to know if a product is safe is if it carries the EPA Safer Choice logo. Products that carry the Safer Choice logo has been evaluated through a rigorous scientific process and has determined (as they were presented) to contain only the safest ingredients without sacrificing quality or performance. The criteria are based on EPA expertise in evaluating the physical and toxicological properties of a wide range of chemicals used in cleaning products.
Biodegradable simply means that an item that can break down and return to nature without causing harm. This happens through chemical synthesis or fermentation by microorganisms. For products or materials to qualify as biodegradable, they must completely break down and decompose into natural elements within a short time after disposal. Many non-biodegradable chemicals have been shown to cause harm to plants and wildlife, especially aquatic life. Look for products that have “biodegradable” on the label.
Fragrance is one of the world’s top five allergens. However, fragrances used in commercially available products are considered trade secrets, manufacturers are not required to specify the ingredients. Fragrances added to many cleaners have been found to cause adverse effects such as headaches, sneezing, respiratory irritation, and watery eyes. If you or someone in your family have allergies, dermatitis, or respiratory sensitivity, it is best to choose products with little or no fragrance.
Ingredients you should avoid
A cleaning product that doesn’t carry the Safer Choice logo doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t safe. It just means that you should take a closer look at the ingredients on the label to determine if they can potentially cause harm to you, your family, or the environment. The list of harmful components is quite long, but here are some of the most common ingredients that you should try to avoid and why:
Bleach: The active ingredient in bleach is “sodium hypochlorite” and may go by other names like, “Chlorine Bleach.” It is one of the most common ingredients used in household cleaning products, and it’s one of the most harmful. About 40% of reported injuries were caused by exposure to household bleach. Exposure has been determined to cause nausea, shortness of breath, chest pains, irritation to the respiratory tract, among other detrimental health effects. Individuals with asthma or other breathing problems are especially susceptible. What makes matters worse is that when bleach is mixed with other cleaning products, a chemical reaction takes place that can result in dangerous toxic fumes.
Ammonia: Ammonia has a powerful ordor that most people are familiar with, so it’s not too difficult to know if you’re using a product that contains ammonia. However, even low levels of ammonia in the air may cause coughing and nose and throat irritation, particularly for those with asthma and other sensitive individuals. While not as dangerous to the environment at low levels, ammonia is a corrosive substance, which can cause burns if it comes in contact with the skin or eyes. Ammonia vapor is also flammable, which poses additional risks if not stored correctly.
Perchloroethylene: A colorless liquid that is also known as PERC, PCE, or Tetrachloroethylene. It is primarily used in dry cleaning, spot removers, carpet cleaners, and degreasers. Studies have found that it is associated with several types of cancer, including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma. It may also cause adverse effects in the kidney, liver, immune system and hematologic system, and on development and reproduction.
Phosphates: Phosphates, or Sodium Tripolyphosphate to be more precise, has been a common ingredient in cleaning products to improve their effectiveness since the 1950s. For many years it was referred to as an all-purpose chemical in the industry. However, over the last few decades, it’s effects on the environment has become apparent. Although they have low toxicity, high concentrations cause plants, such as algae, to overgrow, which prevents light and oxygen from getting into the water, which has lead to the destruction local ecosystems—a significant reason why many states have passed laws regulating or banning phosphates from being used in household cleaners.
Alcohol: Alcohol or isopropyl alcohol is a cheap and effective solvent for cleaning and disinfecting, which is why it’s a common ingredient in many cleaning products. Unfortunately, Alcohol is considered to be a toxic substance to humans and known to easily absorb through the skin. Inhaling the fumes from isopropyl alcohol can cause headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and even unconsciousness. It is also one of the most flammable ingredients used in cleaning products making it extremely dangerous if not stored properly.
If you find that you already have some of these products under your sink, here’s some helpful information to make sure you and your family are safe.
- Read the labels carefully before use and keep all cleaning products in their original packaging.
- Make sure all cleaning products are sealed tight and stored in cabinets with child-resistant locks where young children are present.
- Poison control hotline number: 800-222-1222
As the manufacture of CLR, we are proud to be an EPA Safer Choice partner-of-the-year for four straight years. Many of our products are part of the EPA/Safer Choice Program, including:
CLR® CALCIUM, LIME, & RUST REMOVER A powerful formula that quickly and easily dissolves and removes tough calcium and lime deposits as well as surface rust stains.
CLR® BRILLIANT BATH CLR Brilliant Bath is a multipurpose and multi-surface cleaner to quickly cut through dirt, calcium, lime, hard water deposits and soap scum.
CLR® CLEAR PIPES & DRAINS CLR Clear Pipes & Drains dissolves sources of clogs in drains to keep them running smoothly.
CLR® MOLD & MILDEW CLEAR CLR Mold & Mildew Clear can quickly remove tough surface mold and mildew stains on a wide variety of surfaces.
CLR® OUTDOOR FURNITURE CLEANER CLR Outdoor Furniture Cleaner is specially formulated to remove outdoor dirt and grime quickly and easily from a wide variety of outdoor surfaces.
CLR® HEALTHY SEPTIC SYSTEM CLR Healthy Septic System is the ONLY septic system treatment to be partnered with the EPA’s Safer Choice Program.
CLR® STAIN-FREE CARPET, FLOOR & FABRIC A fast-acting and versatile carpet, fabric, and floor stubborn stain remover built to handle the toughest jobs, including spills from wine, blood, mud, urine, vomit, and more.