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 cleaning products can be harmful not only to you and your family but can also damage the environment. As we clean, we may inhale those chemicals and absorb them through our skin. And when finished, most people will pour their leftover product down the drain which can end up in our waterways and threaten aquatic life.

There are 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 when choosing safer cleaning products.

EPA Safer Choice Logo

One of the easiest ways to know if a product is a safer choice is if it carries the EPA Safer Choice logo. Products that carry the Safer Choice logo have been evaluated through a rigorous scientific process and were determined 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.


USDA Certified Biobased

This label assures a consumer that the product contains a verified amount of renewable biological ingredients (referred to as biobased content). Biobased Products are derived from raw materials such as plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials. Biobased products generally provide an alternative to conventional petroleum derived products, thereby helping us increase our use of renewable resources while decreasing our use of non-renewable resources, such as petroleum.  


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, pets 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 odor 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, its effects on the environment have 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 led to the destruction of 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 cleaning products with these ingredients 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 manufacturer of CLR Brands, we are proud to be an EPA Safer Choice partner-of-the-year since 2015. 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 is a versatile foaming cleaner to quickly cut through the toughest dirt, hardwater deposits and other buildups in your bathroom.

CLR® CLEAR PIPES & DRAINS dissolves sources of clogs in drains to keep them running smoothly. 

CLR® MOLD & MILDEW CLEAR is a bleach free tough surface mold and mildew stain remover that works on a wide variety of surfaces.

CLR® OUTDOOR FURNITURE CLEANER Effective product to remove outdoor dirt and grime quickly and easily from a wide variety of outdoor surfaces with UV protectants to shield outdoor furniture from fading and discoloration.

CLR® HEALTHY SEPTIC SYSTEM  Septic treatment to break down solid organic waste that can build up in your septic tanks, 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.

CLR® EVERYDAY CLEAN A tough multi-purpose cleaner with gentle ingredients to fight everyday dirt and grime around your entire home.