Avoiding Toxic Household Cleaners

Common toxic chemicals are making their way into your home through household cleaning products. Due to an increasing number of studies, experts agree that standard household cleaners pose serious health and environmental risks. Household Cleaners

Unfortunately, due to regulatory standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as well as trade secret laws, the public is unaware of these hazards. According to the US National Research Council, “no toxic information is available for more than 80% of the chemicals in everyday-use products. Less than 20% have been tested for acute effects and less than 10% have been tested for chronic, reproductive or mutagentic effects.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization have concluded that 80% of all cancers are attributed to environmental rather than genetic factors, including exposure to carcinogenic chemicals (found in many household cleaners).

To learn more about the specific toxins found in household cleaners, read further.

Commonly Used Dangerous Chemicals in Household Cleaners

Formaldehyde: A recognized carcinogen. Found in furniture polishers, car cleaners, disinfectants, rug upholstery cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners.

Ethylbenzene: A recognized carcinogen. Found in bathroom tub and tile cleaners, floor and funiture polish, laundry starch preparations, and rug upholstery cleaners.

Petroleum Distillates (Petrochemicals): Suspected as a neurotoxicant, cardiovascular and blood toxicant. Found in furniture polish and cleaners, lubricating oils, pet flea and tick products and collars, petroleum products, floor and furniture polish, dishwasher cleaners, aerosol sprays, and laundry detergents.

Chlorine: A recognized carcinogen. Found in dishwashing detergent, laundry detergent, kitchen, and all-purpose cleaners. * Note: Any substances containing cholorine, when mixed with ammonia, toilet bowl cleaners, or vinegar will produce deadly toxic fumes (chloramines or chlorine gas).

Benzene: Recognized as a carcinogen (leukemia), developmental toxicant, and reproductive toxiant. Found in optical brighteners (surface cleaners, laundry and dishwashing detergents, surface polishers), general performance sealants (PVAC, Butyl, vinyl, etc.), laundry starch preparations, lubricating oils, scatter rugs, bathmats, and bath sets.

Butyl Cellosolve: Classified as a neurotoxin. Found in window cleaners and other all-purpose cleaning products.

Phenol: Suspected as a developmental toxicant, neurotoxicant, blood toxicant. Found in disinfectants, antibacterial, antiseptics, hard surface cleaners, paint and varnish removers, and synthetic resin and rubber adhesives.

Biggest Offenders of These Chemicals

Dishwashing Detergents: When city water (which contains chlorine, fluoride, and CBPs) combines with dishwashing detergents, toxic vapors emanate through your home at a rate of about 6 liters of air per minute. You also ingest residues of the product every time you eat off your dishes.

Oven Cleaners: Researchers have determined these products to be one of the most toxic products people use. The dangerous chemicals remain in your oven after cleaning, and then these residues are released into your indoor air and food upon cooking.

Laundry Detergents: These products contain nearly every chemical in the harmful list above. These detergents leave behind residues on your clothes and linens which absorb directly into your body. They also contain optical brighteners to make the fabrics seem brighter or whiter. However, the brighteners are derived from benzene, which as been found to cause leukemia, low birth weights, bone marrow damage, suppressed immune system, irregular menses, and anemia.

Floor & Furniture Polishes: These polishes are a host to a variety of toxins, including petroleum distillates (highly flammable), and have been known to cause liver cancer. They also contain optical brighteners, similar to those found in laundry detergents.

Air Fresheners: Beware of anything with synthetic fragrances, found in both cleaning supplies and air fresheners. 84% of ingredients used in fragrances have never been tested for human toxicity, or have only minimal testing. These chemicals are linked to neurological damage, multiple chemical sensitivity, allergic reactions, and increased immune response.

Hard Surface Cleaners (Especially Kitchen Cleaners): These cleaners work well because they use petroleum surfactants to break down the grease. However, they leave behind toxins that make their way into the foods we eat, which also break down your body tissues once injested.

Antibacterial Cleaners and Soaps: Beware of any “antibacterial” products. They not only kill the bad bacteria, but also many of the good bacteria that fight off infections. Since they are designed to kill microbes, antibacterial products contain dangerous chemicals like triclosan, which is absorbed through the skin and can lead to liver damage.

Dry Cleaning: 95% of dry cleaning facilities use the toxic chemical perchloroethylene (perc) – a known carcinogen. Your dry-cleaned clothes continue to off-gas perc even after you bring your dry cleaning home, affecting you and your family.

Carpet & Upholstery Cleaners: Carpet cleaners also contain perc and other extremely powerful (and thus harmful) chemicals designed to eliminate stains.

Toilet Bowl Cleaners: Two of the ingredients in toilet bowl cleaners is hydrochloric acid and hypochlorite bleach, both corrosive irritants that can cause skin, eye, kidney and respiratory damage. If these come in contact with other chemicals, fatal chlorine fumes could form.


Here are a few sources that we recommend to find clean, green, and safe household cleaners for your home.

  1. Click here to watch a short video on how we clean our home using just 5-6 safe ingredients.
  2. Norwex -The Norwex Microfiber System allows you to clean and disinfect all surfaces of your house with nothing more than a microfiber cloth and water. Great way to save money.
  3. Ecover and Seventh Generation are both safer alternatives for cleaning products and can be found on Amazon.
  4. Your entire house can be cleaned with some simple common household products, like vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda.

Interested in eliminating more toxins from your life?  Read about Toxic Beauty Products.

Helping You Take Control of Your Health,
Dr. Nick Zyrowski

References For This Page Include:

  1. The Household Toxins Institute. Unanswered Questions: The Health and Environmental Hazards Hidden in Traditional Household Cleaning Products. Burlington, Vermont. Jan 2003.
  2. Sandra Steingraber, Addison-Wesley. Living Downstream. 1997, pg. 61. As stated from the Household Toxin Institute.
  3. Mississippi State University Extension Service. Coordinated Access to the Research and Extension System. Indoor Air Pollution.
  4. David Steinman & R. Michael Winser. Living Healthy in a Toxic World. Perigee Books, pg. 12-13. 1996.
  5. www.scorecard.org
  6. Seventh Generation. The Non-Toxic Times. March 2000.
  7. J. Raloff. How Dishwashers Pollute the Indoor Air”. Science News. July 1999.
  8. Linda Winholtz and Bill Angell. Washing Machines and Dishwashers – Sources of Indoor Air Pollution? University of Minnesota, Design, Health, and Apparel Packet. Dec 1998.
  9. Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of Benzene (CAS No. 71-43-2) in F344/N Rats and B6C3F1 Mice (Gavage Studies). National Toxicology Program. Oct 2004.
  10. The Household Toxins Institute. Traditional Household Cleaning Products. Burlington, Vermont. Jan 2003.
  11. Perc – A Stain on the Drycleaning Industry. Eco-Logical. Feb 2004.