When browsing the cleaning supplies aisle, you might look for the best stain remover or cleaner with a nice scent. You may even reach for the bottles that advertise as “green” or “organic,” but those products could be putting on a façade. Many of your household cleaning products may be harboring dozens of harmful chemicals that have the potential to expose you and your family to some serious health risks.
Jessie Sholl from Experience Life described an almost deadly horror story that happened to a woman named Beth Greer. Greer was known for living a healthy lifestyle; she watched her weight, ate mostly organic food, and meditated regularly. She went to the chiropractor after experiencing a pain in her shoulder, which was simply diagnosed as a herniated disk. After visiting her chiropractor three more times, Greer realized the shooting pain was spreading down her arm and into her fingers.
Greer discovered that she had a tennis-ball-size tumor in her chest. The mass was benign but it was located in a nerve-packed area so doctors suggested it be removed as soon as possible to prevent losing all feeling in her hand. Greer decided that instead of surgery she would see if she could make a few lifestyle changes to heal herself. After reading that tumors usually grow in response to irritation and inflammation, Greer eliminated all environmental toxins from her house that might have been contributing to her tumor’s growth. After throwing out all of her toxic products and eating only whole and unprocessed foods, Greer was overjoyed to learn that after 9 months her tumor was completely gone. She felt so strongly about the healing powers of removing toxins from her life that she went on to write Super Natural Home, a guide to toxin-free living.
Many toxic chemicals lurk in every home. We are exposed to them when cleaning our ovens or washing our hair. Sholl explained, “manufacturers argue that in small amounts these toxic ingredients aren’t likely to be a problem, but when we’re exposed to them routinely, and in combinations that haven’t been studied, it’s impossible to accurately gauge the risks.” It’s annoying enough to get a headache every time you use hair spray or accidentally burn yourself from chemical exposure, but repeated use can cause more serious issues and will add to the body’s “toxic burden,” or the number of chemicals stored in tissues at a given time.
There are many issues and debates regarding how our everyday products are tested and if they are affecting our environment. Some labels pride themselves for not testing their products on animals but others continue to do so even with backlash from animal awareness campaigns. Cruelty Free International claims that countless animals such as rabbits, hamsters, rats, and mice are “injected, gassed, force-fed and killed to test the ingredients that go into everyday household products such as washing liquid, air fresheners and dishwasher tablets.” Some animals are even being affected after the product has been sold, used, and discarded. According to Organic Consumers, although many ingredients in chemical cleaners break down into harmless substances during use or soon afterward, other ingredients do not, which threatens water quality as well as fish and other aquatic wildlife. A large reason for this is because of “surface active agents,” or chemicals that make detergents effective. When emitted into municipal waste water, these chemicals break down and do not readily biodegrade into soil and water. They have been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen and their presence in water may be harming the reproduction and survival of salmon and other fish.
It’s almost impossible to completely escape exposure to these every day chemicals. To decrease your chances of developing a life threatening condition and to help out our wildlife, you should be knowledgeable about what chemicals exist in your home and choose your products wisely. Here is a list of 7 toxic chemicals found in every day cleaning products along with tips for healthier alternatives:
Sodium Hydroxide (Also Known as Lye)
Although it is classed as a poison to humans and animals, Sodium Hydroxide is typically found in an array of Clorox products, carpet cleaner, drain cleaner, and oven cleaners among other products. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, this chemical has proven to be extremely corrosive. If ingested or contact is made between Sodium Hydroxide and your skin or eyes, it could cause severe burns, blistering, permanent eye damage, and even death.
Instead of using this chemical to clean your ovens or drains, baking soda and vinegar has been known to work wonders. A perfect alternative to toxic Clorox wipes is Wireless Wipes. This wipe is fast drying, non-streaking and has germ-fighting ingredients perfect for cleaning all of your surfaces.
You might have thought that Chlorine only exists in pool water but this chemical also resides in toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, and in your own tap water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chlorine can cause blurred vision, burning sensations in the nose, throat, and eyes, tightness in your chest, difficulty breathing, fluid in the lungs, wheezing, and more. Like Sodium Hydroxide, baking soda is a good alternative to chlorine for cleaning toilet bowls and for whitening clothes. You can also install water filters in your house to reduce chlorine intake from your tap water. There are many chlorine alternatives for pool owners such as salt water and non-chlorine shock.
Ammonia is typically found in polishing agents for bathroom fixtures and jewelry. It can also be found in glass cleaner like Windex. According to the New York State Department of Health, Ammonia exposure can result from fumes in the air as well as fertilizers in soil. “When Ammonia enters the body as a result of breathing, swallowing, or skin contact, it reacts with water to produce ammonium hydroxide. This chemical is very corrosive and damages cells in the body on contact.” Lori Dennis, author of Green Interior Design, suggests that Vodka is a good alternative to Ammonia and will “produce a reflective shine on any metal or mirrored surface.” Again, a non-toxic wipe like Wireless Wipes is another healthy alternative to clean away germs while being streak free on all surfaces.
The Australian Government’s Department of Health states, “2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) is used in cleaning products including surface cleaners, floor strippers, window cleaners, spot cleaners, rust removers and ink and resin removers.” Anyone can be exposed to 2-BE from skin exposure, ingesting, or breathing its spray or vapor. Signs of poisoning from this chemical can include headaches, irritation to the eyes and nose, nausea, tiredness, and repeated exposure can cause blood disorders. Just like the previous chemicals, baking soda and vinegar are known for cleaning various surfaces and are perfect for stain removal.
Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “Quats”
According to Bubble & Bee Organic, Quats are commonly in hair conditioners, shampoos, lotions, and fabric softeners. They are the reason your hair is silky and why your sheets are extra comfy. Unfortunately, this chemical is known to cause skin and respiratory irritation, can interfere with hormone function within the body, and is toxic to aquatic life when washed downstream.
For both hair conditioning and fabric softening, apple cider vinegar is perfect for reducing static and removing soap residue. According to Love Live Health, “apple cider vinegar is one of the best-known alternatives to commercial conditioner. The acid in the vinegar smoothes the cuticle of your hair, leaving it softer and easier to detangle.”
The Buffalo News reported a long list of various “antibacterial” soaps, dental care products, cosmetics, deodorants, shave gels, and other household products that contain Triclosan. Mighty Nest claims that this chemical can be linked to an abnormal endocrine system/thyroid hormone signaling, weakening of the immune system, uncontrolled cell growth, and more effects on human health. To keep clean without the use of products containing Triclosan, use plant-based solutions like vinegar, lemon, and essential oil or an alcohol-based product like Wireless Wipes.
Perchloroethylene or “Perc”
Perchloroethylene or “Perc” is often used for dry cleaning. This chemical is also used in products like fabric softeners, adhesives, spot removers, shoe polish, and wood cleaners. According to Tox Town, short-term exposure to Perc can affect the central nervous system and may cause unconsciousness or even death. Perchloroethylene is listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" in the Thirteenth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program because “long-term exposure to Perchloroethylene can cause leukemia and cancer of the skin, colon, lung, larynx, bladder, and urogenital tract.”
A healthy alternative to this scary chemical is bringing your clothes to a “wet cleaner,” which uses water-based technology instead of chemical solvents. For a safer spot remover or wood cleaner, keep your eyes open in the store for a nontoxic brand or try rubbing Castile soap directly on stains before washing.
You can easily make the switch from dangerous toxins to more natural household cleaning supplies. Now that you have learned about possible consequences that may occur after using toxic products such as respiratory issues, tumors, and cancer, make the wise choice to rid your house of the chemicals you have been exposing yourself to for years.
Images via: good house keeping, wireless wipes, the oz blog, american home shield, immaculate janitorial service, wikipedia, amazon, occupy.com, pet connection, and lalizas imo signs.