What are quaternary ammonium compounds or “quats”?Quaternary ammonium compounds or “quats” are antimicrobial chemicals that are used in a variety of different products ranging from spermicidal jellies, to dishwashing liquids, hand soaps, air fresheners and disinfectants. They make clothes feel softer after being washed so they’re also a common ingredient in fabric softeners. There are multiple health reasons to avoid using quat-based products.
What are quats in?Because they are effective germ-killers that are inexpensive to produce, quats can be found in a wide range of products that we use in our homes every day, including shampoos, toilet cleaners, hand soap, shaving cream, baby wipes, body wash, sunscreens, moisturizers, disinfectant sprays, liquid fabric softeners, and anti-cling dryer sheets.
How to tell if a product has quatsThe quats category contains several different commonly used ingredients, and some of the most common are benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides, alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chloride, didecyldimethylammonium chloride, dioctyldimethylammonium chloride, distearyldimonium chloride, variants of hydroxyethyl methyl ammonium methyl sulfate, diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride, and are often noted as “biodegradable fabric softening agents” or “catatonic surfactants”.
Risks associated with quatsQuats are formaldehyde releasing toxic chemicals that have been associated with multiple health risks including:
- Allergies & irritation (skin, eye, lung)
- Contact dermatitis – Studies estimate that between 13% and 34% of contact dermatitis cases may be linked to quats.
- Asthma- triggering it in those who already have asthma and new onset in people with no prior asthma
- Reproductive and developmental toxicity
- Injuries: eye and mucous membrane injuries from splashes or contact with mists and oral and gastrointestinal injuries from swallowing solutions containing quats
- Promoting “super bugs“. Concerns about quarternary ammonium compounds leading to resistant bacteria stem from how these ingredients interact with bacterial cell membranes.