Non Toxic Cleaning:
How to Choose Natural Cleaning Products Without Toxic Chemicals
Cabinet safety locks are one of the first things the parent of a newly walking toddler reaches for. Those and the ever-critical toilet safety locks! As you know, there is good reason to keep that cabinet full of cleaning hazmats under the kitchen sink locked up. Cleaning products are FULL of dangerous chemicals, and we don’t just mean bleach and ammonia. You might be surprised to learn how much manufacturers are allowed to hide about the dangers their products pose. Even so-called natural cleaning products can contain toxic chemicals. Here are the top myths parents should know about the ingredients hiding in their cleaning products:
Myth: Regulations ensure that the chemicals you use in your home are safe.
Fact: Out of some 62,000 chemicals approved for use in the US, only about 300 have actually been tested for safety.
Myth: Ingredient lists have to disclose what’s in the product.
Fact: Cleaning product manufacturers aren’t required to show their full ingredient lists on their labels.
Myth: Natural cleaning products have no toxic chemicals.
Fact: There are no federal standards dictating criteria for which products can be labeled as “natural”. Even “natural” cleaning products frequently contain chemicals linked to hormone disruption, organ and neurotoxicity, respiratory & skin irritants and allergens.
These facts make it very hard to ensure the cleaning products you’re buying are family-friendly, but that’s why we’re here to help with the top 6 chemicals to avoid.
Cleaning Products: The Top 8 Ingredients to Avoid
1. Fragrances: Manufacturers have tried to train us that clean has a smell. Maybe that smell is lavender, lemon, pink grapefruit, white grapefruit or any other color of innocent sounding fruit, but trust us, you should avoid it. Fragrances don’t add anything to the efficacy of a cleaning product, and instead introduce potentially significant health risks. Fragrances earn the #1 spot on our ingredients to avoid. Here is why:
- Fragrance chemicals can pass through the skin and enter the blood stream. They are classified as carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, skin and respiratory irritants.
- The fragrance industry is self-regulated. Safety testing does not have to precede product sales, and fragrance cocktails don’t require reviews by regulatory agencies.
- Fragrances are considered trade secrets, so that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the potentially hundreds of ingredients hiding behind the one word “fragrance”.
Don’t buy a cleaning product if you see the words “fragrance” on the label. That means step away from the air fresheners too! They just attempt to pollute away odors with potentially toxic chemicals. And don’t be tricked by the phrase “fragrance-free” or “unscented”. You also have to check the ingredient list, because sometimes companies use a masking fragrance to cover the chemical smell of their product. Also watch out for natural cleaning products with natural or botanical fragrances, because there is no standard criteria for what these words mean.
2. Phthalates: Studies have shown that more than 75% of products with fragrances contain these nasty endocrine disruptors, but you won’t find them listed on labels. One glance at the health risks of phthalates will probably cause you to go fragrance-free right away. The Centers for Disease Control reported that phthalates can be found in the blood of most Americans, and the greatest quantities are in women.
3. Quaternary ammonium compounds (Quats): These compounds could easily have come first on this watch-out list, but unlike fragrances and phthalates, these are typically listed on ingredient labels. Quats are extremely common in disinfectants, and they are associated with allergies, asthma, fertility issues & birth defects. Almost half the disinfectants on the EPA’s List N, the disinfectants approved for use against Covid-19, contain quats or bleach. The California Department of Public Health issued COVID-19 guidance for schools, specifically guiding schools to avoid the use of disinfectant products that contain asthma-causing chemicals, including quats. As with bleach, the CDC recommends that quat-based disinfectants not be used around people with asthma or allergies, which is 40% of children and 30% of adults in the US. Quats could be listed under multiple different names on labels. For a list of those check here, or better yet stick to a disinfectant that contains no harmful ingredients.
4. Bleach (Sodium Hypochlorite): Studies have shown that exposure to cleaning products like bleach can be as damaging to our lungs as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. And that’s on adults! Imagine the impact on children with their still-developing respiratory systems! Bleach can cause asthma in people who don’t already have it, in addition to triggering attacks in people who have already been diagnosed with asthma. The long term use of bleach, along with with other disinfectants, has also been linked to a significantly higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
5. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES): Sodium lauryl sulfate has been linked to skin & eye irritation, organ toxicity, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption & ecotoxicology. Despite this, they are still common in so-called natural cleaning products. Sodium laureate sulfate is linked with skin & eye irritation. A big concern with both of these is their contamination with the carcinogenic by-product called 1,4 dioxane. Nixing surfactants like SLS & SLES can go a long way in your quest to find cleaning products you can feel good about using around your kids.
6. Ethanolamine compounds (DEA, MEA, TEA): These chemicals are commonly used emulsifiers, fragrance additives & pH adjusters. They are associated with hormone disruption, cancer and organ toxicity.
7. Methylsothiazolinone (MIT) & Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT): These preservatives are extremely common in “natural” cleaning products even though they are linked with inhalation toxicity, dangerous allergic reactions and possible neuro toxicity. Again because cleaning product manufacturers aren’t required to list all their ingredients, it’s hard to know what products they are in. Our advice is to look for cleaning products that say they are preservative-free or MIT free or CMIT free.
8. Dyes that make cleaning products look innocently blue, green, yellow or any other colors aren’t doing anything other than attempting to give you the perception that the product is more effective. They don’t actually make the performance of the detergent any better, and in fact can introduce significant health risks that you’ll want to avoid.
Learn More about Natural Cleaning Products
Given that “natural” cleaners can still be chock full of harmful chemicals and that ingredient labels are often incomplete, it’s a tough challenge to find cleaning products you can feel comfortable using around your Littles. Our best advice is to go fragrance, dye and preservative free, skip bleach and quats, and choose products with gentle, simple ingredients. A great option is Force of Nature, a small appliance that uses electricity to convert salt, water & vinegar into an all-in-one cleaner, deodorizer and EPA registered disinfectant and sanitizer. It miniaturizes an industrial technology where it’s used for disinfecting hospitals as well as in wound & eye care products. It has no fragrances, preservatives, dyes, allergens or irritants. Learn more about electrolyzed water or how Force of Nature kills viruses. And it you might be surprised to see how it compares to typical natural cleaning products too.