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. We’re skipping over ammonia and bleach (sodium hypochlorite) since you probably already know to steer clear of those.
Cleaning Products: The Top 7 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. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATs): QUATs are common in cleaners labeled as disinfectants, and they are associated with allergies, asthma, fertility issues & birth defects. They may not be listed on ingredient labels at all, or if they are, they could be listed under multiple different names. For a list of those check here, or instead stick to cleaning products that contain no harmful ingredients.
7. 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, 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 a cleaner and deodorizer just as effective as bleach. It miniaturizes an industrial technology where it’s used for cleaning hospitals as well as in wound & eye care products. has no fragrances, preservatives, dyes, allergens or irritants. To learn more, hop on over here.