HOW CLEANING PRODUCTS CAUSE YOU HARM (& What to Do About It)

You asked.

Today I’m answering!

I’ve had tremendous feedback on the Hidden Health Havocs series. And with the feedback, some excellent questions on related topics. The biggest topic: the safety of cleaning products.

Thus far in the series, we’ve covered the carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that lurk in personal care products. Based on your feedback I’m shifting the focus to products that surround you in your home — cleaning products.

WHY CLEANING PRODUCTS MATTER

At first it may seem counter-intuitive that what you clean your house with can impact your health and wellness.

But picture this. You spray cleaner on your kitchen counter (some of which you inhale). Then you wipe the cleaner with a cleaning rag. Some cleaner inevitably gets on your hands (which is likely absorbed into your body). Later, you prop your arms on the clean counter (exposing yourself to more absorption). When you get hungry, you make yourself a snack. Maybe an almond butter and honey sandwich. You’re feeling a titch lazy and make the sandwich directly on the counter. Then you eat the sandwich (and ingest some of the cleaner).

If your cleaner is safe, your actions pose little threat.

However, if your cleaning products contain carcinogens or EDCs, your actions expose you to potential health maladies.

Makes sense, right?

THE EVIDENCE

I’m not the only person concerned with cleaning products. The American Lung Association published concern over the risks of cleaning products to health. Concerns have also been raised by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Allow me to paraphrase their concerns.
  • Many household cleaning products can irritate the eyes, throat, and cause headaches.
  • Chemicals contained within and released when using cleaning supplies can contribute to:

Respiratory problems

Allergic reactions

Headaches

  • Common cleaning products can be laced with carcinogenic impurities. Third party testing has shown the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane in numerous name brand cleaning supplies.
  • Many cleaning products contain preservatives that release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EWG detected formaldehyde in Comet, Pine-Sol, and Simple Green cleaning products.
Found to contain formaldehyde by the EWG. Image credit.

Found to contain formaldehyde by the EWG. Image credit.

  • A study from Massachusetts found women with the highest use of household cleaners had the highest incidence of breast cancer.
  • There is an increased risk of birth defects in children born to women with cleaning jobs while pregnant.

THE CLEANING PRODUCTS THAT SHOULD CONCERN YOU

Products shown to contain toxic substances include:

  1. Aerosol spray products
  2. Air fresheners
  3. Chlorine bleach
  4. Detergent and dishwashing liquid
  5. Dry cleaning chemicals
  6. Floor polish
  7. Furniture polish
  8. Oven cleaners
  9. Rug and upholstery cleaners

Other products of concern include:

  • Borax and boric acid (considered toxic to reproduction by the European Union)

  • Diethylene glycol monomethyl ether or DEGME, a common degreaser (considered toxic to reproduction by the European Union)

HOW TO PROTECT YOU & YOUR FAMILY

The good news is there is LOTS you can do to protect you and your family. The easy answer?

Switch your cleaning products to safer alternatives.

 A note of caution, turning to “natural” cleaners is not always the option. Many products marketed as being “green” or “natural” still contain worrisome products.

Here are a few tips to help you use safer products:

  • Read the labels on your supplies.
  • Avoid using air fresheners.
  • Keep the area well ventilated when cleaning.
  • Avoid cleaning in small and enclosed spaces.
  • Utilize the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Safer Choice cleaning products.

HOW TO SAVE MONEY AND KEEP YOURSELF SAFE

An easy and inexpensive way to keep yourself safe is to make your own cleaning products. Honestly, it's quite simple. And sanitary!

Some easy homemade cleaning products:

  • Warm water and soap is an excellent cleaner. Dr. Bronner makes high quality and inexpensive soap that is perfect for cleaning.
Dr. Bronner soap -- perfect for cleaning. Image credit.

Dr. Bronner soap -- perfect for cleaning. Image credit.

  • Baking soda can be used as an abrasive scrub.
  • Vinegar and water is an excellent all purpose and glass cleaner. Combine and put in a spray bottle for use throughout the house.

NEXT STEPS

This information is not meant to scare you. Nor is it meant to make you spend a fortune on all new cleaning supplies.

It’s meant to share the reality behind cleaning products and your health. And to offer you other options.

From here, you’ll be empowered to make the right cleaning choices for you and your loved ones.

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