Toxics 101: The dirt on household cleaning products
Cleaning is supposed to be about maintaining a healthy home, yet some common household cleaning products contain chemicals that can harm human health and the environment. What a mess.
When we use these chemicals to clean our home, they linger in the air and we breathe them in. Chemicals in cleaning products can also enter our bodies through the skin or through ingestion of household dust and chemical residues left on dishes and cutlery. And when cleaning products are flushed down the drain, they can have a serious impact on aquatic ecosystems.
There is no requirement in Canada for manufacturers to warn consumers about the health and environmental hazards associated with long-term exposure to chemical ingredients in household cleaning products. Most of us are exposed to cleaning products and their residues at low levels everyday.
The following is a list of some chemicals of concern. Because many cleaners carry no ingredient list, or provide only a partial list of ingredients, it can be challenging to identify these chemicals in the products you bring into your home. Careful! They may be hiding in your cleaning closet!
2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE, also known as butyl cellosolve)
A skin and eye irritant also associated with blood disorders.
Found in: glass cleaners, laundry stain removers, carpet cleaners, automobile cleaners, windshield wiper fluid, degreasers, oven cleaners, and rust removers.
Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs)/Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)
Can mimic estrogen and have reproductive effects on aquatic organisms.
Found in: liquid laundry detergents, stain removers, all-purpose cleaners, air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, degreasers, and car wash products.
Vapours may irritate the skin, eyes, throat, and lungs. People with asthma may be particularly sensitive to the effects of breathing ammonia. May also cause kidney and liver damage.
Found in: window cleaners, drain cleaners, toilet cleaners, bathroom cleaners, oven cleaners, stainless-steel cleaners, car polish, and all-purpose cleaners.
Coal tar dyes
Concern that synthetic dyes may cause cancer and that heavy metals can harm the nervous system.
Found in: most types of cleaning products.
Fragrance chemicals/Synthetic Musks/Phthalates
Irritants that can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms. Can build up in the environment and can be toxic to aquatic organisms. Suspected endocrine disrupters.
Found in: most types of cleaning products.
Monoethanalomine (MEA), Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)
Can react with nitrites (present as preservatives or contaminants in other products) to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. MEA is also known to induce asthma. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
Found in: liquid laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, floor cleaners, car wash products, degreasers, dishes soap, oven cleaners, and glass and surface cleaners.
High concentrations in bodies of water can promote harmful algal bloom, increase weed growth and kill fish.
Found in: dishwasher detergents, laundry detergents, and bathroom cleaners.
Quaternary ammonium compounds (quats)
Irritate and sensitize skin, cause allergies, and trigger asthma. Don�t readily degrade in the environment. Toxic to fish.
Found in: bathroom cleaning products, all-purpose cleaners, fabric softeners, and degreasers.
Rated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a known human carcinogen. This natural ingredient (made from finely ground quartz) is hazardous as a dust if inhaled.
Found in: abrasive cleaning powders.
Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate
Corrosive; severe eye, skin and respiratory irritant. High doses of this chemical cause kidney damage. Very toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long-term effects in aquatic ecosystems.
Found in: toilet bowl cleaners, deodorizers, surface cleaners, and disinfectants
Sodium hydroxide (also known as lye and caustic soda)
Highly corrosive; can burn the eyes, skin and lungs and is a respiratory irritant. Long-term exposure in the air may lead to ulceration of the nasal passages and chronic skin irritation. If discharged in large quantities, can alter the pH of water.
Found in: oven cleaners, bathroom cleaners, disinfectants, drain openers, and toilet bowl cleaners
Sodium laureth sulfate
Found in dish soap with other ethoxylated alcohols (look for �eth� in the chemical name). Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer, and is persistent in the environment.
Found in: dish soap, liquid laundry detergents, cleaning towelettes, and toilet bowl cleaners (as well as sudsy cosmetics).
May interfere with hormone function and contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
Found in: dish soaps and disinfectants, as well as a wide range of other household products. Look for it listed as an �active ingredient� in antibacterial products.
A possible human carcinogen. In aquatic ecosystems, can also cause heavy metals in sediment to redisolve and these metals are toxic to fish and other wildlife.
Found in: bathroom cleaners and possibly some laundry detergents (more common in industrial formulations).
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Canada. 2006. 2-Butoxyethanol Regulations.
Environment Canada. 2010. "2010 Progress Report -- P2 Planning and Nonylphenol and Ethoxylates in Products." Pollution and Waste.
Environment Canada, and Health Canada. 2001. Priority Substances List Assessment Report: Nonylphenol and Its Ethoxylates.
Environment Canada. 2010. Assessment Report for Glycine, N,N-bis(carboxymethyl)-.
Environmental Working Group. 2008. "EPA Proposes Roll-back of Food Safety Standards at Request of Pesticide Manufacturer."
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Here's the dirt. You've probably been in a long term relationship with your home cleaners. But they may not be the safest, healthiest choice for you and your family.