There is no mistaking the fact that the manufacture of household cleaning products is big business. There are hundreds of brands vying to grab your attention with bright packaging and ever more impressive claims as to how white they get your whites, how bright your coloureds will stay, how fresh your rooms will smell, how easily grease will slide off dishes and ovens, or how greater percentage of germs they will kill, dead. We are inundated with pseudo-scientific adverts – showing massively magnified images of germs, bugs, grime and bacteria – all of which warn of the dangers we face lurking invisible to the eye on every surface that isn’t thoroughly disinfected using these products on a regular basis. We end up with cupboards stocked full with an array of sprays, wipes, bleaches, air fresheners, and more. There is a different product available to deal with every type of dirt, dust and grime we could care to imagine. With this arsenal of germ-busting power at our disposal, we can all rest assured that we are safe from disease and ill-health in our own spotlessly clean homes, right? Wrong.
The sad truth is that the cleaning supply market is largely unregulated in terms of testing and labelling products. Of course, the products are tested to ensure they produce the advertised effect; however, they are rarely tested with regard to any adverse effects they could have on human health. Many products contain chemicals known to be hazardous if ingested, brought into contact with skin, or even simply breathed in. The dosage of these chemicals added to cleaning products is barely controlled, and manufacturers are not always obligated to list what chemicals a product contains on the packaging. In the corporate world, profit rules. Many large companies pay little heed to the hazards that these chemicals can represent to consumers’ health, so long as the products keep selling. Their focus is on getting visible results in terms of cleaning, and this alone. As such, there are products available on the market that contain chemicals known to cause, burning and itching, respiratory problems, poisoning if ingested, and even serious long-term illness such as cancer or neurological conditions.
Below is a list of the most common hazardous substances found in chemical cleaners and the known effects they can have on health.
- Chlorinated Phenols and Phenols affect the respiratory and circulatory systems. They are most commonly found in toilet cleaning products.
- Diethylene glycol can supress the nervous system and is often added to glass or window cleaning products.
- Formaldehyde is a respiratory irritant, as well as being a suspected carcinogen. This chemical is most commonly found in spray and wick deoderising air fresheners.
- Petroleum solvents have been found to damage mucus membranes and are commonly added to floor cleaning products.
- Perchloroethylene can cause liver and kidney damage, but is often used as a spot remover.
- Butyl cellosolve also has damaging effects on the liver and kidneys, as well as on bone marrow and the nervous system. This chemical is regularly contained in all-purpose cleaners and glass cleaning products.
This list represents only a small sample of hundreds of dangerous chemicals that can be found in household cleaning products, though they are some of the most common. If you see any of these ingredients listed on a label, do not buy the product. There are many natural or green alternatives currently being offered – and you can even make your own (more on this in an upcoming post). The threat that these household cleaners pose to health is simply too greater risk to take in order to achieve gleaming floors or whiter whites. Don’t be taken in by the manufacturers’ claims that you need their products to kill dangerous germs; the truth is: most of the bacteria and germs that they kill are far less hazardous to our health than the products themselves. If you do insist on using chemical cleaning products in the future, make sure that you do so in a very well-ventilated area and carefully follow the safety instructions.