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Are Your Cleaning Products Killing You?

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By Ruth MacEachern

Product Manager

Mar 06, 2020

It’s no surprise that cleaning products contain toxic chemicals – they have to in order to do what we expect such as unclogging a drain. Cleaning products are everywhere including furniture, dishes, clothes, windows and even the air. They help us fight against germs and dirt but can actually make things worse. So how damaging are your cleaning products to your health?

We've previously discussed Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) in other articles. Many of the products that we use to clean our homes along with, ironically, some of the aerosol sprays that we use to make them smell fresh contain VOCs. However, in this article we are diving deeper into specific cleaning products and the dangers they may posses.  

Common cleaning products that contain toxins -

All-purpose cleaners. There are numerous "all-purpose" cleaning products on the market. These products usually contain detergents, grease-cutting agents, solvents and/or disinfectants. The specific chemicals in these ingredients include ammonia, ethylene glycol monobutyl acetate, sodium hypochlorite and/or trisodium phosphate. Depending on the ingredients used, all-purpose cleaners can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. They can be highly poisonous to both humans and animals if swallowed.

Bleach. Household bleach contains the chemical sodium hypochlorite in different concentrations ranging from 0.7 percent to 5.25 percent. These percentages are the amount of the chemical in the liquid; the rest of the liquid is mostly water. Chlorine bleach liquid and vapours can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Dermatitis may result from direct skin contact. Ingestion can cause esophageal injury, stomach irritation and prolonged nausea and vomiting.

Oven cleaners. The basic ingredient in oven cleaners is lye (consisting of either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide). Lye is extremely corrosive and can burn your skin and eyes. It can cause severe tissue damage and may be fatal if swallowed.

Antibacterial cleaner. Antibacterial cleaners usually contain water, a fragrance, a surfactant (to break up dirt), and a pesticide. The pesticides commonly used in antibacterial cleaners are quaternary ammonium or phenolic chemicals. Antibacterial cleaners can irritate your eyes and burn your skin and throat.

Dishwashing detergents. The main ingredient in automatic and hand dishwashing detergents is phosphate. Automatic dishwashing detergents are known to produce skin irritations or burns and may be poisonous if swallowed. Hand dishwashing detergents are milder than automatic dishwashing detergents. If swallowed, they may cause irritation to the mouth and throat, nausea, but they are not fatal if swallowed.Window and glass cleaner. The basic ingredients of window/glass cleaners are ammonia and isopropanol. These products may be irritating to the eyes, skin, nose, and throat. If swallowed, they may cause drowsiness, unconsciousness or death.

Toilet bowl cleaners. Toilet cleaners contain the chemicals sodium hypochlorite or hydrochloric acid, or bleach. Most disinfectant cleaners are very irritating to your eyes and skin and will burn your throat.

Rug, carpet, upholstery cleaners. These cleaning products can contain perchloroethylene (used in dry cleaning), naphthalene and ammonium hydroxide. The fumes given off by these products can cause cancer and liver damage and have been known to cause dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, loss of appetite, and disorientation.Mould and mildew removers. Chlorine and alkyl ammonium chlorides are the common fungicide chemicals found in mould and mildew removers. Cleaners with mould and mildew removers may cause breathing problems and if swallowed, can burn your throat.

Drain cleaners. Lye and sulfuric acid are the main ingredients used to unclog drains. Lye can cause burns to skin and eyes, and if swallowed, can damage the esophagus and stomach. Sulfuric acid can irritate the skin and eyes and can damage the kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. These chemicals produce dangerous fumes, can cause skin burns, and can cause blindness if they come in contact with your eyes. Drain cleaners can be fatal if swallowed.

Furniture polish. Furniture cleaners for wood may contain petroleum distillates and oil of cedar. Furniture polish typically contains one or more of the following substances: ammonia, naphtha, nitrobenzene, petroleum distillates and phenol. These chemicals may irritate your skin, eyes, throat, lungs, and windpipe. If swallowed, furniture polish can cause nausea and vomiting; medical help should be sought.

Air fresheners. Air fresheners contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p-dichlorobenzene and aerosol propellants. These chemicals are thought to cause cancer and brain damage. They also are strong irritants to eyes, skin, and throat. These ingredients are usually highly flammable. Additionally, solid fresheners usually cause death if eaten by people or pets.

If you are concerned that your cleaning products maybe affecting your health then you can look into alternative, more natural cleaners. Unsurprisingly, most use ingredients such as baking soda and lemon - items that have been around for generations and are known for their disinfectant properties.   

Natural Cleaning Alternatives -

All purpose cleaner: 

One part  white vinegar
One part water
Lemon rind
Rosemary sprigs
Combine the above ingredients together, pour into a spray bottle, shake, and then let infuse for a week before using.

Grease Cleaner:

1/2 cup sudsy ammonia

Sudsy ammonia contains detergent that helps remove tough grime. Mix 1/2 cup with enough water to fill a one-gallon container. Then clean your oven racks, stove hoods, and grills by dipping a sponge into the solution and wiping over the surface before rinsing with clear water. 

Glass Cleaner:

2 cups water
1/2 cup white  or cider vinegar
1/4 cup rubbing alcohol 70% concentration
1 to 2 drops of orange essential oil  for smell (optional)
The next time you need to wash your windows and mirrors, combine these ingredients and pour them in a spray bottle. 

Heavy-Duty Scrub:

1/2  lemon
1/2 cup borax powder
Rust stains on porcelain or enamel sinks and tubs are no match for this cleaner. Dip the lemon into the borax and scrub the surface, then rinse.

Of course it is completely down to your own opinion of how effective these alternatives are. A lot of people will always prefer to use harsher cleaners as they like that they contain strong chemicals. Nevertheless whichever cleaning products or methods you opt for, cleaning in a well-ventilated room is a must. Additionally, if you are a fan of scented candles, plug-ins or reed diffusers you should ensure your property is well-ventilated at all times. 

Opening windows can introduce a steady airflow and improve ventilation, but it also means you are inviting outdoor pollutants into your home. Also opening windows is not always a realistic option, especially if the weather is poor and/or you are concerned for your properties security.  

Having a ventilation solution installed in your property not only means that you don't have to open windows but also that condensation, damp and mould will not plague your home and your indoor air quality will drastically improve.  

EnviroVent has a ventilation system for every kind of home, whether it be the smallest apartment, bungalow, house or a major building project. With a wide range of energy efficient and innovative ventilation systems, you can be assured that your indoor air quality will be dramatically improved, whilst having a positive effect on your health and your home. Proper ventilation helps improve indoor air quality. Ventilation can control indoor humidity levels and airborne contaminants, both of which either contribute to or act as health hazards. Our ventilation systems draw in and circulate fresh air throughout your property, improving the indoor environment.