How to Protect Your Family Against Dangerous Household Cleaners

Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Triclosan. Phthalates. Formaldehyde releasers. Quaternary ammonium compounds. Sodium hypochlorite.

If these words make you feel like you’re back in twelfth grade chemistry class (and possibly about to fail the exam), no wonder. If you don’t know what these chemicals are, or what they do, you’re hardly alone.

Fact is, they’re commonly occurring ingredients of many household cleaners. And they often pose risks to our health.

You Mean I Can’t Trust Mr. Clean?

Maybe not. On the job, if you work with dangerous substances, you take some safety precautions. In fact, the law requires it.

But at home, you probably don’t think twice. Maybe you assume that household products are safe. That they’ve been well-tested. And, perhaps, that our government would never allow the wide (and sometimes unstated) use of dangerous chemicals.

Wrong. In fact, manufacturers of cleaning products can use nearly any ingredient or raw material in their products without government review or approval.  They don’t even need to report all their ingredients on the product label. And many cleansers contain ingredients that pose risk.

We don’t eat, drink, or wash our bodies with these products. But we do breathe in sprays and powders, absorb chemicals through our skin and mucous membranes, and accidentally swallow many of them.

Chemical residues on surfaces or in house dust can end up on our skin and in our food.

In fact, testing by the Silent Spring Institute found 66 hormone-disrupting chemicals in ordinary household “dust bunnies.”

Many ingredients in cleaning supplies irritate the lungs and can trigger or cause asthma, even in healthy people, and even in very small amounts.

These chemicals can also harm or even burn the skin and eyes, and act as endocrine disruptors, increasing the risk of cancer and reproductive abnormalities.

Occasional exposure may not pose a problem, but prolonged exposure over a lifetime can increase the risk of many complications. 

And, family men take note: children are at particular risk.

What You Can Do

Start by checking out the products you use on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning database.  See how they stack up.  If a product scores poorly, you can search by category to find a safer alternative.  If it scores well, give yourself a high five!

Once you’ve found alternatives, replace your old and dangerous cleaners with newer and safer ones. You might even consider making your own.

But do this gradually. Replace your old and dangerous cleaners with newer and safer ones. There’s no need to flush your current products down the drain or throw them out. (Just think what you’d be doing to the environment.) Fact is, it’s probably not going to hurt you to use them a few more times.

Just make a safer choice next time you buy.

Exercise a bit of caution and common sense, and before you know it, you’ll be cleaning up in that twelfth grade chemistry final.

Not to mention, your house will be spic and span.

Continue Reading