The Harmful Effects of Toxic Cleaning Products to Humans
Every day, we expose ourselves to toxic chemicals through our daily activities, especially through cleaning. You might think you are protecting yourself from disease by killing germs, but many of the chemicals you use are loaded with harsh ingredients that may actually cause more harm than good. You won’t get sick from simply using Chlorox to clean your bathroom one time, but toxins are often bio-accumulative, meaning that even though you are only exposed in small amounts, this can add up overtime to levels that are high enough to be harmful.
Our children are especially at risk. Most parents think that they are able to use conventional cleaning products safely because they keep them “out of the reach of children,” as instructed on product labels. What they don’t realize is that when you wipe down a surface with chemicals, they can leave behind a residue which clings to floors, countertops, and even cribs, high trays and other places where infants crawl, eat, and play. Children are more exposed to these chemicals because they have smaller bodies and undeveloped immune systems. Pets are also affected because they live their lives on ground level.
It’s completely possible to make your home and your life “eco-friendly” by utilizing products with the green seal of approval. This is especially applicable to cleaning products.
“Greening” your cleaning products can help improve indoor air quality, decrease pollution in our water sources and our air, and reduce the ill effects on those who handle them.
Although there are hundreds of chemicals present in every day cleaning products, we’ve listed a few of the most common offenders as well as their potential health hazards.
Many regular cleaning products contain volatile components or VOCs. This means that they have ingredients which can easily evaporate and enter the air around us, affecting air quality indoors and even contributing to the formation of smog in outdoor air.
Most scents or fragrances are actually made up of VOCs. VOCs include propane, ehtanol, butane and formaldehyde. Because concentrations of VOCs are not very high, and symptoms from long-term health effects can be very slow to develop, researching these chemicals has proven difficult. Little is known about just how bad they are, but scientists suspect that they are actually neurotoxic, hepatotoxic (being toxic to the liver), and carcinogenic.
Many modern homes are poorly ventilated. Air gets trapped inside, and fresh air can’t come in. This means that VOCs from cleaning products can linger and reduce air quality, making indoor air more toxic than outdoor air. In order to minimize exposure to VOCs, it’s important to allow the fresh air in. Opening the windows and curtains or using exhaust fans can help facilitate the exchange of indoor air so that you can breathe new air that is free from suspended chemicals.
Alkylphenol ethoxylate (APE) is a common ingredient in cleaning products. This chemical acts as a surfactant, meaning it reduces the surface tension of the solution to help it spread more easily over surfaces. APE is a potent endocrine disruptor which can cause infertility, miscarriage, menstrual problems and certain cancers.
Monoethanolamine, also known as “2-Hydroxyethanamine” or “Ethanolamine” is a type of APE found in over 50 household cleaning products including floor cleaners and laundry detergents. Inhaling it can cause asthma and other respiratory problems, while repeated exposure damages the liver and kidneys.
It is commonly added as an antibacterial ingredient to soaps, although the FDA has not found evidence that triclosan makes soap more effective against germs. Triclosan can interact with chlorine found in tap water to produce chloroform, which is a known carcinogen. Studies on animals reveal that triclosan is also an endocrine disruptor. If you wash your hands with soap or detergent containing triclosan, you could be exposing yourself to carcinogens every time.
Organochlorines contain a combination of carbon and chlorine. They include dioxin, pentachlorophenol (PCP), and DDT. Present in detergents, bleaches and grease-removers, organochlorines are neurotoxic and potentially lethal. They don’t break down easily, increasing their ability to cause continuous exposure. If you accidentally ingest any amount of organochlorines, they can stay hidden within your fatty tissues for years without being expelled from the body.
Phthalates are usually present in perfumes and air fresheners and are used as carriers for the other ingredients. They help skin products like moisturizers penetrate the skin. They are also highly carcinogenic and like APEs, they have the potential to cause reproductive problems. Since these chemicals are described as being “inert,” there is no requirement for manufacturers to list them on product labels. To be safe, look for products that are “phthalate-free.”
Also known under the names “butoxyethanol,” “ethylene glycol mono-n-butyl ether (EGBE),” and “butyl cellosolve,” this chemical is a solvent and is used as raw material to produce phthalates. According to the EPA, it is carcinogenic and neurotoxic. Some studies suggest it has the potential to cause permanent damage to bone marrow and other blood-forming organs. Even just the vapors from this chemical can be absorbed through your skin.