When making the switch to natural products, it can be difficult to decipher which products are chemical filled, and which are actually better.
The list of chemicals found in household cleaning products is long and plentiful, and not exactly easy to memorize. However, making yourself aware of these chemicals is a great first step in the right direction.
I’ve added only chemicals that can be found in household cleaners such as laundry detergents, bathroom cleaners and deodorizers.
It can be quite challenging to find cleaning products that don’t contain any of these ingredients, but I’ve found the easiest way is to get familiar with brands that use plant based ingredients and substitute those chemicals for natural solutions.
That way you won’t have to waste your time standing in isles, check the label of everything before you buy it, you can relax knowing the brand is a true green company who is committed to natural ingredients.
Chemical Ingredients to Avoid
Acetone (2-Propanone, Dimethyl ketone, Propanone)
Acetone can be found in paints, nail polish removers, adhesives etc. Most commercial cleaning products, shoes, and plastics contain acetone.
The side effects from this chemical include irritation to nose and throat, headaches, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion. Long term effects include harm to the nervous system and dermatitis.
Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (APEs)
Alkylphenol Ethoxylates are synthetic surfactants found in detergents, cleaning products, pesticides, lubricants, hair dyes, among others.
In the body, this chemical mimics estrogen, disrupting hormones and has been found to cause breast cancer cells to multiply. It can also alter reproduction, feminization, and lower survival rates in salmon and other fish.
Ammonia is found in a variety of cleaners such as all-purpose cleaners, glass cleaners, oven cleaners, floor cleaners and polishes, and stainless steel cleaners.
“Inhalation: VERY TOXIC, can cause death. Can cause severe irritation of the nose and throat. Can cause life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema). Symptoms may include coughing, shortness of breath, difficult breathing and tightness in the chest. Symptoms may develop hours after exposure and are made worse by physical effort. Long-term damage may result from a severe short-term exposure.
Skin Contact: CORROSIVE. The gas irritates or burns the skin. Permanent scarring can result. Direct contact with the liquefied gas can chill or freeze the skin (frostbite). Symptoms of more severe frostbite include a burning sensation and stiffness. The skin may become waxy white or yellow. Blistering, tissue death and infection may develop in severe cases.
Eye Contact: CORROSIVE. The gas irritates or burns the eyes. Permanent damage including blindness can result. Direct contact with the liquefied gas can freeze the eye. Permanent eye damage or blindness can result.” -Canadian Center for Occupation Health and Safety (source)
Butyl Cellosolve (Butyl Glycol, Ethylene Glycol, Monobutyl)
Butyl cellosolve is found in all-purpose, spray and abrasive cleaners including glass cleaners, oven cleaners, spot removers and air fresheners.
It is known to irritate skin, nose and throat, cause blood in the urine, headaches, vomiting, and affect the central nervous system. It targets the kidneys, liver, lymphoid system and respiratory system.
Chlorine Bleach (Sodium Hypochlorite)
Chlorine Bleach is a common household disinfectant used as a cleaner in many different rooms in the home.
Chlorine bleach is toxic if swallowed and the byproducts are linked to respiratory disease and cancer.
Diethanolamine (DEA) Monoethanolamine (MEA) & TEA (triethanolamine)
These chemicals can be found in a wide range of household cleaning products.
They are possible carcinogens, skin and respiratory toxicants, and severe eye irritants.
Ethoxylated Nonyl Phenol
Ethoxylated Nonyl Phenol is used in laundry detergents as well as other cleaning products.
This chemical is a hormone disruptant, and may contain traces of ethylene oxide, which is a known carcinogen.
Glycol Ethers (Ethylene Glycol Mono-butyl Ether, EGBE or 2-butoxyethanol)
Commonly found in cleaning sprays and liquid soaps, glycol ethers are a possible carcinogen linked to asthma, rhinitis, eczema, and anemia. It is also known to cause reproductive issues such as lowering sperm count, and birth defects in animal studies.
Methylene chloride is a common ingredient in stain removers.
Inhalation of this chemical can cause liver and brain damage. It is also a known neurotoxin and reproductive toxin.
Morpholine is a moderate to severe eye, skin and mucous membrane irritant that is used as a solvent in a number of cleaning products, including some furniture polishes and abrasive cleansers. It can cause liver and kidney damage, and long-term exposure can result in bronchitis.
Phenols are found in laundry products, air fresheners, and disinfectants.
It is a skin irritant that can cause tremors, paralysis, irritation, liver and kidney damage, and respiratory arrest.
Found in a variety of cleaning products such as laundry detergents.
The effects of phosphates to the marine ecological system are extreme. Most companies have actually phased out the use of phosphates for this reason, however some still use it.
Phosphoric acid can be found in liquid dishwasher soaps, metal polishes, disinfectants, and bathroom cleaners, especially for lime and mildew.
Inhalation of this chemical can lead to aching lungs and central nervous system distress. It is also extremely corrosive and can irritate and burn eyes and skin.
Phthalates are used in a large variety of cleaning and household products as fragrance.
It is a possible carcinogen linked to reproductive issues in males.
Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate Dihydrate
Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate can be found in toilet bowl cleaners and deodorizers.
This chemical is irritating to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. It has been known to cause liver and gastrointestinal system damage and is toxic to the central nervous system. If it comes in contact with bleach it can cause a poisonous chlorine gas.
Tryclosan is the main ingredient in most antibacterial products.
It is designed to kill good and bad bacterial, causing bacterial resistance which is extremely bad news. It has also been linked to endocrine abnormalities, asthma, allergies, and eczema. It has also been found in umbilical cord samples and breast milk.
Xylene can be found in spot removers, floor polishes and ironing aids.
It can cause neurotoxic effects such as loss of memory, damage to the liver, kidneys, and developing fetus and is an eye and skin irritant.
Like I mentioned before, you don’t need to memorize this list to become a greener cleaner. Just reading over the names will help you decode the ingredient lists on your cleaning products. It’s always easier to start with a brand that values natural cleaners and go from there.
A good rule to go by if you’re not sure: if you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably best to avoid it.
I’m always looking for new green cleaning brands to try, so if you have any suggestions, leave them below!