Everybody wants to live in a clean home but chances are what you're cleaning with is a lot more dangerous than the dirt. Time to trash the toxins. Here is our hit list of the 5 body-harming things to avoid in your cleaning products.
1. Formaldehyde. This one feels like an old chestnut since the internet scared us all into thinking that various brands of "erasers" contained this known carcinogen that can also cause skin irritation and exacerbate asthma. While the companies claimed their cleaning sponges only contained trace amounts, there are other products still using this chemical. The main suspect: air fresheners.
2. Phthalates. Do you know what clean smells like? Not pine, not citrus and certainly not Morning Meadow Mist Breeze. Clean is actually absent of smell. So, if you're buying a cleaning product with any kind of 'clean' scent (aside from natural, essential oils) then you're cleaning with hormone-disrupting, sperm-hating phthalates. Don't go looking for it on the label – it prefers to masquerade under various pseudonyms like fragrance and perfume. Just stick to the I-smell-nothing approach to clean and you'll be fine.
3. Triclosan. It's considered a 'safe' chemical in trace amounts, unfortunately it's become so pervasive in our cleaning products that those trace amounts are really starting to add up (especially since it takes the body such a long time to get rid of it). Triclosan is a known endrocrine-disruptor, can cause thyroid problems and has just recently been found to increase the growth of cancer cells. It's also incredibly harmful to the environment, especially aquatic life. You'll find it in many products touting 'anti-bacterial' properties including dishwashing soap. Keep an eye out for it because you might be surprised where it pops up under the names Triclosan, Microban, Cloxifenolum, Lexol-300, SterZac, BioFresh and Irgasan (DP300).
4. Perchloroethylene. Well, that's a mouthful, let's just go with its nickname – Perc. This neurotoxin and suspected carcinogen is found in many spot removers, carpet cleaners and is used by most dry cleaners. It's worth noting that old Perc likes to hang around after the cleaning is done and can still have a negative health effect when you give your just-cleaned garments a sniff or crawl around on your spot-free carpet.
5. Lye. Sodium Hydroxide (aka Lye) is one caustic chemical. This is usually what earns a cleaning product the old skull and crossbones warning symbol. It can burn skin on contact and, if inhaled, do some serious damage to the throat and lungs. You'll find it clearly labeled on cleaning products like drain cleaners and oven cleaners but many people still use it to make old-fashioned soap. Proceed with caution!
Runner Up? Phosphates. You'll find these in detergents (laundry and dishwasher) and many bathroom cleaners. While these don't pose as much of a threat to your health, they're seriously nasty to the environment. Phosphates make their way into the water system and encourage algae growth to such an extent that it chokes out aquatic life and makes the water toxic for land animals and humans. Trade you those sparkling dishes for a planet full of fresh water?
A list like this is enough to make you want to throw your cleaning towel in. Instead, take control by making your own natural household cleaner and other cleaning products. It's the one sure way to avoid a cleaning routine packed with nerve-damaging, hormone-disrupting, toxic chemicals.
And sadly, this list is much longer than 5. Check out the full line-up of offenders on The David Suzuki Foundation site. Labels too small to read? Find out if you favourite cleaner is dirty by visiting the Environmental Working Groups' Cleaners Database Hall of Shame.