There is nothing better than the feel and smell of a clean house. Fresh linen, clean floors and sparkling windows. However, hidden in the cleaning and household products are stacks of chemicals that range from mild irritants to extremely harmful and potent additives. Furthermore, many of the chemicals used have not been properly tested for safety and are often not even a beneficial cleaning agent. Some chemicals are added to make the product smell nice, foam well or have a pleasant colour. For your reference and guide, I have put together a list of common toxic chemicals found in household products. Please don't be overwhelmed by the following in-depth information, however the impact of these chemicals are significant on your overall well being and the environment. I strongly urge you to choose products with few or none of them in it, or use completely natural products that I will share with you in coming posts. In terms of cleaning and household products, ignorance is really not bliss!
Used in air fresheners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners and furniture polishes. As stated by David Suzuki (an amazing scientist and environmental activist), there are some 3,000 chemicals used as fragrances. Even products listed as "fragrance free" or "unscented" may contain a chemical fragrance to mask the fragrance being used. How insane is that?! Suzuki also goes on to argue that many of the parfum chemicals used have not been tested for toxicity alone or in combination. Ava Anderson (blogger, writer and natural beauty/safe cosmetics expert) goes on to say that 95% of synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals. Some of the most toxic being: benzene derivatives, aldehydes and phthalates. Some health effects from parfum include; asthma and breathing problems (ever accidentally breathed in some washing powder and coughed profusely?) nausea, mood changes, depression/lethargy, headaches/migraines, skin irritation and memory lapses. Phthalates have also been linked to early puberty in girls, reduced sperm count, obesity and insulin resistance in men as well as serious health effects for babies when exposed to the chemical in large quantities through breast milk.
Found in bathroom/toilet cleaners and disinfectants. It is even used in ear and nose drops, throat lozenges and mouth washes. This is an extremely toxic chemical listed on the EPA hazard list. It is considered at its most toxic for humans through oral exposure. Health effects include; significant irritation to skin, eyes and mucus membranes. The EPA also states that "anorexia, progressive weight loss, diarrhoea, vertigo, salivation, a dark coloration of the urine, and blood and liver effects have been reported in chronically (long-term) exposed humans".
Also known as anhydrous ammonia, is found in glass and window cleaners, floor cleaners, furniture and metal polishes and disinfectants. Ammonia is also found in the human body and commonly found in nature. It is found in soil as part of bacterial processes when waste decays (compost). However, when used in high concentration in cleaning/household products, it is very toxic and harmful to humans. Ammonia is a corrosive and the health effects is largely dependent on the concentration of exposure... If you use four or five products with ammonia in it, you can see how it builds up! The Department of Health New York states, "exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in the air causes immediate burning of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract and can result in blindness, lung damage or death." Minor exposures cause coughing, nose/throat irritation and headaches/migraines.
Including ethanol, methanol, isopropanol, found in all-purpose cleaners, washing up liquid, glass and window cleaners and disinfectants. Of the lot, isopropanol is by far the most toxic. It is a petrochemical and very easily absorbed into the skin. The vapor is also dangerous. The health effects can include, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches and in severe cases, narcosis and coma. The other alcohols listed above are used in household products for no other reason than to increase shelf-life of the product. Even though there are known allergic and toxic effects (including research on it being a hormone disruptive) it is still commonly found in products.
Also known as 1,4-dichlorobenzene, found in bathroom/toilet cleaners, mildew control sprays, room deodorisers and moth balls. As stated by the National Pesticide Information Centre, "people who have been exposed to paradichlorobenzene have experienced nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, and headaches. Paradichlorobenzene vapor can also irritate the eyes and nasal passages." If paradichlorobenzene contacts the skin for a prolonged period, it can cause a burning as well.
Found in furniture polish, all-purpose cleaners, washing-up liquid, disinfectants and deodorising sprays. This is a colourless, strong smelling gas and breathing it in is oh so very bad. It is also found in cigarettes. This highly toxic substance can cause significant respiratory irritation, eye, nose and throat irritation and in limited human studies, has been reported to have an association with lung and nasopharyngeal cancer.
Also known as Butoxyethanol, Butyl Glycol and Ethylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether, found in degreasers, all-purpose cleaners, window/glass cleaners. This highly toxic chemical is absorbed primarily through the lungs and skin. As stated by Environmental Fluid Systems, butyl cellosolve can cause (through various levels of exposure); eyes, nose, throat and skin irritation, cough, blood disorders, central nervous system suppression, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches/migraines, liver and kidney damage, nausea/vomiting, eye redness and pulmonary edema.
Found in limescale and rust removers, toilet cleaners and metal polishes. Exposure can occur through inhalation, eye or skin contact as well as ingestion. Health effects can vary depending on exposure, but it is highly toxic even in small amounts. Symptoms of exposure to this corrosive can include burns/ulcers/irritations or dermatitis of the skin, eye irritation or significant mouth, stomach and esophagus burns if swallowed.
Also known as lye or caustic soda, found in oven cleaners, drain cleaners, bathroom/toilet cleaners, metal polishers and aquarium products. Again, this chemical is highly toxic and touching, inhaling or ingesting the chemical will cause serious health effects. These include breathing difficulty and lung inflammation, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting/nausea, nose, throat and eye irritation as well as anything ranging from mild to significant skin burns and irritation.
Found in waterproofing agents, carpet shampoos, spot removers, fabric cleaners and dry-cleaning agents. This is a solvent product used as a degreaser and can be absorbed through the skin, swallowing or inhalation. Health effects can include headaches/dizziness, confusion, mild to significant skin irritation and in high does, can cause an irregular heartbeat or liver/kidney damage.
I understand that some of the side effects listed above are extreme and in most cases, would not occur through exposure to some glass cleaner or detergent as you madly clean the house on a Saturday afternoon. However, like so many things, small doses and exposure over long periods of time, is what can often cause illness and body imbalance. No one can avoid all chemicals all the time, but remember knowledge is power. If you have an opportunity to avoid toxins and chemicals, why not? Happy shopping, and please do not hesitate to ask us questions or request any further information you would like.
With light and love
References (all links for this article are below if you wish to do some further reading):
Australian Government Department of Health: Trichloroethane Fact Sheet http://www.nicnas.gov.au/
David Suzuki Foundation: Fragrance and Parfum www.davidsuzuki.org
Department of Health (New York): The Facts about Ammonia www.health.ny.gov
Disability Guidelines: Toxic effects, hydrochloric acid http://www.mdguidelines.com/
Environmental Fluid Systems: The Dangers of Butyl Cellosolve https://envirofluid.com
EPA: Formaldehyde Hazard Summary www.epa.gov
EPA: Phenol Hazard Summary www.epa.gov
Goldsmith, S., & Alexander, S. (2007). A Slice of Organic Life. Dorling Kindersley: Australia.
Kitchen Doctor: Toxins in Cosmetics, Cleaning Agents, and Medications www.kitchendoctor.com
Maria's Farm Country Kitchen: Five "Must-Knows on the Dangers of Synthetic Fragrance" www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com
Medline Plus: Sodium Hydroxide Poisoning http://www.nlm.nih.gov/
National Pesticide Information Centre: Paradichlorobenzenes http://npic.orst.edu/