Naturally Clean: Chemical Safety and Healthy Alternatives

| 6/2/2009 4:56:15 PM


What are the health risks of chemical cleaners and which ingredients should we look out for? The more I read about harmful household cleaners the more I want to know about the chemical ingredients that make these products unsafe. Here’s a look at some of the problematic chemicals found in many household cleaners and some greener/healthier alternatives for you to try instead.

According to a 2006 study by the University of California Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the most offensive common ingredients found in household cleaners, is ethylene-based glycol ethers, used commonly in cleaning agents. Also, chlorine bleach, often labeled as “sodium hypochlorite” or “hypochlorite,” is often found in household cleaners. It's  used to whiten fabrics or remove mold from surfaces. High-level exposure can irritate the lungs and cause chronic respiratory problems. Usually these conditions occur if you’re storing chlorine bleach in poorly ventilated rooms and breathing in its toxic fumes.  

Some other problematic chemicals found in many household cleaners include ammonia. Mild exposure to ammonia vapors may cause respiratory irritation; repeated or prolonged exposure to vapors may cause irritation, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Butyl cellosolve is a toxic ingredient used in some all-purpose cleaners, window cleaners and other household cleaning products. It's an eye irritant that has been linked to kidney and liver problems and is reportedly toxic to forming cells.

Here are some commonly used household products that should be avoided and a list of greener/healthier alternatives.

Photo by Rebecca Weeks/Courtesy Flickr

Avoid: All-purpose cleaners with butyl cellosolve or ammonia.
Instead: Make a simple, herbal all-purpose cleaner. It’s eco-friendly, healthy and only takes five minutes to make. The following ingredients are non-toxic and most of them you probably have on hand.

Avoid: Household bleach, used to whiten fabrics and remove spots, that contains chlorine bleach.
Instead: Try making a bleach/brightener substitute to brighten your clothes. Use hydrogen peroxide, water, lemon juice and tea tree oil (which contains antibacterial properties) instead of using bleach that contains harsh chemicals.