Ten problems and hazards of conventional cleaning products

There’s a lot to be said for using greener cleaning products. Conventional cleaners come with a slew of issues ranging from health concerns, to home and planet pollution, to death. Following are ten problems and hazards of conventional cleaners to consider.

1) We really have no clue what’s in most cleaners or what the full negative effects of said cleaners may be

  • About 3 decades ago Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TCSA) but to date the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tested only 200 of the more than 80,000 chemical compounds developed for all sorts of products used in the home; cleaners included.
  • The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found that one-third of the substances used in the fragrance industry are toxic which includes those fragrances found in air fresheners. However, chemical formulas of fragrances are considered trade secrets, so companies don’t have to list fragrance ingredients on labels of products, they only need to label them as containing “fragrance.”

2) Conventional cleaners are not well tested or regulated for safety…

  • Neither cleaning product manufacturers or the EPA have to prove a chemical’s safety as a condition of use in the home. Safe or not, any old cleaner can be sold on the market. The funny part is you’d think they’d try harder since the EPA also notes that the following conventional cleaning products should be of concern when it comes to your child’s health; bath and kitchen disinfectants and sanitizers, including bleach, household cleaning or maintenance products, such as drain cleaner, paints, or glues, automotive products stored around the home, such as anti-freeze or windshield washer fluid, products used to kill mold or mildew.
  • The National Research Council notes, “Less than 20% of chemicals in every-day use products have been tested for acute effects and less than 10% have been tested for chronic, reproductive or mutagenic effects.

3) Conventional cleaners affect your health & safety…

  • Most of the major household cleaners on the market contain chemicals, fragrances, and other icky junk that come with health problems and or hazard warnings attached to them. To see just how many dangerious ingredients are in cleaners visit the Household Products Database. Then head to the OSHA/EPA Occupational Chemical Database and enter a chemical to see how dangerous it is.
  • The The Washington Toxics Coalition (among many other organizations and studies) notes that conventional cleaning products can burn skin or eyes, irritate the lungs, aggravate asthma, and cause death.
  • The American Lung Association says, “Household cleaning agents that contain potentially harmful substances that contribute to indoor air pollution is wide-reaching and diverse.” They further note that household cleaners can cause dizziness, nausea, allergic reactions, and eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation and that some can cause cancer. They recommend using non-toxic cleaning alternatives whenever possible.
  • OSHA is so concerned with common cleaning products that they developed an entire safety protocol program just for people who work with typical chemicals found in household cleaners. OSHA notes that health problems related to cancer, skin issues, permanent eye damage, and organ damage develop quicker than normal for those who work with these chemical cleaning products daily. People who use these cleaners for professional cleaning do use more full strength cleaners AND are exposed to more cleaners on a daily basis, BUT it’s important for families to realize that the exact same ingredients are found in both industrial cleaners and household cleaners.
  • The EPA notes that indoor air pollution levels can be as much as 100 times worse than outdoor air pollution due mainly to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate from home decorating and cleaning supplies. Many minor health effects have been linked to indoor air pollution plus the EPA notes that worse health effects may show up either years after exposure has occurred and can include some respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer.

4) Conventional cleaners specifically target parents of babies and children but can seriously affect young children’s health & safety…

  • American Association of Poison Control Centers notes that 1.25 million kids younger than six years of age are unintentionally poisoned in the home each year by common household products. Some are items you’d expect like pain relievers and cough and cold medicines but kids are also being poisoned by cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and personal care products that contain harmful chemicals. Along side of this, U.S. Poison Control Centers note that in 2000, cleaning products accounted for 206,636 phone calls to the centers. Of these calls over 120,000 involved children under the age of six.
  • It is incredibly hard for children to distinguish the differences between chemical cleaners and safe edible items. For example, bottles of blue Windex and bottles of blue Gatorade look remarkably similar.
  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that conventional cleaning supplies along with some store bought green cleaners used to clean school classrooms release 32 tons of contaminants into the air each day in California alone. EWG tests found that 21 of the typical cleaners used for school cleaning released 457 distinct air contaminants overall.
  • Babies in the womb are far from safe. The European Respiratory Journal, reports that expectant mamas who use household cleaning products may be putting their child at an increased risk of developing asthma as a youngster and the EWG notes that 232 industrial chemicals and pollutants have been found in the umbilical cord blood of newborns.
  • VOCs found in oven, carpet, and other cleaners containing Toluene, Formaldehyde, Nitrobenzene, Chloride, Methylene, and Ethylene glycol have been shown to cause asthma in children.

5) Many people don’t use chemical cleaners correctly…

  • Research shows that people terribly misuse household chemicals. People mix them when they shouldn’t and don’t use proper protection. For example, if you have a bucket of ammonia diluted with water and you pour that in your bathtub, and then wipe down that same tub with a sponge that has bleach on it, you’re already producing toxic gas at such an extreme level that it can be classified as harmful to humans.
  • Many of the chemicals found in cleaning supplies are only supposed to be used with protective equipment. This means gloves, eye goggles, long sleeves, and face masks. If you aren’t cleaning your home with protective gear then technically you aren’t following proper safety procedures, and you shouldn’t be using the products.

6) Conventional cleaners are harmful for the planet…

  • Phosphates in dish washing detergents can cause massive algal blooms in our water systems that mess with the natural ecosystem by stealing oxygen from the water.
  • When people use or dump toxic chemical cleaners those chemicals end up in our water, soil, and air.
  • The mounds of trash created by endless bottles, plastic wrap waste, and even cardboard (a very easy to recycle item) fill up our landfills leaving less room for green spaces. Green products for cleaning have biodegradability, high concentration, and reduced packaging in common, all of which benefit the earth.

7) Super germs are no joke…

According to a presentation from the 2000 Emerging Infectious Diseases Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and backed up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a slew of other research, antibacterial cleaners may be decreasing antibiotic efficiency, have not been demonstrated useful for households, and extended use will only encourage the growth of antimicrobial drug–resistant species as time passes.

Here are some key points from this presentation:

“The antibacterial substances added to diverse household cleaning products are similar to antibiotics in many ways. When used correctly, they inhibit bacterial growth. However, their purpose is not to cure disease but to prevent transmission of disease-causing microorganisms to noninfected persons. Like antibiotics, these products can select resistant strains and, therefore, overuse in the home can be expected to propagate resistant microbial variants. Moreover, these agents, like antibiotics, are not cure-alls but have a designated purpose. Whereas antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial (not viral) infections, antibacterial products protect vulnerable patients from infectious disease-causing organisms. Neither are demonstrably useful in the healthy household.”

“Unfortunately, we believe that we can rid ourselves of bacteria when, in fact, we cannot. Instead, we should “make peace” with them. Although we need to control pathogens when they cause disease, we do not have to engage in a full-fledged “war” against the microbial world. Improved antibiotic use, including shorter treatments and removal of improper usage, will encourage the return of antibiotic-susceptible, commensal flora and return the environment to what it was before the antibiotic/antibacterial onslaught.”

More research that points toward super germs emerging due to our over zealous cleaning and disinfecting:

If you don’t believe the research above take a basic microbiology course at the local college – you’ll be thinking about germs in another light.

8 ) Most conventional cleaners are way over-packaged…

This isn’t a very long argument but a basic fact; if you buy conventional cleaners you’re dealing with plastic bottles, plastic wrapped boxes, and more waste. Plus most conventional cleaners are made to be purchased over and over which contributes to the issue.

9) Most conventional cleaning companies test on animals…

Whether you’re an animal rights activist or not you should be very concerned about companies testing products on animals. The reason products are tested on animals is because companies don’t trust the products to be tested on humans or aren’t allowed to test harmful substances on humans. If a product must be tested on a living thing – animal or human it’s because folks aren’t sure about the effects of said product, which should worry you.

10) Many conventional cleaning products are made with non-renewable resources…

Many conventional cleaners use chemicals that are petroleum-based which depletes non-renewable resources and increases our dependence on imported oil. For example, surfactants which are found in many cleaning products can be petroleum or plant based. Why use petroleum based when you could choose plant based surfactants?


With all the news out there surrounding the hazards of conventional cleaning products, frankly I’m shocked that anyone would still use them in their home. That said, plenty of people are still using toxic cleaners frequently and worse, at least according to past research by the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), more than eight out of ten Americans feel that the conventional cleaning products they buy are safe when used as directed.

Luckily there are simple alternatives to conventional cleaners – coming up we’ll look at some green cleaning options.

What do you think? Do you trust conventional cleaners enough to use them around your kids?

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