The Dangers of Toxic Cleaners

April 2011

The chemical industry is constantly expanding.  With the growth of strong and harmful household chemicals in the past decades, the potential for illness has also increased. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American home contains 63 regularly purchased hazardous chemical products.  The EPA defines hazardous chemicals as flammable, toxic, corrosive, or reactive.  By volume, these chemicals may total three to ten gallons per household.

Some examples of hazardous cleaning chemicals can be found in air fresheners, which may contain formaldehyde, bleach, which contains sodium hypochlorite, disinfectants, which contain ammonia or phenols, and furniture polish, which contain petroleum distillates.  Some hazardous cleaning chemicals are called volatile organic chemicals, because they evaporate quickly into the air and are easily inhaled.

The government tries to protect consumers by regulating commercial product ingredients to some degree, but products containing less than 10 percent of toxic chemicals, such as benzene, which is a known carcinogen, do not require the warning. 

The labels on certain toxic cleaning products may list as inert some ingredients that may be even more toxic than the so-called active ingredient of the product.  These inert ingredients are not identified and their potential to cause chronic health effects is not disclosed.  Labels also fail to identify ingredients that may escape as volatile organic compounds to irritate our respiratory system, help produce smog, damage the ozone layer, or accumulate in the environment.

Children are especially vulnerable to polluted indoor air.  Because they have higher metabolic rates, children require more oxygen and breathe in two to three times as much air relative to their body size than adults.  Children's systems are still developing as they move through stages of rapid growth and development, from infancy through adolescence.  Exposure to toxic substances can affect fetal, infant, and childhood growth, especially development of the nervous system.

Another problem in cleaning products are those that contain antibacterial agents.  These products may be a form of cleaning overkill because their widespread use makes bacteria resistant to them.  Antibacterial agent products are usually unnecessary under ordinary circumstances.  Regular soap by itself works against bacteria by loosening bacteria from surfaces so they can be rinsed away.  According to the US News and World Report, the simplest and cheapest way to banish bugs is with at least 15 seconds of thorough hand washing with soap, which usually removes 99 percent of bacteria off the skin.  Manufacturers have not yet produced evidence that healthy individuals who use antibacterial products get sick less often.

How can you reduce your family's exposure to toxic chemicals?

1.   Do not use potentially hazardous chemicals.

2.  Do not overuse antibacterial cleaning products.  Use regular soap to wash your hands often and rinsing well.  Use a nontoxic alternative recipe for disinfecting kitchens, bathrooms, and floors (mix 1/2 cup borax with 1 gallon water).

3.  Make your own nontoxic cleaners out of easy-to-find and inexpensive ingredients.  Some most frequently used ingredients are baking soda, borax, soap, washing soda, white vinegar, salt, and lemon juice.  Log on to for more nontoxic cleaning recipes.

Consumers can learn about any household chemical product by asking the manufacturer for a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet.  This sheet lists complete information about the product, including all safety precautions.  Check the product labels for manufacturer's telephone numbers, or look up manufacturers on the Internet and check for the Material Safety Data Sheet.

Maid Brigade House Cleaning Services cares about you and your family.  For more information on healthy green cleaning and green living, please log on to and  For more information on "Household Cleaning Products and Breast Cancer", please watch our video at




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