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8 Household Cleaning Products You Need To Avoid


It is truly hard to overstate the importance of keeping a clean home. Not only is a clean and tidy environment good for your overall sense of wellbeing, it is also better for your health.

A build up of mould, dust, and detritus in the air can make anyone feel sick, and can have severe health consequences for those who suffer from asthma, allergies, and a comprised immune system. Dirty toilets and showers can spread infection and fungus, and a filthy kitchen can cause many adverse health problems, including many food-borne illnesses.

While you might be in a rush to keep your home clean by all means necessary, don’t be too hasty. Yes, a clean and tidy home is important, but you need to be careful about the chemicals and cleansers that you use. Some household cleaning products (and the common ingredients that they contain) are terrible for your health, and can negatively affect your children and pets in serious ways.

Strike a good balance by using natural cleaning products when possible, and avoid the harsh and harmful cleaning products listed below.

Common harmful household cleaning products

Different types of household cleansers can cause different types of danger and damage to your health. While some symptoms may be acute and immediate (such as chemical burns, skin irritation, watery eyes, or breathing issues), others have negative long-term effects, and can cause lung infections and even cancer. Cleaning ingredients vary in the type of health hazard they pose. Some cause acute, or immediate, hazards such as skin or respiratory irritation, watery eyes, or chemical burns, while others are associated with chronic, or long-term, effects such as cancer.

While you should be careful with any household cleaning product, and always follow the instructions on the box, packet, or canister, be extra cautious with the following types of products.

  1. Bleach – Chlorinated bleach is one of the most commonly cited dangerous household products. As it is such a common cleaning agent, many bleach injuries are reported each year in the UK. Bleach can cause chemical burns when it comes into contact with skin, and produces fumes that irritate the lungs, nose, eyes and throat. For many people with asthma, bleach can trigger an attack.
  2. Drain Unblockers – Drain unblocking agents contain some of the most corrosive household chemicals, including caustic soda, which can cause severe chemical burns. If it is ingested, it can destroy the oesophagus and throat and lead to death.
  3. Fabric Softeners – While you might think of fabric softener as one of the gentlest products on the market, it has its own hidden health hazards. The chemicals and fragrances that they contain can cause people to experience headaches, respiratory irritation, watery eyes, sneezing, and even asthma attacks.
  4. Toilet Bowl Cleaners – Toilet bowl cleaning products are another landmine of toxic chemicals. Packed with acidic chemicals, they can harm your lungs when breathed in, and cause chemical burns when they come in contact with skin.
  5. Oven Cleaners – Oven cleaning agents are one of the most heavy-duty cleaning products that we bring into our home – and one of the most dangerous. They contain lye, ethers, Methylene Chloride, and petroleum distillates, all dangerous when inhaled.
  6. Air fresheners – The fragrances included in air fresheners are proven to trigger allergies and asthma attacks. America’s Environmental Working Group (EWG) studied more than 2000 household cleansers, and discovered that a staggering 53% contained ingredients already known to harm the lungs. What’s even scarier is that 22% included chemicals proven to induce asthma in healthy people.

8 common household cleaning ingredients to avoid

person cleaning glass

1. Phthalates

Used in: Air fresheners, washing up liquid, toilet paper, washing powder, and even scented loo roll and sanitary napkins! Don’t look at the ingredients lists – phthalates are often encompassed under ‘fragrance,’ which most products are not mandated to reveal.

Health problems: Phthalates are proven to disrupt hormones, and are classified as endocrine disruptors in both men and women. In fact, men who had raised levels of phthalate compounds in their bloods also had lower sperm counts! This is a true problem, as we often come into contact with phthalates in the form of scented soaps and products applied directly to the skin, which is unable to protect itself against toxins.

What to use instead: If you want a healthier choice, skip artificial fragrances and go straight to the source. Natural and organic body and cleaning products use essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance. For natural air fresheners, use essential oils in diffusers, open your windows, and bring more houseplants into your home.

2. Perchloroethylene (aka PERC)

Used In: Fabric spot cleaners, dry cleaning, solutions and upholstery cleaners

Health problems: It has been proven that Perc is a neurotoxin, as well as being a ‘possible carcinogen.’ People who live close to dry cleaners often report neurological problems, including dizziness and confusion.

What to use instead: It’s a good idea to stay away from clothing that is ‘dry clean only,’ or you can seek out cleaning companies that offer a ‘wet cleaning’ option for your clothes. If you are looking for a spot cleaner for your sofa, accent chairs, or other upholstered furniture, try rubbing undiluted castile soap on the problem area, and then washing it with clean, cool water.

3. Triclosan

Used In: Washing up liquid, and most antibacterial hand soap liquids

Health problems: Triclosan is an extremely strong antibacterial agent, and it is known to encourage drug-resistant bacteria. Studies have also shown that they don’t actually help keep you safer or in better health!

What to use instead: Simple – just use hand and washing up soaps that don’t contain triclosan – the shorter the ingredient list, the better.

4. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds (aka QUATS)

Used in: Products labels as ‘antibacterial,’ as well as fabric softener liquids and sheets

Health problems: Quats present many of the same issues as tricolosan, as they are another form of antimicrobial. They irritate the skin and can be harmful when breathed in.

What to use instead: Instead of adding fabric softener to your wash, simply add some plain white vinegar. It can remove soap residue and prevent static cling in your clothing and towels. If you are looking for an antibacterial product, consider mixing a few drops of tea tree oil a lavender essential oil with water in a spray bottle.

5. 2-Butoxyethanol

Used in: Multipurpose cleaners for the kitchen and bathroom

Health Problems: You’ll often find 2-butoxyethanol in household and window cleaners, giving them a sweet smell. It is a ‘glycol ether,’ a strong solvent that causes sore throats. At high levels, it can also cause severe liver and kidney damage and pulmonary edema.

What to use instead: Use a homemade cleaner made from white vinegar and water to clean mirrors, windows, and surfaces. For tougher kitchen and bathroom tasks, use bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, and/or castile soap.

branded cleaning products

6. Ammonia

Used in: Glass, window, and metal cleaners

Health Problems: Ammonia is known for evaporating without leaving streaks or smudges behind, making everything sparkling clean. However, it is a strong irritant for the skin, lungs, and throat, and can lead to chronic bronchitis, asthma, and other health problems. When mixed with bleach, ammonia will create a toxic gas.

What to use instead: Believe it or not, vodka is a great alternative! It also dries without streaking, and leaves a nice shine on mirrors and windows.

7. Chlorine

Used in: Toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, and scouring products

Health Problems:  Chlorine is a problem, as you breathe in the fumes, absorb it into your skin, and even drink it in your tap water (which is at a safe level). However, in household cleaning products, chlorine can become a thyroid disrupter, affecting hormones and even leading to cancer.

What to use instead: If you need to scrub or scour surfaces, stick to bicarbonate of soda. White vinegar does a great job on whitening, or you can look into using a chlorine-free oxygen bleach powder.

8. Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)

Used in: Drain unblockers and oven cleaners

Health Problems: As you probably know, lye is harsh and corrosive – if you get just a small amount on your skin (or worse, in your eyes) it can cause severe burns and blindness. If you inhale lye, at the very least you will have a sore throat. At worst, you could end up with permanent lung damage.

What to use instead: Create a paste made from bicarb and water to clean even the grottiest ovens (a little elbow grease is required), and you can unclog drains with a  snake tool.

cleaning gloves

Cleaning tips you can use around your home

Why is it so important to get rid of bacteria in your home?

As stated at the top of this article, bacteria, dust, and mould can harm the health of you and your family. While your busy life can get in the way of household chores, it’s important to clean regularly so that harmful bacteria, like E. Coli, Streptococcus, and Staphylococcus, don’t have a chance to build and make you ill.

Simple tips and tricks to keep your home clean

These tips might seem deceptively simple, but if you are diligent and follow them each day, you’ll have a cleaner, happier, and healthier home.

  • Start your day off right by making your bed
  • Do one small load of washing per day, rather than doing it all at one go
  • Don’t start cooking until you clean the dishes and wipe down the sides
  • Set an alarm to a 15 minute tidy and dusting every day at a set time
  • Never leave a room empty handed – put things away
  • Leave your toilet cleanser of choice next to the toilet, and give it a swirl every few days

Which rooms in your home contains the most germs?

It should come as no surprise that the kitchen leads the way of the germiest room in your home, with bacteria from food lingering when things aren’t kept clean. The toilet and counters in your bathroom are another nasty location, as is the reception area or foyer where dirty shoes first enter.

Some of the yuckiest places in your home aren’t necessarily room specific – light switches, sockets, railings, and door handles all have shockingly high bacteria counts.

Keeping your home clean, naturally

By swapping out some of the harsh chemicals and products listed above with their greener, more natural, and healthier equivalents, you can keep your home clean without compromising your health.

Edward Sloane

Edward is the managing director of Sloane & Sons Stylish Chairs. He is an expert in quality, comfortable upholstered chairs.


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