Today more and more cleaning products are advertised as exceptionally effective, while requiring very little elbow grease. All you have to do is simply aim, gently pull the trigger, and that’s it—the soap scum, mold, and germs magically disappear. While caught up in the excitement of these miraculous cleaning products, many people fail to realize they contain toxic, dangerous man-made chemicals and pesticides. Caution, danger, and warning aren’t written in bold on their labels for no reason—most common cleaners today can actually be very harmful to our health.

From Bleach to 409, household cleaners contain harsh chemicals that can cause bodily problems from short-term and long-term exposure. Chlorine, one of the most harmful cleaning products, is so widespread that it’s almost as if a house wouldn’t be considered a home without it. An ingredient in many cleaners, chlorine is also called hypochlorite, sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen chloride, and hydrochloric acid. Chlorine is an extremely dangerous substance that can cause permanent physical damage and even death. It is a strong irritant to the lungs and the mucous membranes and has been found to cause asthma. Recent studies have linked breast cancer to chlorine exposure; it was found that women with breast cancer had 50-60% higher levels of organichlorines (chlorination byproducts) in their breast tissue than women without breast cancer. As you can see, chlorine is no friendly cleaning product. In fact, the American Public Health Association unanimously passed a resolution urging American industry to stop using chlorine. Supermarket shelves are filled with a multitude of harmful cleaners in addition to chlorine products. Below is a chart of such cleaners and their dangers.

Product type Harmful Ingredients Potential hazards
Air Freshener and Deodorizer Formaldehyde Toxic; carcinogen; irritant to eyes, nose, throat, and skin; may cause nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness, memory loss, and shortness of breath.
Disinfectant Sodium hypochlorite Corrosive; irritates or burns skin, eyes; may cause pulmonary edema or vomiting and coma if ingested.
Phenols Flammable; very toxic; respiratory, circulatory, or cardiac damage.
Ammonia Vapor irritating to eyes, respiratory tract, and skin; possible chronic irritation.
Drain Cleaner Sodium or potassium hydroxide (lye) Caustic; irritant; inhibits reflexes; burns to skin, eyes; poisonous if swallowed
Floor Cleaner Wax Diethylene glycol Toxic; causes central nervous system depression and kidney and liver lesions.
Petroleum solvents Highly flammable; associated with skin and lung cancer; irritant to skin, eyes, nose, throat, lungs.
Ammonia Vapor irritation to eyes, respiratory tract, and skin; possible chronic irritation.
Furniture Polish Petroleum distillates or mineral spirits Highly flammable; moderately toxic; associated with skin and lung cancer; irritant to skin, eyes, nose, throat, lungs; entry into lungs may cause pulmonary edema.
Oven Cleaner Sodium or potassium hydroxide (lye) Caustic; irritant; inhibits reflexes; burns to skin, eyes; poisonous if swallowed due to severe tissue damage.
Spot Remover Perchlorethylene or trichloroethane Slow decomposition; liver and kidney damage; perchlorethylene is suspected carcinogen.
Ammonium hydroxide Corrosive; vapor extremely irritable to skin, eyes, and respiratory passages; ingestion causes tissue burns.
Sodium hypochlorite Corrosive; irritates skin, eyes, respiratory tract; may cause pulmonary edema and skin burns.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner Sodium acid sulfate or oxalate or hypochloric acid Corrosive; burns from skin contact or inhalation; ingestion may be fatal.
Chlorinated phenols Flammable; very toxic; respiratory, circulatory, or cardiac damage.
Window Cleaner Diethylene glycol Toxic; causes central nervous system depression and degenerative lesions in liver and kidneys.
Ammonia Vapor irritating to eyes, respiratory tract, and skin; possible chronic irritation.

When we use chemicals on a regular basis they become part of our home environment. According to the EPA, indoor air is 2 to 5 times more contaminated than outdoor air. Not only do these chemicals pollute the air that we breathe inside, they leach onto our counter tops, floors, carpets, bathtubs, sinks, and walls. We also absorb them into our bodies when they come in contact with our skin. Without our consideration, our homes have become toxic habitats. Regularly breathing, smelling, and touching these chemicals puts our own health at risk, not to mention the health of spouses, children, and even pets. Just because we find these products on the supermarket shelves doesn’t mean they are tested for safety. In fact, most cleaners receive no testing for long term safety. After forty years of using chemical cleaners, we are beginning to connect asthma, cancer, nervous system disorders, and other diseases to their household use. Fortunately however, using chemicals for household cleaning is a relatively new practice and it is not at all a necessity. Natural cleaning alternatives, from laundry detergent to bathroom cleaners (and everything in between) are now available at practically all health food stores. These natural cleaners are biodegradable and human friendly.