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Savvy Swaps: Toxic Cleaning Products

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Welcome back to our series, Savvy Swaps, where we analyze popular store-bought products and offer up healthier alternatives, without any of the negative additives. Last time, we looked at healthier packaged food. Today, it’s all about tossing toxic cleaning products for safer cleaners for your home: all-purpose cleaning spray, bathroom cleaner, laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent and glass cleaner.

Savvy Swaps: Toss toxic store-bought products for safe, natural alternatives without the negative additives and harmful chemicals. |

Read the ingredients labels on most store-bought cleaning products and you’ll find most of these items are filled with loads of toxic chemicals, including synthetic colorants, fragrance and ammonium.

The Truth About Toxic Cleaning Products

After analyzing over 2,000 cleaning products, the EWG found that over 53 percent contain ingredients known to harm the lungs and 22 percent contain chemicals reported to cause asthma. Many other toxic chemicals in popular cleaning products cause cancer and hormonal issues.

And if that weren’t enough reason to stay away from toxic cleaning products, they’re also bad for our planet–many aquatic organisms in streams, rivers and lakes have been harmed by cleaning product ingredients that washed down drains or were discharged in wastewater.

Take a look at some of the leading brands’ ingredients labels to get an idea of how some of these toxic cleaning products compare to their safer counterparts (Note: Don’t be fooled by “green marketing” on the label, these are often some of the worst offenders):

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Toss toxic cleaning products for safer alternatives without any of the negative additives. |

You may be wondering why some of these ingredients are even bad for you in the first place (I for one hadn’t heard of most of these chemicals, besides the fact that I could hardly pronounce them). To give you an idea, here are a few of the worst offenders from above:

  • Synthetic Colorants: The U.S. is way behind other countries on outlawing harmful ingredients in our products, but even the FDA prohibits the use of synthetic colors, like FD&C Red #3, in cosmetics because it causes cancer, notably thyroid tumors, in rodents. But it’s still allowed in our cleaning products… there’s a head scratcher. Just like in food, these cheap, artificial dyes also pose a risk for hyperactivity in children and allergic reactions.
  • Fragrance: Just like in cosmetics, Fragrance (one of the top five allergens in the world) in cleaning products is also a proven human immune system toxicant and often contains harmful chemicals in its secret mixture, like phthalates (these chemicals mimic human hormones and are known to cause birth defects, lower sperm count, thyroid issues and even cancer). Though some fragrance mixtures may be safe, since we can’t know exactly what’s in it, I try to avoid anything with “Fragrance” listed in the ingredients to be safe, including “Unscented” products. Be sure to look for the words “Fragrance-Free” instead.
  • Ammonium: This disinfecting chemical comes in many forms (in the above products, you’ll see it as ammonium chloride and ammonium hydroxide) and are proven to cause asthma, severe skin burns and eye damage. It’s also incredibly toxic to aquatic life.
  • ButoxydiglycolAnother chemical known to inhibit pulmonary and respiratory function, Butoxydiglycol (rated an F by the EWG) also causes serious eye irritation and has some concern for causing cancer, female reproductive toxicity and genetic defects. 
  • EthanolamineRated an F by the EWG, Ethanolamine causes severe skin burns and eye damage, asthma and respiratory issues, skin irritation and central nervous system depression.
  • Sodium Borate: Rated an F by the EWG, Sodium Borate is proven to damage fertility and the unborn child with clear evidence of endocrine disruption. It also causes skin allergies and irritation.
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So, I think it’s safe to say that conventional household cleaning products are pretty scary. While I highly recommend making your own cleaning products (check out our DIY Homemade recipes here!), there are a handful of safer store-bought alternatives that will also get the job done:

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Toss toxic cleaning products for safer alternatives without any of the negative additives. |

All-Purpose Cleaning Spray

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Bathroom Cleaner

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Laundry Detergent

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Dishwasher Detergent

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Glass Cleaner

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As always, be sure to read the ingredients label on any product you buy and search the item on EWG’s database to see how it ranks. Being aware and making informed decisions is the first, and most important, step. Happy Cleaning!

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I’ve linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust.

Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I've linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.

Kate Kordsmeier

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4 comments on “Savvy Swaps: Toxic Cleaning Products”

  1. Hi Kate. Thank you for all of your hard work. Your website is amazing. Your story is also quite amazing and inspiring. I am so glad you found a way to be healthy. I am wondering if you have any recommendations for a natural way to clean the oven grime? Thank you. Jeanmarie Cahill, Los Altos, CA

  2. Savvy Swaps are my favorite R and R segment. Keep them coming 🙂