13 Most Toxic Spring Cleaning Products—and What to Buy Instead
When it comes to the products you use to clean your home daily, it's best to steer away from toxic chemicals that could pose harm to you and your family.
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Conventional all-purpose cleaners
Cleaners that are tasked with the job of cutting through sticky, stuck-on messes and grease usually contain glycol ethers, a type of petrochemicals that can enter our bloodstream by penetrating our skin (even if you’re wearing gloves) or through inhalation, warns Ashleigh Frager, founder of Back to Basics, a website that supports green living. “Glycol ethers have been known to cause fatigue, lethargy, nausea, and possible liver and kidney damage—and other chemicals in cleaners have been known to cause immediate acute symptoms like headaches, sneezing, eye redness, stomach pain or nausea, and skin irritation.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) backs Frager up, though notes that health problems result from chronic and/or exposure to high levels. To protect yourself, Frager recommends using a cleaner that’s free of glycol ethers but still works well to get rid of any stubborn messes. Try these homemade cleaners that really work.
Chlorine, the main component of bleach, is a chemical in the halogen family, which also includes iodine, explains Courtney Sperlazza, MPH, epidemiologist, biostatistician, and experiential content editor at Bulletproof. “Excessive exposure to chlorine can interfere with iodine absorption in the thyroid gland, which over time can cause thyroid disease,” she says. (This was borne out in some animal studies.) For this reason, she recommends that people with known thyroid disorders and iodine deficiency be especially careful to avoid bleach. For household cleaning, she suggests using a paste of baking soda and water to handle tough jobs and adding vinegar to your laundry as a whitener.
Hiding behind the ingredient name “fragrance” are a pack of toxic chemicals, including phthalates, polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds, and formaldehyde, many of which have been shown to have a potential link to cancer, birth defects, hormonal imbalances and allergies in children, suggests some research. Instead, Frager recommends a safe alternative that’s formulated with aromatherapeutic-grade essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance.
Anything this good at cleaning has to have some potent chemicals behind it, and, in fact, it may contain formaldehyde, which the National Cancer Institute considers to be a carcinogen. “The finished formula does not, but the melamine sponge is made from formaldehyde, which is not something we should encourage humans to work with or manufacture,” Christine Dimmick, public advocate for health and wellness, author of Detox Your Home and founder of The Good Home Co. A natural solution she recommends is a natural scrubber and some baking soda. If you do want to stick with your Magic Eraser, be sure to always wear gloves.
Traditional garbage bags, while not toxic to your body, can be bad for the environment. “Our garbage sits in plastic bags, decomposing in a hot landfill creating methane gas,” explains Dimmick. “Because the bag never decomposes, it acts as a perfect balloon to create the gas while our food and other trash rots.” On the other hand, Biobag Waste Bags, which are intended for food scraps, decompose in weeks, rather than decades.
While they might seem like an easy and hands-free approach to ridding your home of insects, most modern-day insecticides leave behind a toxic mess that’s harmful to humans, too. Even though they cannot be smelled, they can give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals which the EPA has linked to everything from eye, nose, and throat irritation and headaches to organ damage, and even cancer. Dimmick also points out that pets can eat the poisoned bug and get ill themselves. Instead, she suggests using all-natural essential oils, such as cedarwood and cinnamon, to keep bugs away. Next, here are 8 plants that repel mosquitoes naturally.
When you consider a cleaner that’s meant to tackle the grease, grime, and other types of build-up leftover from your cooked foods, the last word you’d think to describe it is toxic. However, oven cleaners are loaded with toxic chemicals so much so that the EWG warns against using many conventional brands. The highest concern of exposure to the chemicals used in most oven cleaners is cancer followed by asthma and respiratory conditions, skin irritation, and harm to the environment. You’re better off using a plant-based cleaner on your grills and appliances.
Spray shower cleaners
Any type of shower cleaner that requires you to exit the room for the purpose of letting the spray “ventilate” is likely harmful to you as well as the environment. “They give off unhealthy fumes to anyone and can cause skin rashes,” says Dimmick. The American Lung Association backs her up, noting that a wide array of aerosol spray products, bleach, and air fresheners, pose a risk for health problems, even cancer. Instead, Dimmick suggests using vinegar and water mixed with a little Dr. Bronners All-Purpose Soap to prevent mildew, mold, and soap build-up.
Though they’re undeniably convenient, any kind of wipe that we throw into the trash after using is terrible for our environment. “They do not decompose or biodegrade and regularly block pipes and unfortunately our water treatment system,” says Dimmick. “It is actually much healthier to use a paper towel made from recycled paper or better yet—rags that you regularly wash.”
Conventional dish soap
Most dish soaps are formulated with SLS or SLES, which help create suds but may also irritate your skin. Since this cleaning product actually makes direct contact with skin, she warns that it can cause skin irritations like dermatitis, rashes, and dry skin. Instead of conventional dish soaps, she suggests an all-natural, hypoallergenic dish soap like Better Life Dish Soap, which still gets nice and sudsy, cuts grease and has a fresh scent without the toxic chemicals. Here are 9 sneaky things you touch every day that could be toxic.
“Dryer sheets are designed to coat your laundry with a layer of chemicals that help soften fabrics, however, these very same chemicals are not water-soluble and stick to the fabric for a long time,” says Frager. “Benzyl acetate, for example, one common chemical found in dryer sheets, is highly combustible and exposure to it can cause dizziness and drowsiness.” One study even linked the chemical to carcinogenic activity in rats. Instead, Frager suggests reusable dryer balls, which provide all of the benefits of dryer sheets without any of the drawbacks.
The main ingredient in most conventional window or glass cleaners is ammonia hydroxide, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers a high health hazard. Instead, it’s best to use a glass cleaner that’s ammonia-free and ideally plant-based, such as Method Glass Cleaner + Surface Cleaner.
Conventional hand soaps
If we look closely at the ingredients list in our everyday hand soaps, we’ll see a laundry list of chemicals, many of which may be harmful to our skin and body. Examples include sulfates, parabens, retinyl palmitate, and fragrance dmdm hydantoin (which is a formaldehyde releaser). “These chemicals have been shown to lead to developmental and reproductive toxicity, biochemical or cellular level changes, cancer, organ system toxicity, and more,” warns Elena Roadhouse, a wellness concierge and certified health coach from the Health Coach Institute. A better option is a natural hand soap formulated without harsh chemicals like Puracy Natural Liquid Hand Soap.
“Not only have sanitizers been shown to contribute to the increasing problem of antibacterial resistance, but they can weaken our immune systems as some exposure to germs is good because it allows our immune systems to build up its own resistance,” says Frager. Instead, she suggests using a non-toxic foaming wash or a pure soap. Want to cut back even more? Find out the many amazing ways you can use baking soda around your house.
Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.