Are your cleaning products harming you?

We all want to live in clean homes. Take care of the spaces we live in. Wash our clothes, our floors, bathrooms and everything else.

What chemicals are in these products? Are they safe? What effect could they have on us and our family? What impact do our household cleaning products have on the environment?

Possible effects of exposure to household cleaning products

Think about how you clean? You use your hands and as you clean you inhale, possibly quite heavily depending on the tasks.

Cleaning products contain chemicals that get absorbed by the largest organ we have: our skin. These chemicals absorb into our systems and can affect our immune system, gut microbiome and other organ systems. Some chemicals present in common products have shown to affect red blood cells, irritate the eyes and cause various expressions of skin disorders. Our microbiome is essential in our overall health.

Some of their ingredients are known to cause cancer, blindness, asthma and other serious conditions. 

Secondly, we inhale a lot of our cleaning products. It’s not just a matter of sprays and aerosols, but floor cleaners, window and bathroom cleaners too. Gases evaporate and we inhale them. Asthma is a leading related cause of noxious gases from cleaning products.

It has been repeatedly shown in longitudinal epidemiological studies that children born to mothers with high levels of certain thyroid-disrupting chemicals, such as PCBs or flame-retardants, have lower IQs. Children born to mothers exposed to pesticides or other chemicals can also display more neurodevelopmental problems.

To summarize, exposure to household cleaning products can:

  • Affect the balance of the gut bacteria
  • Disrupt hormones
  • Cause asthma in adults and children
  • Increase toxicity load in the body
  • Affect brain development in pregnant and breastfeeding mothers
  • Worsen brain disorders in kids
  • Worsen or develop skin disorders

Germs are not created equal

Different products are marketed for different areas of the house. We made to believe that germs are the enemy. We disinfect our homes, kids and lives until nothing is left.

Alongside overuse of antibiotics, this sterile world has allowed superbugs to flourish. Exposure to germs is absolutely essential to children’s development of the immune system. It is the natural dense defend against common bugs as well as superbugs. They need germs so that their immune system can create antibodies to protect them.

I am not advocating to live in a bacterial infection of a house, but rather to not nuke your home with harsh chemicals. Allow your kids to be dirty. They don’t have to wash their hands every second of the day or play in the sterile playroom.

Even as adults, coming into contact with germs is important. In a great book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, Dr Micheal Ruscio studies the gut exhaustively and finds by simply hand washing dishes, you allow more gut diversity. Similarly, by having a diverse range of plants in and around your home, you can add good bacteria.

Encouraging bacterial diversity is one of the best defences against bad bacteria, not bleaching your entire home.

Cleaning products and the environment

The reason I am passionate about the environment is simple: If it’s toxic to me, surely it’s toxic to the environment. Flushing it down the toilet, washing it down the sink or throwing it in the bin does not take it out of the system. What we do in our homes invariable has an impact on the health of our larger home, mother nature.

Cleaning products that are laden with chemicals disrupt eco-systems, development of animals and their young and also affect plant species and their role in the health overall ecosystem and waterways.

Few water sources in the world are clear of contamination. A scary thought. You think that remote lakes and rivers are healthy but traces of chemicals make their way through underground water systems.

Common chemicals in our cleaning products to avoid

OK, let’s look at the nasties!


Found in: Well almost everything from household cleaners, toys, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, adhesives, plastic pipes and even medical equipment and devices. (scary)

They are found in consumer products, water packaged in plastic, in the air via vapours and dust.

Effects: Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and known carcinogens. There is some evidence into the effects on reproduction and development of pregnant women.

Phthalates, a family of industrial chemicals used to soften PVC plastic and as solvents in cosmetics and other consumer products, can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system — particularly the developing testes — according to animal studies.

Animal studies are not 100% reliable but indicate the possibility of harmful effects.

“PERC” – Perchloroethylene

Found in: Common solvent found in dry cleaning processes. In the household, it is found in spot removers, water repellents, wood cleaners, glues and suede protectors.

Effects: Environmental and household exposure may be limited. Those who work in dry cleaners and at the workplace are more at risk.

PERC is classified as a neurotoxin. Long term exposure can affect the brain. Mood, memory, reaction time and vision can all be affected. Despite it currently shown to not be harmful, we in the early days of chemical exposure. Scientists find it difficult to understand and predict cross chemical interactions. Bioaccumulation of toxins is only now a hot topic. I would prefer to err on the safe side, what about you?


Found in: “Antibacterial” soaps, toothpaste and household cleaning products. It has not shown any more antibacterial action than ordinary soap.

Triclosan, an antimicrobial agent found in toys, toothpaste, cosmetics and more than 2,000 other consumer products, has been found to wreak havoc on the guts of mice whose blood concentrations of the compound are roughly equivalent to a typical level for humans.

Effects: Triclosan is a known endocrine disruptor and carcinogen. Bacterial resistance is found in overuse of triclosan. Not great when you have to go into hospital. Triclosan easily stores in fat cells leading to bioaccumulation. Fat cells absorb triclosan and therefore been found in breastmilk. It weakens the immune system, uncontrolled cell growth,
Developmental and reproductive toxicity and lastly triclosan used by young children i=ncreases chances of asthma, allergies and eczema.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), there is no evidence that suggests that using antibacterial soap works any more effectively than soap and water. 

“QUATS” – Quarternary Ammonium Compounds

Found in: QUATS are a common ingredient in disinfectants. It is a high strength disinfectant. Some say unless you are doing open heart surgery, you don’t need this kind of strength in the home.

Quaternary ammonium compounds can cause toxic effects by all routes of exposure including inhalation, ingestion, dermal application and irrigation of body cavities. Exposure to diluted solutions can cause mild and self-limited irritation. Concentrated solutions of quaternary ammonium compounds are corrosive and can cause burns to the skin and the mucous membranes. They can produce systemic toxicity due to their curare-like properties. They can also cause allergic reactions.

Effects: QUATS recently studied show effects on sperm quality, fertility and birth defects in animals. More importantly, are superbugs. Overuse of antibacterials creates bugs that develop resistance and leave us with nothing to defend ourselves with. QUATS also affect aquatic life. Another reason to opt natural.


Also known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylene glycol butyl ether, ethylene glycol n-butyl ether, Butyl Cellusolve, butyl glycol, and butyl Oxitol.

Found in: Found in most household cleaning detergents. Glass cleaners and multi-purpose sprays are most common. Other sources are paint thinners and strippers, liquid soaps and varnish removers.

Effects: Asthma and eczema are associated with short term exposure. Blood defects and neurological problems from chronic exposure. Animals studies have revealed reproductive and developmental risks from inhalation exposure.


Found in: Fertilizers are a common source. At home it is found in polishing agents. Glass and window cleaners, multipurpose cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and oven and drain cleaners.

Effects: It is sold as a liquid but its natural state is a gas. Ammonia’s gaseous nature is particularly hazardous for inhalation. Ammonia is a corrosive chemical and inhalation in large amounts can immediately show signs of burning nose, throat and respiratory tract. Inhaling lower amounts through household cleaning over a long time can cause asthma or irreparable lung damage, especially to those that are more sensitive.

Ammonia occurs naturally in the environment and there have been no direct links to cancer. Opting for ammonia-free products is best for a healthy home.


Also known as sodium hypochlorite or hypochlorite.

Found in: Bleached paper towels, bleached coffee filters, clothing detergents and dishwashing detergents.

Effects: Chlorine is a harmful substance when exposed at high levels. Low levels it is irritating to the nose, eyes and respiratory tract. Higher levels damage the eyes, nose and lungs. Inhalation produces coughing and difficulty breathing, chest tightness and pain, nausea and vomiting and lung damage. Skin contact results in irritation or rost-bite like injury or blisters.

The water in the machines, which contains chlorine from the detergents, transfers the chlorine to the air through a process called “volatilization.” We then breathe the contaminated air.

Respitory problems, memory loss, slow reaction time, impaired balance hearing loss and impaired vision result from long term exposure to chlorine.

Sodium Hydroxide

Also known as lye or caustic soda.

Found in: Household detergents and soaps. But the most important sources to note are oven and drain cleaners.

Effects: When used as a drain or oven cleaner, heat is produced and gas is released. Inhalation is a common route of exposure. Inhalation causes irritation to respiratory systems and mucous membranes. Because if its corrosive nature it can cause permanent damage to eyes. Direct exposure can cause chemical burns to the skin.

Take caution – choose natural

While many of these cleaners are not going to kill you now. we do not know the effects of long term exposure. Scientific research is usually conducted to reveal at what levels chemicals become toxic. But are they looking at what happens in 10 years?

Another area unexplored is the effect of various chemical exposure and their interaction with each other within out=r bodies. Chemistry is magical but also complex. It is difficult to say how any two, three or more chemicals will react with the chemicals that are in our food, the air we breathe or from the cosmetics we use.

Some may say it’s safe, but my objection is not from an isolated perspective. It comes from looking at all the various chemical exposures we face in our modern lives and the accumulation thereof.

Brain disorders are more common. Kids are at most risk. Mothers endure lifetimes of chemical exposure and have kids whose brains can not cope with the chemical blanket passed over from mom.

By opting for natural cleaner household cleaners you are cutting out a source of chemical exposure. It’s about reducing as many sources of exposure as you possibly can.

Wondering what natural alternatives there are? We look at some amazing brands making the way for household cleaning as well as some old time favourites our grandmothers were using.