What’s So Bad About Household Cleaners?

What’s So Bad About Household Cleaners?

When I was a kid I had Saturday morning chores. My jobs were to dust and vacuum the living room, polish the furniture with Lemon Pledge and polish the brass table with Brasso.  I recently mentioned this to my mother and joked that I clearly wasn’t allowed out into the fresh air until I had almost asphyxiated myself. My mother’s reply was to one up me by telling me she used to follow her father as he sprayed DDT around their cottage. Masks? Not a chance. Ha ha! Ha?

Not really that funny though.  Household cleansers are being fingered for contributing to a myriad of health issues ranging from skin irritations and headache, asthma, and cancer as well as rising instances of autism, neurological disorders, ADHD and lower IQ.  Apparently our homes are one of the greatest sources of toxins in our lives. The absurdity is that we pay a premium for it and we are spraying, spritzing and scrubbing these toxins into our counter tops, floors, laundry and windows through our cleaning products. And the most vulnerable? You got it – children. They are often at ground level and either licking or sucking absolutely everything in their path or putting hands in their mouths after touching items that have been treated with chemicals. How many times have I smooshed my nose up against the glass doors while my son does the same on the other side? It isn’t just that little people put their hands in their mouths. I found a presentation by Irena Buka, a general pediatrician, whose special interest is  in environmental influences on the health and development of the fetus and children. She states:  “The developing fetus and child have distinct exposure risks, making their bodies obvious receptacles for toxins… Kids need more calories and more water per unit of body weight than adults. Toxicants carried in food will be delivered at a rate 2-3 times higher in children than in adults. Water is delivered at 5-7 times the adult rate. Children also have more restricted diets with a higher proportion of fruits and vegetables. Pollutants such as pesticides in these foods are likely to be delivered in higher quantities to children. Because of their unique body-surface-to-volume ratio, and the nature of their respiratory development, kids inhale more pollutants per kilogram of body weight than adults. Children breathe more quickly. An infant has three times the minute ventilation of an adult. A 6-year-old has double. Environmental toxicants found in the air, both indoors and out, will be delivered to children at higher rates.” And this, is to say nothing of the cost to the planet.

I find myself scratching my head wondering how we got here in the first place. Maybe we didn’t know back then what rising toxicity levels would do to our kids and to ourselves. But we know now. There are ongoing studies looking at the long term impact of exposure to things chemicals found in cleansers, let’s take antibacterials for instance. The Centre For Disease Control has suggested that antibacterial are impacting immune system development in children.  Based on my research it is astonishing that  chemical based cleansers aren’t a thing of the past. On the contrary, the household cleanser aisle is almost as dizzying as the cereal aisle. So why don’t we protest the use of known carcinogens in products that we are told to use on counter tops where food is prepared and floors where children crawl, or my all time favorite, to spray directly on children’s toys to kill all those nasty germs? I’m guessing – because we simply don’t know. If cleansers came with  warnings labels like those on cigarettes, it would probably give you pause.

So here’s a little something to think about:

Benzene, Toluene, Xylene, and Methanol may damage fetal nervous system and can cause cancer. You will find these ingredients in oven cleaners, disinfectants, detergents, toilette, tub and tile cleaners, metal polishes, drain openers, adhesives, paints and finishes. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. You will find it in air fresheners, antibacterial dish detergents, carpet cleaners, Swiffer mops and Lysol products.

*Source: healthyenvironmentforkids.ca
*Kids and the Environment by Deborah Ostrovsky – December 7, 2010

Stay tuned for my next post:
What’s So Great About Making Your Own Household Cleaners?

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  1. Sara Bradford
    July 19, 08:13 Reply

    Women who work from home (or stay home with kids) have a 55% higher chance of developing cancer than those who work out of the home, due to chemical household cleaners. Eek!
    Norwex cleans with just microfibre and water: http://www.norwex.ca
    Can’t get much better than that. Cheers! xo

  2. jhoysi
    July 19, 11:31 Reply

    I was amazed to find how easy it is to clean with very basic COOKING staples that I always have on-hand at our house. With a few exceptions (laundry being the biggest, because vinegar tends to work like bleach when it comes to colors and fabrics), our entire house is cleaned top-to-bottom with these three ingredients:

    • vinegar
    • water
    • baking soda

    Just fill a spray bottle with half vinegar, half water (some add a bit of lemon juice as well, but we usually skip it) and there you go! If you need some extra oomph, just sprinkle the baking soda on the surface before spraying with the vinegar mixture and you have a homemade Scrubbing Bubble substitue that cuts through grime, grease, soap scum, and even mold.

    Not to mention, it costs practically nothing for months of cleaning product. I’ve been using this system for over a year now and have found it to work better than most commercial products.

  3. Melissa
    July 19, 12:32 Reply

    Agree, astonishing that all grocery stores across Canada to not necessarily have at least one non-toxic cleaner. Sad.

  4. Josh
    July 19, 12:53 Reply

    Hi Heidi,

    Great question regarding the status quo on using chemical cleaners: “How did we end up here?” Much to your thoughts around this toxic situation, I tend to also think it’s a lack of awareness and education about the dangers of chemicals; as well as a lack of awareness and education about chemical free products and practices. There are nontoxic options out there which work just as well as the harmful everyday household cleaning products we’re so familiar with. “Jhoysi” provided some great solutions for creating your own nontoxic cleaners right at home. I work at Activeion, and we created chemical-free option that transforms regular tap water into a dirt-removing and bacteria-killing solution. We believe it’s the future of clean (www.activeion.com). Please consider making a change to remove chemical cleaners from your home to protect your family, pets, and the planet.

  5. Ceri Marsh
    July 19, 15:36 Reply

    Thanks for all your great comments. We’re definitely going to follow up on this post and offer some different/less toxic options. Stay tuned and thanks for writing in to share your thoughts!

  6. Jillian
    July 19, 15:57 Reply

    I worry about the same things. We’ve been chemical- free for a couple of years now, using mostly cider vinegar and water to clean. We’re also paper-towel free ( not as hard as it sounds), and use washable micro fibre cloths which are better at lifting grime etc so, again, no chemicals are needed. I do use baking soda from time to time for stubborn spots, but, to be honest, it leaves a huge powdery residue that is more pain than help. The microfibre cloths and elbow grease work better for me. Happy to hear other ideas.

    If you try the microfibre route, I picked up a bag of 20 no name microfibre cloths for cheap on ebay. Look online in buk before spending at local stores.

  7. Heidi Pyper
    July 19, 20:24 Reply

    Hi All,
    Thanks for reading and the thoughtful comments and suggestions. Jillian, I picked up some microfiber cloths … changed my life! Stay tuned for my next post on cleaning green for a couple of great tips.

  8. Jamie Gold
    July 20, 17:24 Reply

    Heidi, great article, discussion and questions about why we persist in buying products that put us, our kids and the environment at risk. As the guy in the family (and a guy) who does the laundry and most of the shopping, I read product labels and avoid products containing questionable or nasty ingredients. But like jhoysi who makes her own, I think we are in the minority or perhaps vanguard. Maybe some of the blame lies with the largest CPG companies who have brainwashed us into thinking that we have to be super-clean, antiseptic and anti-everything, or else we are dirty. But maybe also we as consumers have to be more responsible for our choices, a trend which I think and hope will soon reach that magical tipping point. As a guy who didn’t start out green, I am increasingly so because I can’t un-think the thought that being otherwise is just plain wrong or at best unnecessarily risky. Truth be known, that’s why we created Berryplus, a laundry soap made from soapberries that cleans as well as leading brands but is so much more gentle, environmentally sound and wholesome. Like jhoysi, we became aware of the risks, chose otherwise, and are happier and healthier because of it. And that, I think, is the key (as Josh says too): as people become aware that they are courting unnecessary risks, many of them too will choose otherwise. I look forward to your next post about cleaning tips, as there’s always something new to learn. Many thanks again for your article.

  9. Katrina Kienast
    July 21, 15:19 Reply

    I would have to second Sara Bradford’s comment re the Norwex. I discovered their products about 5 years ago and loved them so much I signed up to sell them. Anyone interested in trying any of their stuff please send me an email and I will happily order some for you! What is so great is you only need water and so don’t even need to make any homemade stuff unless you want to.
    happy chemical free cleaning!

  10. Deborah
    August 23, 13:31 Reply

    Hello Heidi,
    Great article! I was very pleased that you were able to use information on Irene Buka’s work in pediatrics and environmental health. I wanted to let you and readers know that my full article, “Kids and the Environment” based on Dr. Irene Buka’s presentation given in Montreal to Breast Cancer Action Montreal, an environmental health awareness group with a focus on breast cancer prevention, can be found on the Breast Cancer Action Montreal website:


    There are other links there that might be of interest to your readers with good tips and advice about keeping environmental pollution in the home to a minimum. Thought your readers might appreciate more info.–a lot of it coming from Canada or joint U.S./Canadian partnerships in Pediatric Health.

    Cheers, and thanks!
    Deborah O.

  11. Deborah
    August 26, 15:36 Reply

    Hi again,
    Now that I’ve found your site and all this interesting stuff I just wanted to share so more. Irene Buka’s presentation was done for a local Montreal group that has put together their own handy guide to household cleaners:


    Lots of info. you already mentioned in your article but I wanted to pass this on to you and your readers if it is useful to print out.

  12. Heidi Pyper
    August 27, 07:45 Reply

    Thanks Deborah!
    Glad you found us and shared the link. And to everyone else for reading.

  13. bladder cancer stages
    July 12, 07:35 Reply

    The next time I read a blog, Hopefully it doesn’t fail me as much as this one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read, however I actually believed you would probably have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something that you could fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.

  14. Joel
    July 25, 18:01 Reply

    I was pretty pleased to discover this page.
    I want to to thank you for your time due to this wonderful read!
    ! I definitely loved every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked
    to check out new things in your blog.

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