In today’s world, it seems like we can’t go a day without hearing about the harmful effects of chemicals. There are many chemicals and unnatural substances in most cleaning products that can harm the environment and our bodies. Let’s explore what we’re inhaling and absorbing when we clean our home with these toxic products!
The negative effect of cleaning with bleach is that it damages the natural cycle of microbes and bacteria to break down substances, leading to a build-up in colonies. Bleach also leaves behind a residue that can end up on your hands or clothes without you even knowing it. The chemical compound found in bleach is called sodium hypochlorite, which can cause health risks for humans. This chemical is of particular concern as it contains chlorine, a disinfectant that the United States Environmental Protection Agency has classified as hazardous if inhaled over a long period of time.
Another chemical found in many cleaning products is ammonia. While it has a strong smell and is an effective cleanser, ammonia also poses risks to both the environment and humans. Ammonia can cause irritation at the site of contact with the eyes or skin and respiratory tract inflammation if inhaled. It can be very toxic to aquatic organisms and birds at low concentrations, meaning that it could poison animals who come into contact with water contaminated by such chemicals. When broken down (which can take 1-3 days), ammonia becomes nitrates linked to certain cancers, particularly colorectal cancer for those under 50 years old.
Mold And Mildew Removal
Many cleaning products contain chemicals that kill mold and mildew. Unfortunately, the harmfulness of these chemicals outweighs their benefits since they can cause asthma-like symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest or throat, and fatigue. Additionally, many people choose cleaning products scented with fragrance additives to mask any unpleasant odors left by chemicals after cleaning. However, these scents are linked to headaches and migraines for some individuals.
Many oven cleaners contain lye (sodium hydroxide) which is extremely corrosive. This chemical is very dangerous in its dry form, so when combined with water, it becomes even hazardous due to heat released during the reaction. Sodium hydroxide can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, leading to shortness of breath if inhaled. Exposure to this chemical in larger quantities has also been linked with cancer. Avoid purchasing oven cleaners altogether or at least use them only outside of the home.
Dish Washing Soap
This common household ingredient is certainly not without its risks. Dishwashing soap cuts grease on dishes by causing oils to bond with water. However, when water evaporates after washing, the oil remains. This residue coats your sink, allowing for bacteria growth when moisture accumulates under these layers of dirt, resulting in harmful mold and mildew growth—which will make you even more prone to respiratory issues since it spreads easily through the air. Your skin can also absorb dishwashing soap which can contribute to cancer, infertility, and nerve damage for larger exposures over a long period of time.
Amphoteric chemicals are extremely helpful in cleaning as they can mix with both basic and acidic solutions. However, there is some debate regarding their safety for use around food as toxins such as carcinogens may contaminate food when amphoteric soaps come into contact with it after cleaning. It is best to avoid using these types of cleaners when preparing food and instead use them in areas that humans and animals will not consume.
Formaldehyde is a substance that has dangerous effects on the environment and human health. It is common in cleaning products for germ-killing abilities but can also be in paint, furniture, and insulation—so you’ll likely be exposed to this chemical more than you realize. When ingested, formaldehyde can cause headaches and burning of the throat, while skin contact can cause asthma, among other issues. Formaldehyde inhalation over extended periods has also been linked with cancer, so it’s best to avoid products containing this harmful ingredient at all costs.
Perchloroethylene has been classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and is common in dry cleaning agents, spot removers, and other cleaning agents. When this chemical comes into contact with the skin, it can irritate due to its toxicity. Perchloroethylene is also dangerous when inhaled, so you should use industrial-grade cleaners only outside or with proper ventilation inside of your home.
These substances are very important in cleaning products because they prevent hard water stains from forming on dishes. However, their use has recently come under controversy after being banned in certain regions for environmental reasons. Phosphates have been linked to harmful algal blooms, damaging aquatic ecosystems and depleting the oxygen needed to sustain other forms of marine life.
Phosphates can contribute to eutrophication, a process in which freshwater bodies receive excessive amounts of nutrients which causes plant and algae growth. This can create dead zones where no life is sustainable due to a lack of oxygen and the overpopulation of decaying plants and algae.
Phthalates are used as softeners in plastics. Unfortunately, they may find their way into your body through inhalation or skin contact during everyday cleaning tasks such as mopping or dusting. Once inside the body, phthalates have been linked with hormone disruption—which can cause reproductive issues among humans and animals—and developmental problems.
Phthalates are also linked to cancer and congenital disabilities. However, their use is widespread in products designed for cleaning purposes, so you’ll likely be exposed to them at some point.
These substances and countless more chemical additives pose risks to the environment and human health. Yet, most people can’t avoid or eliminate them from their lives due to inconvenient alternatives such as natural cleaners that may lack effectiveness. So just be aware and make sure you are using all your cleaning products as directed and avoiding any harmful chemicals when you can!