Using cleaning products in our homes is not always the safest thing. Many of these popular detergents are made from very harmful chemicals and can pose a danger both to your and your family’s health. To help you have a safe home environment, our experts from Top Cleaners have created this guide. In it, they share what to avoid when shopping for cleaning solutions and which are the best eco-friendly and chemical-free options. You will learn how to distinguish safe products from harmful ones. Our professional cleaners will also reveal the safety rules regarding the utilisation of strong chemicals around the house and what precautions you can take to protect yourself and your family.
1. Health Hazards You Didn’t Know Existed in Your House
You hear from all sorts of places that cleaning detergents can be dangerous for your well-being but do you know why that is. Let’s check a couple of interesting facts:
- The more resilient the stain, the stronger the detergent. Meaning that all those cleaners you use for your oven, drain and toilet bowl are the ones you really don’t want touching your skin. Think about it, if it can remove rust, do you believe your skin will react well to it.
- Many accidental house poisonings happen when consumers mix the wrong cleaning solvents. Combining detergents containing chlorine and ammonia or ammonia and lye (in most oven cleaners) forms chloramine gases, while chlorine mixed with acids (used in toilet bowl cleaners) produces toxic chlorine gas. Both are not something your lungs should be in contact.
- You need to carefully pick your laundry detergents and fabric softeners, as some of the added fragrances are quite aggressive and can easily irritate your skin and eyes. A recent study of the US’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has concluded that almost 1/3 of the substances in those cleaning products are toxic.
- Most brands classify their ingredients as company secrets and don’t disclose them on the labels. You will find a simple statement like “fragrance” for example, but nothing more. Do not trust these brands.
- The hazardous chemicals in some detergents have such low toxicity that they don’t pose an immediate trait to your well-being. However, over time, a couple of serious long-term effects like cancer or hormone disruption can occur.
Here are some scary scientific discoveries connected with seemingly harmless cleaning detergents:
- The alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) are a common ingredient in cleaners that have been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen. One APE, p-nonylphenol, has caused estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells to multiply in a test tube study.
- Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) are sudsing agents in some multipurpose cleaners. When these chemicals come in contact with nitrites (usually used as undisclosed preservatives or contaminants) they react to create nitrosamines – carcinogens that can easily penetrate the skin.
- Another dangerous ingredient found in common household cleaners is butyl cellosolve, also known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether. It may be neurotoxic or cause severe damage to the brain and the nervous system.
2. How Are Cleaning Detergents Dangerous for the Environment?
We have established what can happen to your health if you are not careful with the detergents you buy, but that is not all. You also need to think about the environment and the imprint you are leaving behind. One way or another all cleaners end up in the drain and from there, things can go in many directions:
- The contaminated water can end up in treatment plants and from there – into nearby waterways.
- After reaching the water treatment plant, it can be used to irrigate crops or other plants used for food production.
- In some cases, the liquid infected with hundreds of different chemicals ends up straight in the nearby water source, skipping the treatment plants.
- Depending on the city and terrain, the water can directly contaminate the underground rivers and ponds.
You may ask, but what is so hazardous in these detergents, what is the actual danger? Most ingredients in chemical cleaners dissolve into harmless substances during treatment or soon after, the problem comes with the small percentage that doesn’t.
- Remember the APEs (the alkylphenol ethoxylates)? As we mentioned they can be found in some laundry detergents, disinfectants, stain removers, and citrus cleaner/degreasers. After undergoing a “water cleaning” procedure in the plant, these chemicals break down to even more toxic ingredients. The fact that they mimic the hormone estrogen means that they can easily affect the reproduction abilities of fish and other water animals. In the UK, researcher John Sumpter determined that male fish exposed to APEs in rivers and ponds were producing female egg-yolk proteins.
- A harmful ingredient, you may have heard about, as it was once widely used in laundry detergent, phosphates still pose a serious environmental hazard. Once in the water, these chemicals start to act as fertilisers for the local aquatic plants and algae. This may sound harmless but it’s not. The flora overpopulation leads to oxygen deficiency in the water, killing the other aquatic organisms. Most mass deaths of fish in ponds and swamps are caused by the suddenly fallen oxygen levels in the water.
- When you see a product labelled as “antibacterial” you may think to yourself it’s completely harmless. Alas, it most definitely contains triclosan. This active ingredient kills mould and bacteria, which is great but it also hurts the fish, algae and most aquatic organisms it interacts with. Triclosan has even been found in dolphins. And if you wonder, yes, this chemical can cause cancer, liver problems and hormone disruption.
- Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are a common ingredient in oven cleaners as they can loosen grease and dirt stains. However, like APEs, they also affect the hormones, impacting the testosterone and causing infertility to all animals it comes in contact with.
- Quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATs or QACs) are used in laundry cleaners and fabric softeners. They are extremely hard to degrade in the environment and create long-lasting negative effects on the aquatic fauna and the quality of the water itself.
- Methylisothiazolinone (MI) is used in many products labelled “green” or “healthy”. This is not the case, as this chemical is highly toxic for all aquatic life.
- Unfortunately, even now cleaning products containing toxic and non-degradable petroleum-based chemicals are still being used.
- The packaging of cleaning detergents represents a whole new environmental problem. The planet is practically overwhelmed with this type of non-degradable plastic waste.
3. What to Look For When Buying Household Cleaners
Altho things may seem gloomy there is light at the end of the tunnel. In the past couple of years, many cleaning companies have started to change their manufacturing policies. Nowadays you can find products both safe for you and the planet.
- Always read the labels and search for the hidden meanings. Words like “Danger”, “Poison” or “Warning” are easy to spot. Look for phrases like “avoid skin contact”, “flammable”, “seek immediate medical attention.” Avoid these cleaners, as their ingredients are highly toxic.
- Another thing to watch out for is phrases like “corrosive” or “may cause burns.”
- Do not let yourself get fooled. If a cleaner is advertised as biodegradable but nowhere is mentioned in what period this happens, things are not what they seem.
Look for detergents that are “plant-based”, “solvent-free”,“no solvents”, “no phosphates” or “no petroleum-based ingredients.” These are claims that actually carry important information. Labels like “Natural” or “Eco-friendly” have a hollow meaning and are usually a marketing and advertising scam.
- It goes without saying – you never want to purchase a petroleum-based cleaning detergent.
- Avoid cleaners that may have traces of phosphates and APEs.
- Another misleading label is “Non-toxic.” This claim has no official meaning so unless a third party has certified this product as non-toxic and safe, avoid purchasing it.
- Other inaccurate claims include the mark “Organic.” In chemistry, it means the chemicals used are carbon-based. This includes some VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that release harmful fumes and are proven to cause brain damage or cancer.
- To reduce the secondary waste created by the packaging try to always buy the largest containers as opposed to a couple of the smaller ones. Search for the ones labelled “Recyclable” or “Biodegradable” to ensure the bottles or boxes will either be reused or will dissolve.
- Try buying products that are regulated by the appropriate national organisation in your country. This way, you will be certain the cleaners are made in accordance with all health and environmental requirements.
- For the countries in Europe, you should be looking at the CLP Regulation – “its purpose is to ensure a high level of protection of health and the environment, as well as the free movement of substances, mixtures and articles”. Check the infographic and familiarise yourself with the different symbols used on the packaging of cleaning detergents. Note that recently there has been a change in the way the pictograms look.
4. How to Choose the Right Cleaning Products?
Based on their experience in serving our London customers for more than a decade, we have determined which are the most common types of detergents people use. Now, with the help of our professional cleaners, we will share this knowledge with you and combine it with some good DIY solutions to make your home a safer place.
4.1 How to Pick The Right Multipurpose Cleaner?
Everybody has at least one bottle of all-purpose cleaner in their home, and it is one of the most regular purchased household products. Here are some important facts you need to be aware of when picking the right one:
- The foaming agents diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) are common ingredients in most all-purpose. When in contact with the skin, they can be easily absorbed into your body.
- Avoid cleaners containing butyl cellosolve known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether.
- To prevent chemical accidents, do not purchase products containing sodium hydroxide or hypochlorite (bleach). And never mix them.
If you want to have good health and a safe house environment, our London cleaners advise using more simple methods. Many natural ingredients make for perfectly functional multipurpose cleaners. Use:
- Baking soda
- Liquid castile soap
- Lime/lemon juice
Mix them with water, and you are ready to clean.
4.2 What Is an Enzyme Cleaner?
Enzymes are natural proteins that can speed up chemical reactions. They are usually used in stain removers to help break down stubborn spots. However, beware of the following:
- If you have allergies, do not use enzyme carpet cleaners as the enzymes stay embedded in the fibres and can provoke an allergic reaction.
- There is no guarantee these detergents won’t still contain the already mentioned hazardous chemicals, so always read the labels.
- Remember, enzymes are biological molecules, and it may take a while before they are activated. Do a test swatch to check if you can tolerate them or not.
4.3 How to Deal with Abrasive Cleaners?
Scouring powders and creams are common chemicals used in the household. They have many uses from removing soap scum to cleaning greasy residues. However, you should be aware of the following:
- Some products contain silica as an abrasive agent. This ingredient can be quite harmful if accidentally inhaled.
- Be aware that bleach is also frequently present in scouring powders, so always read the labels on the bottles.
Cleaning powders have a popular alternative in the face of baking soda. Our experts propose a simple recipe that will eliminate the chemical hazard in your house:
- 2 tbsp of baking soda;
- 2 tbsp of white vinegar;
- ½ teaspoon of liquid soap;
- 2 cups of hot water;
4.4 How to Choose Furniture Polish?
To take proper care for your furniture, you need to not only wash the upholstery but also regularly clean the wooden handles and ornaments.
So there is no way of avoiding purchasing furniture polish. Nevertheless, keep in mind that:
- Many companies still use as an ingredient nerve-damaging petroleum distillates. They are flammable, can cause skin irritation and are poisonous if ingested.
- You can also spot the alleged carcinogen formaldehyde in some brands’ formulas.
- Avoid purchasing spray polish as it can contain aerosols that can damage your respiratory system.
A popular green alternative to all these chemicals is mixing olive oil with a small amount of vinegar. This solution will both disinfect and polish your wood surfaces.
Another good idea is to check for solvent-free products containing different types of plant oils.
4.5 How to Effectively Clean Metal Surfaces?
Metal polishes can be used for many things from cleaning your silverware to your car. However, London house cleaning companies often advise their customers to watch out since:
- Some polishes contain ammonia or petroleum distillates. Both can cause severe respiratory and neurological problems.
- The chemicals used in most brands are too strong, resulting in rashes and skin irritations.
There are a lot of old-fashion cleaning methods you can use that won’t damage your health:
- Silver jewellery can be cleaned with toothpaste;
- Use baking soda for tarnished items;
- If you need to wash copper items rub them with a cloth dampened in a mixture of salt and lemon juice;
- Unlacquered brass can be scrubbed with a paste made from vinegar, salt and flour.
4.6 How to Pick The Perfect Dish Soap?
This is one of the house cleaning products your skin has the most contact with, and you need to be extremely careful when choosing the correct brand. Keep in mind, if you have sensitive or very dry skin, you have to apply hand cream after each time you washed the dishes.
- Traces of heavy metals like arsenic and lead can be found in some dish soaps. Avoid the brightly coloured liquids, as they are the usual suspects.
- If you have a dishwasher remember some powders can contain phosphates.
- The best alternative is a chemical-free solution based on natural ingredients.
4.7 How to Handle Aerosol Sprays?
All sorts of air fresheners can be found in many homes all across the UK, however, they might not be the best solutions for your health. Not only strong fragrances can trigger allergic reactions, but they can also cause asthma attacks.
- Aerosol sprays produce miniature droplets of chemicals that can be easily inhaled, ingested or absorbed by your skin. There is nothing natural in the content of these synthetic products, so you can be sure you are poisoning your body.
- Air fresheners contain propellants, usually, butane and propane, all of them are extremely flammable and represent a serious fire hazard if handled the wrong way.
- Researchers at Bristol University have found out air fresheners have a negative effect on pregnant women and children. 25% more mothers suffer from migraines, and the chance of developing depression increases by 19%. On the other hand, babies under 6 months tend to develop 30% more ear infections.
Children often ingest air fresheners as their fragrance temps the kids. This could lead to severe internal bleeding and poisoning.
If you want to have a healthy family and an odour-free home, here are some completely safe tips that you can try:
- If you have carpets, mattresses or furniture that smells bad, pour baking soda on them and let it absorb all nasty odours.
- Use lemon or orange peels as natural air fresheners.
- Dried herbs and flowers like roses, lavender or lemongrass can help not only by refreshing your home but repelling most house bugs as well.
4.8 Are Disinfectants Safe?
The simple answer is no. Altho made to wipe all bacteria and fungi, they still pose a serious threat to your health and should be held with caution.
- Disinfectants can only temporarily kill germs on different surfaces but are unable to actively purify the air. Therefore, they are not a long-term solution.
- The same goes for antibacterial soaps. Altho eliminating the danger of some devices like E.coli and Salmonella, these products contain lots of dangerous chemicals that can be easily absorbed in our skin.
- A frightening fact about antibacterial soaps is that in the long run, they help the development of extra resistant and aggressive viruses. The more germ-killing products we use, the more antibiotic-resistant bacteria become.
In conclusion, if you are not someone suffering from an immune deficiency or other serious medical condition, avoid using antibacterial soap in your home.
5. How to Safely Clean Your Home?
Try to use as many natural ingredients as possible to avoid accidents. It is as simple as that. Most of the things you will need to achieve a spotless home, you already have in your pantry. Here are some suggestions for great DIY methods you can use in different parts of your house.
5.1 The Bathroom Dilemma
The bathroom and the toilet are the rooms we insist on using the strongest house cleaning products. However, our desire to disinfect can easily backfire, and we can actually harm our health.
- Corrosive ingredients in toilet bowl cleaners can cause severe eye, skin and respiratory irritation.
- Some products may contain sulphates, known to trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions.
- Most strong detergents contain sodium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite (bleach), or phosphoric acid. All can cause lung irritations, skin inflammation and internal bleeding if ingested.
- Mixing acid-containing toilet bowl cleaners with others containing chlorine will form the hazardous chlorine gas.
Gladly there are a couple of things you can do, to ensure both your safety and the sanitation of your toilet:
- Use baking soda to scrub the soap scum and clean the toilet bowl.
- The same method can be applied when washing tiles and removing mould and mildew.
- Clean your chrome surfaces and shower head with vinegar, for maximum effect.
5.2 Wash Properly Your Windows
Window cleaners may seem harmless, but in fact, they may contain the nerve-damaging butyl cellosolve. Read carefully the labels because in some you may find traces of ammonia which can pose a serious threat to your respiratory system. The safest alternative to commercial window cleaners is the homemade mix of water and white vinegar. If you can tolerate the mild smell, your glass surfaces will be as good as new.
5.3 Time for the Drains
Drain cleaners contain some of the most aggressive and dangerous chemicals. On their labels, you are bound to find various scary-sounding warnings, and the worst part is that they are all true. Keep in mind:
- The majority of these cleaning products can be fatal if ingested.
- Most contain large quantities of corrosive ingredients like sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite.
- Choose the enzyme-based drain cleaners rather than the caustic ones. They do wonders in eating the grime away and unclogging your drains.
5.4 The Price of Having a Clean Oven
One of the hardest places to wash, according to our London pros, is the top and insides of your kitchen stove. Here is where all the food grease sticks and creates a thin, sticky cover. This is the reason oven cleaners contain some really strong chemicals:
- You can find the corrosive lye and sodium hydroxide in most oven washing products. These ingredients can easily irritate your skin, eyes and lungs.
- Speaking of lungs, the aerosols in some cleaners can seriously damage your respiratory system.
- A great way to avoid using deadly chemicals and have a spotless stove is to instead try the harmless but effective mix of water, baking soda and soap.
6. Professional Safety Advice
Based on the big variety of cleaning services, our experts have performed and their vast knowledge, here are some important safety rules you must follow in your London home:
- Always read the labels;
- Never trust fancy advertising campaigns and over the top ads. Do your own research.
- When you start cleaning, make sure to open at least two windows assuring the stream of fresh air in the rooms.
- Use rubber gloves as your skin is the most absorbent part of your body.
- If you are handling strong chemicals, always wear a face mask. It will protect you from inhaling hazardous fumes.
- All cleaning chemicals must be locked at all times in a place that can’t be reached by children or pets.
What types of cleaners do you use in your home? Let us know in the comments below. We would love to hear from you. If you want to try a new more eco-friendly way of tidying your property, why don’t you check our steam cleaning guide? It’s the ideal method of sanitising and disinfecting the house without the need for any chemicals.