A squeaky-clean, spotless house brings a sense of pride to many Americans, but here's the toxic truth: something that should be making us feel good is actually making us sick. From cleaning ingredients powerful enough not just to cut through grease and grime, but also human bone and tissue to products labeled "nontoxic" and "green" that are in fact laced with hazardous ingredients, more than a few of the products on the market made Environmental Working Group's recent "EWG Database Cleaners Hall of Shame" list.
The release of this list of some of the worst cleaners sold in America comes several months before EWG is slated to unveil a first-of-its-kind database that will rank the safety of cleaners on the market. Due to be released this fall, the database will be similar to its popular Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, unveiling problematic chemicals and rating products on toxicity.
While taking matters into your own hands and using green cleaning recipes is a great way to start detox your cleaning routine, it's also important to check under the sink to make sure you don't have any of the most dangerous products on the market in your home.
Here are some of the most toxic cleaning products on the market, according to EWG.
• Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner—This product is anything but green. It contains 2-butoxyethanol, a solvent that soaks through the skin and damages red blood cells; even more dangerous is that some people miss the fine print and don't dilute it.
• Citra-Solv Cleaner & Degreaser—Orange may seem natural, but these sprays contain d-limonene, which can react with ozone in the air to form tiny harmful lung-penetrating particles and the known carcinogen formaldehyde.
• Clorox, Fantastik, Febreze, Formula 409, Mr. Clean, and Spic and Span— EWG says many sprays sold under these brand names contain quaternary ammonium compounds or ethanolamine, compounds that can cause or trigger asthma.
Safer Solution: Create your own potent germ-killing cleaner for pennies by combining nine parts water and one part white vinegar in a spray bottle. For extra-tough jobs, such as those involving raw meat, you can spray hydrogen peroxide (spot-test first) followed by the vinegar solution and kill virtually all germs.
•Whink Rust Stain Remover—A product used to brighten porcelain toilets and sinks, the fine print says, "May be fatal or cause permanent damage." The product can also penetrate the skin and attack underlying tissues and bone. Is a bright-white commode worth it?
Safer Solution: For natural cleaning, dump half a bottle of white vinegar into the toilet, shut the lid, let sit overnight, and then scrub and flush in the morning.
• Spic and Span Multi-Surface and Floor Cleaner—California is more strict when it comes to toxic compounds, and it's put a ban on nonylphenol ethoxylate, an ingredient in this floor cleaner that is toxic to the environment and disrupts the hormonal system.
• Mop & Glo Multi-Surface Floor Cleaner—Contains high concentrations of a substance that the United Nations says is "suspected of damaging the unborn child."
Safer Solution: Spot-test and use the nine-parts-water, one-part white vinegar solution to kill germs on your floor.
• Scrubbing Bubbles Antibacterial Bathroom Cleaner & Extend-a-Clean Mega Shower Foamer—These lung-inflaming products contain 10 percent DEGBE, a solvent banned in the European Union at concentrations above 3 percent.
• DampRid Mildew Stain Remover Plus Blocker— Contains a hazardous solvent and another ingredient banned in European Union cleaners.
• Lysol Disinfectant Power Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Lime & Rust Remover—Sure, this will kill germs in your toilet bowl…but it could also kill you or your pet if it's swallowed. The acid in the cleaner can also cause irreversible eye damage.
• 2000 flushes and X-14 Toilet Bowl Cleaners—These chlorine-based products are "fatal if swallowed."
Safer Solution: Make your own tile scrubber to clean your bathroom.
½ cup baking soda
Liquid soap (we like Dr. Bronner's peppermint castile soap or plant-based, unscented detergent)
5 to 10 drops pure essential oil of lavender or rosemary, or tea tree oil (optional)
Place baking soda in a bowl; slowly pour in liquid soap, stirring until it looks like frosting. Add optional essential oils. Scoop onto a sponge, scrub, and rinse. You can also try cutting a lemon in half and using that as a scrubber.
• Easy-Off Fume-Free Oven Cleaner—Contains a powerful lung irritant in concentrations higher than what's allowed in the European Union.
• Wal-Mart Great Value Heavy Duty Oven Cleaner—The label says, "Will burn skin and eyes. Avoid contact with skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and clothing. Harmful if swallowed. Avoid inhaling spray mist. Wear long rubber gloves while using…" Hmmm. How about not using at all?
• CVS Fume-Free Oven Cleaner—Don't fall for the "fume-free" name. When labels claim you need to ventilate to protect yourself from harmful vapors, the product is not safe to smell. It also contains an ingredient linked to cancer.
• Easy-Off Heavy Duty Oven Cleaner Aerosol Spray—Another label with warnings that outweigh the benefits. Instead of wearing a hazmat suit when cleaning your office with toxic chemicals, use nontoxic solutions and good, old-fashioned elbow grease.
• Drano Professional Strength Kitchen Crystals Clog Remover—The label says the product can cause blindness or death. The crystals left lodged in the plumbing can produce a caustic splashback or mix with other things you're washing down the drain to produce a dangerous chemical reaction.
Safer Solution: EWG recommends using a drain snake and plunger to remove clogs. And try this recipe for a safer oven-cleaning experience:
2 cups hot water
1 Tablespoon natural dish liquid
1 teaspoon borax
Mix the ingredients, spray on a spill, let sit for 20 minutes, and wipe off with a clean cloth. For handling an extra-greasy mess, wipe off as much loose goop as possible with crumpled newspaper first, then use the spray.
• Glade Air Freshener Sprays—Air fresheners and other cleaning products often contain addictive additives that can be gateway drugs. That can be fatal if you're inhaling some Glade products. EWG says Wick automatic air fresheners and old English furniture polish carry the same warning.
Safer Solution: Forget scented candles that actually destroy indoor air quality (many release carcinogens like benzene and obesity-promoting fragrance chemicals) and instead clean up the source of a bad smell and put out a small bowl of white vinegar to absorb lingering odors. Beeswax candles are great alternatives to scented candles and actually help clean your indoor air by producing negative ions.
• Ajax, Dynamo and Bab Ultra Liquid Laundry Detergents—These brands contain formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. In the short term, formaldehyde can also trigger allergies and asthma. Formaldehyde is not something you'll find on the ingredients label, but EWG detectives found it hiding in the technical disclosures for workers under "formalin."
• Final Touch Ultra Liquid Fabric Softener—These sheets contain a toxic compound called quaternium-18 that doesn't break down easily in the environment. It's banned in cleaning products in the European Union.
Safer Solution: Add a half cup of white vinegar to your washer's rinse cycle for naturally more static- and wrinkle-free clothing.
For the complete list of the Cleaners Hall of Shame and for updates on the launch of EWG's cleaner safety database, visit ewg.org.
Copyright © Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org. Cleaning product list reprinted with permission.
Published on: June 19, 2012
Updated on: June 26, 2012