Would you stock your cabinets with known toxins?  How about spray the air in your home with harmful substances?  There’s a good chance you are doing just that, but only because you are unaware of the harmful chemicals in household cleaners and other products in your home.  So what substances are considered dangerous?  What are the greenest products for keeping your home clean?  Here’s the “dirt” on cleaners.

Yeah, toxins are everywhere and nearly impossible to avoid, but there are ways to reduce exposure.  It’s not just about simply realizing that you should use eco-friendly products, you also need to know which chemicals you should remove from your home also.

Here is a list of the most harmful chemicals found in common cleaners, as well as environmentally friendly cleaning supplies that work well as substitutions:

  • PHTHALATES

Why They’re Bad:  Phthalates are binders and plasticizers that are in everything from soap to fragranced air fresheners.  I’m sure you are familiar with the warning about BPA leeching out of plastic water bottles into the water.  BPA is one of the many phthalates!  They have been linked to asthma, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cancer and male reproductive disorders, just to name a few.

Eco-Friendly Substitute:  When buying products, look for ones that are “fragrance-free” or use organic products that are “all-natural”.  Open a window for some fresh air instead of spraying air fresheners.  If you want to spray a nice scent, consider diffusing essential oils throughout your home.

  • PERCHLOROETHYLENE OR “PERC”

Why It’s Bad:  Perc is used in carpet and upholstery cleaners.  They are also in spot removers and in dry cleaning clothes.  It is a neurotoxin that the EPA classifies as a “possible carcinogen”. Exposure comes from inhaling the fumes from dry cleaned clothes or freshly cleaned carpets.  Exposure can cause dizziness and loss of coordination.

Eco-Friendly Substitute:  If you have spots to clean, try rubbing undiluted castile soap on the problem areas before laundering.  As for “Dry Clean Only” items, take them to a facility that uses water-based cleaners instead of the traditional chemicals.

  • QUATERNARY AMMONIUM COMPOUNDS OR “QUATS”

Why They’re Bad:  “Quats” are powerful germ killers commonly found in antibacterial wipes and cleaners.  They are also found in fabric softeners and sheets.  Unfortunately, the use of quats is a dramatic overkill.  Yes, they are an effective germ killer, but there are serious side effects associated with them.  They are a lung irritant, which can contribute to asthma, as well as being a skin irritant.  There over use has also contributed to the emergence of “superbugs”-a new strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  Studies have shown them to cause decreased fertility in mice, as well as birth defects.

Eco-Friendly Substitute:  Vinegar!  Use it as a fabric softener.  Combine it with tea-tree oil for a powerful, yet environmentally friendly disinfectant cleaner.  You can also add essential oils to it for a pleasant scent. 

(Be advised that tea-tree oil can be harmful to dogs.)

  • 2-BUTOXYETHANOL

Why It’s Bad:  Found in kitchen and glass cleaner.  Can cause sore throats, pulmonary edema, and liver and kidney problems.

Eco-Friendly Substitute:  Simply make a baking soda and vinegar mixture for a multipurpose cleaner or substitute diluted vinegar and newspapers or a “just as effective” glass cleaner.

  • AMMONIA

Why It’s Bad:  Speaking of glass cleaners…ammonia is also commonly found there.  It is a strong irritant when inhaled.  It can affect anyone with breathing problems.

Eco-Friendly Substitute:  Interesting alternative to ammonia:  Vodka!  No joke!

  • CHLORINE

Why It’s Bad:  It’s a eye, nose and skin irritant.  Chlorine is found in mildew remover, toilet cleaners and laundry room bleach.  AND, when bleach comes in contact with ammonia, it produces a toxic gas that can cause coughing, shortness of breath, watery eyes and breathing problems.

Eco-Friendly Substitute:  Once again, Vinegar!  It is the star substitute of choice!

Unfortunately, this if just a few of the hazards lurking under your kitchen sink. Your best bet, is to always read the active ingredient lists and warning labels.  Products that come straight from Mother Nature don’t require extensive ingredient lists or warning labels.  If you stick with what’s natural, you don’t have to be concerned with minding your p’s and q’s (percs and quats, that is).