I’ve got a great guest post today for you from Georgina at Ethical Consumer, on toxic cleaning products and the ingredients to avoid. As well as breaking down the problems with these toxic ingredients, Georgina offers some eco-friendly and non-toxic shop-bought alternatives, as well as natural alternatives to try that will make your home fresher and cleaner.  

An English person’s home is their castle.  And when it comes to our ‘castles’ we like to keep them clean.  The average Brit spends around 4 hours a week scrubbing and scouring to keep their home in tip-top condition.  Modern cleaning products claim to make this cleaning a doddle with the promise of a no-effort clean.  However, are these claims as squeaky clean as our houses?

Convenience at a Cost

Enter any large supermarket and you’ll see a large array of cleaning products. Each claims to make your life easier, clean your home better and save you time.  We’re used to modern convenience with our cleaning gadgets and we want short-cuts to save us time on our mundane chores.  However, how much thought do we give to the chemicals that we spray and squirt around our homes?

It can be alarming when we see the hazard labels on the cleaning products we use every day or week. Irritant, corrosive, oxidising, and toxic, are common sights on our cleaning product lables.  But if we use the chemicals correctly then they are safe, right?

Not according to recent research from Natural Resources Defense Council in California.  Their research discovered 45 different toxic chemicals present in household dust.  Chemicals such as phthalates and hormone disrupters affect reproductive systems and are linked to developmental problems in babies.  The source of these toxic compounds?  Household chemicals and personal care products.

Exposing The Dirty Truth Behind These Toxic Cleaning Product Ingredients

Image of a brown glass spray bottle with a blue text box that says the toxic cleaning product ingredients to avoid and non-toxic alternatives

At Ethical Consumer, we’ve produced reports on over 40,000 companies, brands, and products on all aspects of ethical behaviour.  For our household cleaning analysis, we ranked 41 popular household cleaners against 23 different criteria, one of those being toxic chemicals.

Unlike personal care or food and drink products, manufacturers are under no obligation to provide a detailed list of the ingredients in their cleaning products.  This lack of transparency makes it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions on avoiding toxic chemicals.  Although EU legislation stipulates that companies do need to list the full ingredients on their website.

Across our analysis, three main toxic chemicals emerged as the most concerning and ubiquitous.  Therefore our rankings focused on those.

The Toxic Cleaning Products Trio

Parabens

This additive is used for its antifungal and preservative properties, extending the shelf-life of cosmetics and cleaning products. As an indication of its toxic potential, five parabens have been already banned from cosmetics by the EU.  However, they are still found in many cleaning products.

Absorbed through the skin and through inhalation and ingestion, parabens have strong links to hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin irritation.  Breast cancer charities have highlighted their presence in breast tumours. Here they thought to increase the growth of cancer cells.

Triclosan

This pesticide is an antimicrobial agent used in many cleaning products.  It is known to affect thyroid hormone function by disrupting the regulation of metabolism and normal breast development.  It is also an irritant to the skin and eyes and may have a possible link to bacterial resistance.  Its use is already banned in soaps in the US.  Its use is restricted in many toiletries in the UK, yet its use is not prohibited in cleaning products.

Phthalates

A common chemical used in synthetic fragrances, phthalate toxicity is linked to developmental problems in babies.  A recent study cited a correlation between pregnant women with high levels of phthalates and children with markedly lower IQ levels.  And again, as an endocrine-disrupting chemical, phthalate is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

The good, the bad, and the toxic

Despite the mounting evidence of the harmful effects of these and other synthetic additives, the use of toxic, persistent compounds is widespread in our cleaning products.  Our ethical ranking table exposes the brands that continue to use these harmful chemicals.  It also provides ethical ‘best buys’ for those companies who ban their use and make the best eco-friendly cleaning products.

how toxic are household cleaners

The Toxic Cleaning Products

Sadly, some of the most popular cleaning products brands performed very badly in our toxic score chart. UK manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser who manufactures Vanish, Dettol, Windowlene, and Cillit Bang had no policy on removing triclosan, parabens, or phthalates from their formulations.  Even more shocking is that this lack of corporate responsibility comes after their disinfectant humidifier chemicals were found to have led to the death of nearly 100 people in South Korea.

Proctor and Gamble also performed badly.  This is in part, due to having no policy to remove these toxic parabens or phthalates from their cleaning products such as Viakal, Flash, and Comet.

Unilever, which produces brands such as Domestos and Cif, does not use phthalates. What’s more, they had a clear plan for the removal of triclosan.  However, they had no clear strategy to remove parabens from their formulas.

Colgate-Palmolive performed best in the big brand cleaning products categories. Here they had no toxic parabens, triclosan, or phthalates used in their cleaning products. However, they ranked low down in our scoring due to their poor policies in other areas.

The Good – The Best Non-Toxic Cleaning Products

A number of smaller brands performed well in our ranking.  For the best non-toxic cleaning products, Greenscents*, and Bentley Organic*, all offer organic and vegan products that also achieved our best rating for animal testing.  Bio-D*, Faith in Nature*, and Earth Friendly Products* are all vegan and cruelty-free.

All of these cleaning products had clear policies that confirmed that their products did not contain the toxic trio of parabens, triclosan, and phthalates.  This is as well as their focus on natural and organic ingredients, making them our top eco-friendly and health-friendly cleaning products.

Reducing Toxic Dust for a Cleaner Home

green cleaning products

There are a number of things that you can do to reduce toxicity levels in your home:

  1. Use fewer cleaning products.  Switching to microfibre cloths can reduce the cleaning products needed whilst providing a thorough clean.  What’s more, they’re washable and reusable too. Wash these in a microfibre catcher, to help reduce microplastics reaching our water.
  2. Check ingredients and make the switch to one of our non-toxic cleaning products.  Know what you are using by checking the ingredients on cleaning products and ditching brands that don’t make the grade.
  3. Make your own natural cleaners.  With just a few simple ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar, and bicarbonate of soda you can make a whole host of natural cleaning products.  Check out this post on natural cleaning products to DIY for a plethora of inspiration.  You can also read more about homemade cleaning products in Wendy’s book – Fresh Clean Home.

Also, check out our guide to eco-friendly washing up liquid and laundry detergents to help you find the right products for you.

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