Toxic Cleaning Chemicals

On a typical cleaning day in an average home in Canada, levels of chemicals in the indoor air can be hundreds, even thousands of times higher than the outdoor air in the most polluted of cities. In fact, indoor air pollution levels would be high enough to trigger an inspection by health and safety authorities in any workplace setting, and evacuation if it were a public building. (The Nature of Things, CBC-TV 2002). Many chemicals contained in household cleaning products are the same as those used in industrial settings. Many scientists are now becoming concerned that long-term low-level exposure to these chemicals may be just as dangerous as short-term high-dose exposures. They also worry that we do not understand the impact of exposure to combinations of chemicals found in household air and dust. Testing for human health effects is normally done on single chemicals. But in the real world, we are all exposed to a variety of chemicals every single day.

The ingredients contained in conventional petrochemical-based cleaning products are often not listed on labels.  Following is a list of some of the most common toxic chemicals found in household cleaning products; however there are many others.

Common Hazardous Ingredients in Cleaning Products

Acetone – A neurotoxin, acetone may cause liver and kidney damage, and damage to a developing fetus. It is a skin and eye irritant. Found in spot treatment cleaners, mark and scuff removers, and other products.

Aerosol products – Aerosol propellants may contain propane, formaldehyde, a carcinogen, neurotoxin and central nervous system depressant, methylene chloride, a carcinogen, neurotoxin and reproductive toxin, and nitrous oxide . Products applied with aerosol sprays are broken into minute particles, which can be more deeply inhaled than larger particles, which may increase their toxic effect.

Ammonia – Undiluted, ammonia is an eye and respiratory irritant that can cause severe burning pain, and corrosive damage including chemical burns, cataracts and corneal damage. It can also cause kidney and liver damage. Repeated or prolonged exposure to vapours can result in bronchitis and pneumonia. Found in a wide range of cleaning products. Ammonia will react with bleach to form poisonous chlorine gas that can cause burning and watering of eyes, as well as burning of the nose and mouth.

Bleach – see sodium hypochlorite

Diethanolamine (DEA) – Listed as a suspected carcinogen by the State of California, this chemical is a skin and respiratory toxicant and a severe eye irritant. Used in a wide range of household cleaning products.

D-limonene – This chemical is produced by cold-pressing orange peels. The extracted oil is 90% d-limonene. It is a sensitizer, a neurotoxin, a moderate eye and skin irritant, and can trigger respiratory distress when vapours are inhaled by some sensitive individuals. There is some evidence of carcinogenicity. D-limonene is the active ingredient in some insecticides. It is used as a solvent in many all-purpose cleaning products, especially ‘citrus’ and ‘orange’ cleaners. Also listed on labels as citrus oil and orange oil.

Ethoxylated nonyl phenol – Nonyl phenols are hormone disruptors and some contain traces of ethylene oxide, a known human carcinogen. They are eye and skin irritants. Used in laundry detergents and other cleaning products.

Formaldehyde – In lab tests, formaldehyde has caused cancer and damaged DNA. Formaldehyde is also a sensitizer, with the potential to cause asthma. Several laboratory studies have shown it to be a central nervous system depressant. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness and loss of sleep. While formaldehyde naturally occurs in the human body in minute amounts, it is estimated that 20 per cent of people exposed to it will experience an allergic reaction. Used in a wide range of products, including some furniture polishes. Formaldehyde may be released by other chemicals, eg.quaternium 15.

Fragrance – Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients, most of which are synthetic. Many compounds in fragrance are human toxins and suspected or proven carcinogens. In 1989, the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health evaluated 2,983 fragrance chemicals for health effects. They identified 884 of them as toxic substances. Synthetic fragrances are known to trigger asthma attacks. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of perfumes contain toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus. Symptoms reported to the FDA from fragrance exposure have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation. Clinical observations by medical doctors have shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioral changes. Fragrance is a common skin irritant.

Methylene chloride – Methylene chloride is a carcinogen, a neurotoxin and a reproductive toxin. On inhalation, it can cause liver and brain damage, irregular heartbeat, and even heart attack. It is a severe skin and moderate eye irritant. Used in stain removers.

Monoethanolamine – This chemical may cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage, as well as depression of the central nervous system. Inhalation of high concentrations – when cleaning an oven for example – can cause dizziness or even coma. The chemical can also be absorbed through the skin. It is a moderate skin irritant, and a severe eye irritant. Found in many cleaning products, including oven cleaners, tub and tile cleaners, laundry pre-soaks, floor strippers and carpet cleaners.

Morpholine – This corrosive ingredient can severely irritate and burn skin and eyes, and can even cause blindness if splashed in eyes. It can cause liver and kidney damage, and long-term exposure can result in bronchitis. It reacts with nitrites (added as a preservative in some products, or present as a contaminant) to form carcinogenic nitrosomines. Morpholine is a moderate to severe eye, skin and mucous membrane irritant. Used as a solvent in a number of cleaning products, including some furniture polishes and abrasive cleansers.

Naphthalene – This registered pesticide is listed as a suspected carcinogen in California and is most commonly found in mothballs, and some other pest repellants, as well as in deodorizers. As a reproductive toxin, it is transported across the placenta and can cause blood damage. It can cause liver and kidney damage, and corneal damage and cataracts. Skin exposure is especially dangerous to newborns.

Parabens – Parabens are hormone disruptors. Widely used in cleaning products as preservatives, paraben is usually preceded by the prefixes methyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, or propyl. Parabens may cause contact dermatitis in some individuals

Paradichlorobenzene – This highly volatile registered pesticide is in the same chemical class as DDT. It is a suspected carcinogen, and may cause lung, liver and kidney damage. It is used in mothballs and some washroom deodorizers and urinal blocks.

Phosphoric acid – Extremely corrosive, it can severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes. Breathing vapours can make the lungs ache, and it may be toxic to the central nervous system. Found in some liquid dishwasher detergents, metal polishes, some disinfectants, and bathroom cleaners, especially those that remove lime and mildew.

Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate – This corrosive chemical is a severe eye, skin and respiratory irritant. It may cause liver and gastrointestinal damage, and may be toxic to the central nervous system. It will react with bleach to form poisonous chlorine gas that can cause burning and watering of eyes, as well as burning of the nose and mouth. It is found in some toilet bowl cleaners and deodorizers, as well as industrial detergents and some institutional dishwashing detergents.

Sodium hypochlorite (bleach) – A corrosive chemical, sodium hypochlorite is an eye, skin and respiratory irritant, as well as a sensitizer. It is especially hazardous to people with heart conditions or asthma, and can be fatal if swallowed. It may be a neurotoxin and toxic to the liver. Found in a wide range of household cleaners.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – Used as a lathering agent. This chemical is a known skin irritant. It also enhances the allergic response to other toxins and allergens. The U.S. government has warned manufacturers of unacceptable levels of dioxin formation in some products containing this ingredient. SLS can react with other ingredients to form cancer-causing nitrosamines

Toluene – Exposure to toluene may cause liver, kidney and brain damage. It is also a reproductive toxin which can damage a developing fetus.

Turpentine – This chemical can cause allergic sensitization, and kidney, bladder and central nervous system damage. It is an eye irritant. Found in specialty solvent cleaners, furniture polish and shoe products.

Xylene – Xylene has significant neurotoxic effects, including loss of memory. High exposure can lead to loss of consciousness and even death. It may damage liver, kidneys and the developing fetus. It is a severe eye and moderate skin irritant. Used in some spot removers, floor polishes, ironing aids and other products.

The Safe Shoppers Bible, David Steinman & Samuel Epstein
Cleaners and Toxins, Labour Environmental Alliance Society, Vancouver BC
Home Safe Home, Debra Lynn Dadd, Tarcher Inc, 1997
Non-toxic, Natural and Earth Wise, Debra Lynn Dadd, Tarcher Inc, 1990
Less Toxic Alternatives, Carolyn Gorman with Marie Hyde, Optimum Publishing, 2002

Good Riddance!

So, I finally got around to cleaning out my cupboard of old cleaning products, that I no longer use since switching to Norwex. When I saw how much stuff there was, I just had to take a picture before I freecycled them! I added up the value of these products – we spent over $390 on them! Sad, but so glad we don’t have to do that anymore…

Flax Seed Gel For Curly Hair

I’ve been getting quite a few requests for my Flax Seed Gel recipe lately, and I thought that the easiest way to share it was to put it up here.  I’ve been using this gel for about a year now, and I love it!  It’s cheap – costs literally cents per bottle, it takes only a few minutes to make, and it’s completely customizable.  It gives me really nice definition in my curls and it’s very moisturizing.  It does dry a little crunchy, but once it’s dry, I just scrunch my hair and then it’s nice and soft, and very shiny.  You can rewet it to reactivate the hold if you need to as well.

I don’t use any silicones or sulfates on my hair, and I rarely shampoo.  When I do shampoo, I use a mild, natural shampoo.  I haven’t had any problems with buildup or anything with this gel, it comes out very easily in the shower.  One thing that’s very important to know about this gel is – don’t be stingy!  This is not a gel where you want to ‘distribute a dime sized amount’.  I use palmfuls, usually about 4 or 5 (for those who don’t know, I have pretty long hair, if yours is shorter you’ll use less) distributed through my hair in sections.  Then I flip my head over and scrunch it through my hair, to make sure I haven’t missed any spots and I’m done!  I generally air dry, trying not to touch my hair while it’s drying so I don’t create frizz.  Then when it’s dry, and  a little crunchy, I scrunch it all again to take the crunch away and I’m done!

I say this is for curly hair, because that’s what I know it’s good for.  If anyone tries it on straight hair, please let me know how it works!

Please click the link below 🙂

flax seed gel

Cleaning paste!

I bought this product a while ago, but it kind of got pushed to the back of the cupboard and I forgot about it. I came across it again and decided to do an experiment.

Our kitchen sinks are stainless steel, and are original to the house. They were pretty neglected by the previous owners, and despite my best efforts, I’ve never been able to get them as clean as I’d like. They always had a kind of brownish cast to them, old built up residue and staining. I decided to use the cleaning paste on half of one sink, to see how much of a difference it could really make. I dampened an Enviro cloth and dabbed it on the Cleaning Paste (it’s more like a hard puck, not really a paste at all). I cleaned the entire half of the sink, including in the drain, with the Cleaning Paste. I didn’t scrub or scour it, just used regular cleaning motions. Then, flipping the cloth over, I wiped it to remove any of the Cleaning Paste, or dislodged dirt. The difference was really amazing! In about 45 seconds, I removed 15 years of built up grunge, the sink looked incredible! It was so shiny and silver, not a trace of that old brownish residue, even in the drain. The difference was really obvious next to the side that I hadn’t cleaned. When I rinsed it with water, the clean side beaded the water off and was almost completely dry while the other side was still very wet. I can see that it will be able to stay clean much longer after using this product!

I apologize for the quality of the pictures, they aren’t as good as I’d hoped.  If you look closely though, you can see that the right side is a lot shinier and cleaner than the left, especially in the drain…

Carpet Cleaning

Ok, so as most of you know, we foster cats and kittens for Pound Rescue. Having cats and kittens around means that, inevitably, we will have carpet stains. Whether it’s hairballs, stains from kittens who still haven’t mastered the litterbox yet, or stains from a sick cat, they aren’t fun to clean up!

Since I’ve discovered Norwex, this unpleasant job has gotten so much easier! On many minor stains, a quick scrub with a damp Enviro cloth takes care of it, but if it’s been there a while, or if it’s a ‘grosser’ stain (like vomit or diarrhea) the Carpet Stain Buster is my new best friend. This is how I use it: remove any solid matter, then give a quick scrub with an Enviro cloth. Spray with Carpet Stain Buster (always use it diluted) and let sit for a few minutes (usually about five or so, unless I forget about it). Scrub with a damp Enviro cloth, switching to a clean side or cloth if necessary. The product info that I have says to repeat if necessary, but I’ve never had to. The enzymes in the product keep working even after the stain is gone, so you don’t have to worry about any odours coming back. Plus, it’s perfectly safe to use around the pets, which is very important to me!

You can also use this product in a steam cleaning machine, but I haven’t done that yet – I’ll need to do that soon though! When I’ve tried it, I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Update:  I used the Carpet Stain Buster in my carpet cleaner, and I couldn’t be more impressed!  The carpets look great, feel nice and soft on my bare feet, and don’t smell at all.  I like the fact that there are no perfumes or chemicals left behind, and I didn’t have to breathe in anything toxic while I cleaned them.  I also love that I use to little in the solution tank.  The dilution ratio is 2 tsp per litre of water, so it’s going to last forever!  Win Win!

Norwex for pets

So, being the pet lover that I am, I’ve come up with a new use for my enviro cloths.  I have a white male persian cat, who tends toward getting stains around his eyes from tears.  For years I battled these stains, finally coming up with a complicated system to take care of them.  First, I would clean his eyes using a commercial eye wash and cotton cosmetic pads to remove the ‘goobies’.  Then I would apply a veterinary eye powder to the fur around his eyes, this powder contains a steroid, boric acid, and antibiotics.  The powder helped to keep the area around his eyes dry and prevent staining from setting in.  This process took around ten minutes, once or twice a day, and he really didn’t like it much – as you can probably imagine!

When I got my first Norwex cloth a light went on – I should try it on his face!  I figured the microfibre would clean any tear stains off, and the silver would prevent any bacteria from growing.  When I tried it, I was absolutely amazed!  It took me about three minutes, I wiped his eyes well with one side, then turned it over and re-wiped with the clean side.  His eyes were so clean, no stains, no irritation, and best of all, he wasn’t mad at me because it was so quick!  I’ve been using the enviro cloths on his eyes for almost four months now, and it still works great!  I recommend it to everyone for dogs and cats with tear stain problems!

My new passion

Norwex! I was introduced to Norwex by my dear friend TR in April, right before I headed to Thailand for my brother’s wedding. I got one enviro cloth, and I was quite literally shocked at how well it worked. I cleaned everything with that cloth – normal things like counters, bathrooms, floors, appliances, windows, and unusual things like my white persian cat’s tearstains, gecko poo off of a chair cushion, and the driver’s compartment of my buses at work. It worked on everything, and I didn’t have to use any chemical cleaners, just water!

The cupboards in our kitchen had bothered me since we bought our house. The previous owner had spilled baby formula or something on the doors, and I could not get them off, not with chemicals, natural cleaners, or scrubbers. The enviro cloth got them clean, with just water. I sent one of these cloths to my mom, and she’s just as excited about it as I am!  She’s always telling me about the new uses she’s found for it – cleaning grease splatters off a wood wall in her kitchen, polishing picture frames, washing her walls (which get smoky – she has wood heat) and all with just water!  For her birthday, I sent her a bunch of new cloths to play with – a body cloth, a dish cloth and a window cloth.  I look forward to hearing all sorts of new stories!

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