Top 5 Household Chemicals to Avoid + 10 Awesome Green Cleaning Solutions

We’ve written a lot here at Green Living Ideas about how to make your own cleaners, and we’re passionate about reducing the amount of chemicals in our life, and hopefully inspiring you do to the same. When I came across this helpful information about household chemicals to avoid from Women’s Voices for the Earth, it was too important not to share.

Top 5 Household Chemicals to Avoid

Women’s Voices for the Earth is an activist group that wants to get chemicals out of our lives. They advocate in various ways for consumer awareness about chemical products in our life and focus on a few important campaigns– chemical exposure of salon workers, unsavory ingredients in tampons and pads, and research about chemical companies and how they continue to expose the population to large amounts of chemicals with little oversight.

Here is a repost of the Disinfectant Fact Sheet, detailing the top 5 household chemicals to avoid. These chemicals are found in everyday cleaners, and each chemical is linked to a multitude of health problems. Also included here is a list of the best green cleaning solutions for reducing chemical cleaners in the home.

But what about the germs, some of your might be asking? It’s a good question, and one that we’ve been taught to ask by the companies that manufacture the chemicals! As reported on Consumer Affairs,

The truth is that in most households, the need for routine disinfection is rare. Research has demonstrated that less toxic ingredients, such as vinegar and borax, have antibacterial properties that may be used in place of harsh chemicals. And there are other steps that can be taken to prevent the need for disinfecting in the first place.

Powerful antimicrobial chemicals (also known as disinfectants) are increasingly found in household cleaners, from laundry detergent to kitchen cleaners to handy wipes. Yet research has shown that some of the most common antimicrobial chemicals used in cleaners could have serious health consequences. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to potential health impacts from simple irritation of the skin, eyes, and respiratory systems to hormone imbalance, immune system impacts, asthma, and potential reduced fertility. The overuse of disinfectant chemicals also contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, more commonly known as ‘superbugs.'”

According the WVE fact sheet about household cleaning, children, pregnant women, women trying to get pregnant, and persons with asthma are especially vulnerable to the chemicals found in household cleaners. They report that chemicals are sold to consumers, “with very little information on the potential consequences for human health and little oversight by the government. [There are no] legal requirements for ingredient labeling on household cleaning products. As a result, consumers have limited access to information about which products contain chemicals ingredients they may wish to avoid.”

This exposure is higher for women, as women still do most of the housework in American homes, and because women make up the majority of housekeeping jobs in the US. In these roles, women are exposed to an increased number, variety, and novel combinations of chemicals than ever before. WVE concludes their report with this statement: “We know very little about the long-term health impacts of chronic exposure to chemicals in household cleaning products. While additional studies are needed in order to fully ascertain the safety of using household cleaning chemicals over the course of a lifetime, the potential health impacts associated with exposure to certain chemicals present a significant cause for concern.” Download the fact sheet here for more information.

top 5 household chemicals to avoid
learn which chemicals to avoid in your home!

5 Household Chemicals to Avoid, from Women’s Voices for the Earth.

1. Chlorine bleach is commonly used to treat drinking water, sanitize swimming pools and to whiten laundry, and is a strong eye, skin, and respiratory irritant. Mixing chlorine bleach with other cleaners like ammonia can release dangerous chlorine gas. Exposure to chlorine gas can cause coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, or other symptoms.

2. Ammonia is often included in glass cleaners and other hard-surface cleaners, and can be irritating to the skin, eyes, throat, and lungs. Ammonia can burn your skin, and can damage your eyes (including blindness) upon contact.

3. Triclosan and Triclocarban are commonly added to household cleaning products such as hand soap and dish soap as well as a broad range of other products from toothpaste to socks. These chemicals are persistent in the environment, and are linked to hormone imbalance, and potential increased risk of breast cancer.

4. Ammonium quaternary compounds (“quats”) are found in household cleaning products like disinfectant sprays and toilet cleaners, and some have been identified as a known inducer of occupational asthma. Certain quats have also been linked to decreased fertility and birth defects in mice.

5. Nano-silver can be incorporated into textiles, plastics, soaps, packaging, and other materials, giving each the natural antibacterial property of silver metal. Nano-silver particles can penetrate deep into your body and have been shown to be toxic to the liver and brain.

If you do decide to use chemical cleaners, WVE recommends using with caution, use as directed, and use minimally, to reduce impact on the environment. As written in the Consumer Affairs post,

“WVE acknowledges these chemicals are effective germ killers, but warns consumers to use them with caution. Just as you wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to kill a fly, we’re advocating for people to use disinfecting products only when the situation calls for them, says WVE Executive Director Erin Switalski. Consumers need to know that the harsh chemicals found in disinfectants are simply too strong for everyday use all over the house.

The Integrative Nursing Institute agrees. Antimicrobial chemicals available in the home today were initially developed for hospital and clinical settings, but for the vast majority of people, the home does not need to be as sterile as an operating room, says Susan Luck, RN, director of the Florida-based nursing organization.

WVE’s report cites another worrisome trend linked to the excessive use of disinfectants: The overuse of disinfectant chemicals also contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, more commonly known as superbugs, the report states. The truth is that in most households, the need for routine disinfection is rare.”

10 Awesome Green Cleaning Solutions, from Women’s Voices for the Earth

These 10 tips from Women’s Voices of the Earth can help you get started with chemical-less or chemical-free cleaning! Need more: here’s our very clever infographic on green cleaning with recipes and tips!

guide to homemade cleaning products
guide to homemade cleaning products

1. Go Back to Basics with Soap and Water
The surfactants in soap help lift the dirt off surfaces, while a little scrubbing and good rinsing will carry the dirt (and any microbes) away. Using cleaners containing antimicrobial chemicals would actually kill the germs in your house, and although this sounds like a better idea, studies show that there is no demonstrated health advantage to using these types of cleaners.

2. Use Green Cleaning Products

  • Vinegar: Use this as a glass and window cleaner. The acid in the vinegar also destroys bacteria.
  • Borax: This naturally occurring powdered substance can be used as a water softener or as a freshener in the laundry. The chemical properties of borax also makes it a good cleaner and bleaching agent.
  • Essential Oils: These concentrated liquids are distilled from plants. Studies have shown that essential oils such as thyme oil, rosemary oil, clove oil, eucalyptus oil, and oregano oil, have natural antibacterial properties.

3. Wash Your Hands!
Regular hand washing has been shown to be the very best way to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses like colds and viruses.  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands vigorously with soap and water for 20 seconds at a time. Our favorite soap, for hands, body, laundry and cleaning, is Dr. Bronner’s.

4. Practice Good Food Safety

  • Clean: Wash your hands before handling food, and rinse fruits and vegetables under running water.
  • Separate: Keep bacteria-laden raw meats, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination
  • Cook: Cook foods to a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria that may be present in raw meats or eggs.
  • Chill: Refrigerate or freeze foods as soon as you get them home from the store.  Make sure not to leave cooked foods out for more than two hours.

5. Microwave and Launder Away Bacteria
Two simple solutions to prevent bacteria growth on sponges and cloths are microwaving sponges for one minute and regularly laundering washcloths.

6. Take Action: Raise Your Voice for Healthy Products!
Call on Congress to strengthen our laws! We shouldn’t have to worry that the products we use contain toxic chemicals. That’s why WVE is working with partner organizations to pass laws that protect our health and the health of our families.

7. Sign WVE’s Petition for Safe Cleaners
Let the top five cleaning product makers (Clorox Company, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt-Benckiser, SC Johnson & Son, and Sunshine Makers, Inc.) know that you want toxic chemicals out of their products. Sign it now!

8. Make your own non-toxic cleaners
Check out WVE’s Green Cleaning Party Kit for six non-toxic recipes using ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and olive oil.

9. Spread the word
Make sure that your friends and family know about the potential health hazards of overusing disinfectants. If you employ a cleaning company or an independent house cleaner, ask them to reduce their use of antimicrobial products in favor of everyday cleaning products.

10. Join Women’s Voices for the Earth
Help make consumer products safe and free from toxic chemicals! Join WVE here!


About the Author

A vegan chef, cookbook author, educator, writer, surfer, and yogi based in San Francisco, Andrea is also the Accounts Manager for Important Media. Follow her foodie adventures at AndreaBertoli.com, Vibrant Wellness Journal, Green Living Ideas and Eat Drink Better. Find more from Andrea on Facebook and Instagram

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