Avoid the Toxic Effects of Household Cleaning Products

  • Hannah Aylward
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Avoid the Toxic Effects of Household Cleaning Products

by Hannah Aylward


When interested in embarking on an exciting health journey, we often look to food and exercise to help us meet our goals. It is true that proper nutrition and exercise are powerful, life-changing tools. Eating healthy foods and sweating daily can help drastically reduce our toxic load and therefore, allow our bodies to operate more optimally. The truth is that there are other things adding to our toxic loads — things that we come in contact with daily. I am talking about are household cleaning products.


The thing is that there is no federal regulation of chemicals in household products. According to Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “… in terms of household cleaners, neither ingredients nor products must meet any sort of safety standard, nor is any testing data or notification required before bringing a product to market.” Both shocking and horrifying, I know.


The average household contains about 62 toxic chemicals that we are exposed to constantly. A large amount of these chemicals come from household cleaning products — the products that we are using, thinking that we are only doing good. These chemicals in our cleaners affect our health as we breathe them in while cleaning and even afterward as they linger in the air. We can also absorb these toxic chemicals through our skin while scrubbing the toilet or cleaning the counter. The skin is our largest organ, and it absorbs whatever you put on it, sending any toxic chemicals straight into your bloodstream.


Manufacturers of these products argue that in small amounts, these toxic ingredients aren’t likely to be a problem. However, when we are exposed to them routinely, I beg to differ. While some products cause immediate reactions from exposure like headaches from those terrible fumes, different problems arise with repeated contact. It is just like inflammation. The body can handle a little bit here and there, but exposure, daily, weekly, becomes chronic and adds up over time. The body stores these toxins, adding to its toxic burden and making normal functioning more difficult.


No one can avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, but it is always a good idea to avoid them whenever and wherever we can. Here is a list of some of the top ingredients to look out for in your household cleaners.



Found In:

-Household Cleaners

-Beauty Products

Any household products that claim to be antifungal or antimicrobial like dish soap, all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, and bathroom cleaner most likely contain parabens, listed as methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.

Health Risks:

Parabens are xenoestrogens, meaning they mimic estrogen in your body and can lead to estrogen dominance. As a result, they cause hormone disruption, reproductive problems, and have been linked with hormonal cancers including breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer. They can also cause neurotoxicity and skin irritation.



Found In:

-Fragranced household products, like air fresheners and dish soap. 

Companies do not have to disclose what’s in their scents, so you will not find phthalates on an ingredients label. Instead, look out for the word “fragrance”, which often signifies that the product contains phthalates.

Health Risks:

Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts.


Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Found In: 

-Dry-cleaning solutions

-Spot removers

-Carpet and upholstery cleaners

Health Risks:

Perc is a neurotoxin, a poison that acts on the nervous system. And the EPA classifies perc as a “possible carcinogen” as well. People who live in residential buildings where dry cleaners are located have reported dizziness, loss of coordination, and other symptoms.



Found In: 

-Most liquid dishwashing detergents

-Hand soaps labeled “antibacterial”

-Body washes



-Some cosmetics

Health Risks:

Some short-term animal studies have shown that exposure to high doses of triclosan is associated with a decrease in the levels of some thyroid hormones. Other studies have raised the possibility that exposure to triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics


Quarternary Ammonium Compounds or “QUATS”

Found In:

-Fabric softener liquids and sheets

-Most household cleaners labeled “antibacterial”

Health Risks:

BI Help breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, irritate skin, and could be a culprit for respiratory disorders, including asthma.



Found In:

-Window, kitchen, and multipurpose cleaners.

Health Risks:

Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label. It causes red blood cell damage and hemolytic anemia, liver damage, and forestomach ulcers in animals.


Sodium Hydroxide

Found In:

-Oven cleaners

-Drain openers

Health Risks:

Otherwise known as lye, sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive: If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes, it can cause severe burns. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts for days.



Found In:

-Polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks, and jewelry

-Also in glass cleaner

Health Risks:

Ammonia is irritating and corrosive. Exposure to ammonia causes immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract, coughing, nose and throat irritation, rapid skin or eye irritation, and severe injury and burns. Contact with concentrated ammonia solutions such as industrial cleaners may cause corrosive injury including skin burns, permanent eye damage, or blindness. Contact with liquefied ammonia can also cause frostbite injury. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia from swallowing ammonia solution results in corrosive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach.



Found In:

-Scouring powders

-Toilet bowl cleaners

-Mildew removers

-Laundry whiteners

-Household tap water

Health Risks:

Chlorine is everywhere. It is a respiratory irritant at an acute level, and on a chronic level, it is a serious thyroid disruptor.


The good news:

The EWG has an incredible database of cleaners that have been given a health score, showcasing their level of toxicity. This is an incredible resource. You can use this to check the score of the products currently in your home, as well as those you see at the stores. It will help when replacing any nasties that you have in your cupboards now.


You can always DIY, and make your own cleaning products at home! This way, you will know exactly what is in them. Here is a super simple recipe for an all-purpose cleaner.


DIY Natural All-Purpose Cleaner

2 cups filtered water
½ cup rubbing alcohol or white vinegar
1 tablespoon Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap
10 drops of tea tree essential oil - tea tree is both antifungal + antibacterial!

Mix all ingredients together in a 24 oz spray bottle. Shake well before using.


So, it’s time to clean out your cupboards! Choose fragrance-free or all-natural organic products, use essential oils (or even house plants!) instead of air fresheners, ditch the dryer sheets, and read those labels. Your health is worth it!


*We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented and that you always read labels, warnings, and directions before using or consuming a product. You should consult your health care professional before making any changes to your regular health care routine.



Hannah Aylward

Hannah Aylward is a Certified Health Coach, nutrition consultant, fitness instructor, healthy living expert, and founder of HAN. She helps both men and women around the world lose weight, heal skin disturbances, balance hormones, heal gut imbalances and feel at home in their bodies through healthy eating, movement, mindfulness and positive self-talk. Her goal is to help others “learn the tools that they need to live the lives they deserve”. Get to know her by visiting her website and following her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.


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