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Toxins In Your Home

Updated on February 1, 2017

Toxins And Household Products

Many chemicals contained in household cleaning products are the same as those used in industrial settings.

Scientists are now becoming concerned that long-term low-level exposure to chemicals may be just as dangerous as short-term high-dose exposures.

Prior to WWII most household cleaning tasks were accomplished using relatively safe ingredients commonly found in most homes.

With the proliferation of petroleum-based chemicals after the war, corporations began to manufacture ready-made cleaning products.

Today, most people are accustomed to buying a wide range of products custom-designed for the many surfaces, materials and rooms in their homes.

The ingredients contained in conventional petrochemical-based cleaning products are not usually listed on labels. Many, but not all, less-toxic products will have ingredients listed on their labels.


The main ingredient in chlorine bleach is sodium hypochlorite (chlorine added to lye.)

Chlorine is toxic as a skin irritant, and by inhalation.

Sodium hypochlorite can create poisonous chlorine gas if mixed with ammonia (which may be an unlabeled ingredient in some cleaning products) or with vinegar.

Chlorine contains sodium hypochlorite may be a neurotoxin and cause liver damage.

Sodium hypochlorite readily combines with organic matter to form organochlorines which are highly toxic to aquatic life.


Undiluted, ammonia is a severe 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.

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 aeresol sprays are broken into minute particles, which can be more deeply inhaled than larger particles, which may increase their toxic effect.

Laundry Detergent

Most detergents are derived from petrochemical ingredients.

They may contain bleaches, synthetic whiteners, and chemical fragrances, even in some so-called "fragrance free" brands.

Some detergents may contain ammonia, ethanol, napthalene and phenol.

Many liquid brands contain ethoxylated alcohols which can be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane.

Detergent residues on clothes and bed linens can be a source of skin irritation, and lingering scents from scented products can cause respiratory and other reactions in both the user and others.

Petroleum-based detergents cause more household poisonings than any other household product, (when eaten by children.)

Laundry soaps, available as bar soaps or flakes, are usually made from natural minerals and fats and tend to be less toxic than conventional detergents.

Fabric Softener

Fabric softeners are designed to reduce static in synthetic fabrics. They serve no purpose with natural fabrics.

Fabric softeners may contain quarternary ammonium compounds (quats) and imidazolidinyl, both of which are known formaldehyde releasers.

For about 5% of people, quats are an extreme sensitizer. They may cause a variety of asthma-like symptoms, including respiratory arrest.

Exposure to formaldehyde can cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chronic fatigue and a variety of other symptoms.

In lab tests formaldehyde has caused cancer and damaged DNA. Both quaternium and imidazolidinyl can cause contact dermatitis.

Fabric softeners work by leaving a residue on the fabric which never completely washes out. It can cause allergic reactions through skin contact and inhalation.

Fabric softeners may also contain carcinogenic coal-tar dyes, ammonia and very strong scents.

When fabric softeners are exposed to hot water, heat from dryers or ironing, vapours may be emitted which can be deeply inhaled, increasing their impact.

Spot Remover

Spot removers are often made with highly toxic petrochemical solvents including toluene and xylene which are neurotoxic and can cause reproductive damage, tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene) which is carcinogenic, neurotoxic and an eye and kin irritant, and petroleum distillates which can cause eye, skin and respiritaory irritation and is neurotoxic.

They may also include petroleum spirits, sodium dithionate, TEA, and 1,1, 1-trichloroethane.

Sink, Tub and Tile

Sink, tub and tile cleaners can contain ammonia and dimethyl ethylbenzylamonium choride, both strong irritants, ethylene glycol, a neurotoxin and reproductive toxin which may also cause kidney and liver damage, sodium orth-phenylpenol, a carcinogen and irritant, and trisodium nitrilotriacetate, a carcinogen.

Some brands use highly caustic chemicals like sodium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite (bleach) and phosphoric acid that can burn eyes and skin.

Breathing vapours can burn lungs.


Removing dust and dust mites is important, as they are a common trigger of allergic reactions.

It's important to dust in a way that really removes dust, rather than raising it into the air where it will resettle later.

Microfibre cloths are excellent for dusting. They are untreated and reusable.

The soft attachment on a vacuum can be used to remove dust from hard surfaces, the small hard attachment can be used on upholstered furniture, drapes and mattresses. Make sure the vacuum you use doesn't release particle ridden air into the room.

Sheep's wool dusters will draw dust to them with an electrostatic charge.

Dust with a damp lint-free cloth. Or mix 1 teaspoon olive oil with 1/4 cup vinegar and apply with soft cloth.

Glass Cleaner

Most glass cleaners are made of ammonia, a strong irritant, and coal tar dyes. Some contain butyl cellusolve, a neurotoxin, alchohol, naphtha, and glycol ethers.

Some contain wax. Aerosol products create small particles which are more likely to be inhaled or irritate eyes.

Consumer Reports found plain water to be more effective than half the glass cleaners on the market.


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.


Acetone - A neurotoxin, acetone may cause liver and kidney damage, and damage to the developing fetus.

It is a skin and eye irritant.

Found in spot treatment cleaners, mark and scuff removers, and other products.

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.


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.


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.quaternary 15.

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.


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.


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.


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 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


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

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is 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.


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 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.

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    • Didijudy profile image

      Didijudy 5 years ago from Canada

      Yes, it is scary when you think about all the products that contain toxins. No wonder so many people have health problems nowadays. Thanks for stopping by babynstar and leaving a comment.

    • babynstar profile image

      babynstar 5 years ago

      So scary! Thanks for posting this