Cleaning products can bring toxic chemicals into your home, which tend to build up in indoor air. In fact, EWG tested 21 commonly used cleaning products—like air fresheners and multipurpose cleaning sprays—and found that they emitted more than 450 chemicals into the air, including a number of compounds linked to asthma, developmental and reproductive harm, or cancer. Children are more vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals than adults: Studies have shown that infants exposed in the womb to cleaning products used by their mothers may suffer lower birth weight, lower IQ, and wheezing and respiratory symptoms that may persist throughout childhood.
Many cleaning products, including spray cleaners and disinfecting wipes, contain asthmagens—chemicals that can either worsen asthma or cause asthma in someone who never previously had it. Studies show that using traditional cleaning sprays as rarely as once a week can increase your risk of developing adult-onset asthma. Common asthmagens and respiratory irritants in cleaning products include quats, ethanolamines, glutaral and sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach).
Other ingredients and impurities frequently found in cleaning products have been linked to cancer. All-purpose products and dish and laundry detergents often use ethoxlated surfactants for soil removal. These chemicals may contain carcinogenic impurities, such as 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide. Some products contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that can come from botanical oils and extracts. A group of VOCs, called terpenes, can react with ozone indoors to form formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. Preservatives that release formaldehyde are also commonly added to multi-use products.
Use EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to find products without troubling ingredients.
Many cleaning chemicals are not only harmful to human health, but also put animals and the environment at risk. This includes triclosan, an ingredient approved for use in floor waxes and sealers, as well as many cleaning supplies, like sponges and reusable household wipes. Although the market has started to shift away from using triclosan, the troubling ingredient may still be found in older dishwashing liquids still on store shelves. Triclosan is not fully removed by wastewater treatment and can harm aquatic animals like fish and frogs as it is discharged and persists in waterways. The chemical can also breakdown to form toxic, carcinogenic substances, like dioxins and chloroform. Scientists are also concerned about triclosan’s contribution to growing bacterial resistance.
There are no current regulations requiring manufacturers to fully list their ingredients on their packages or online, which can leave shoppers completely in the dark regarding the safety of these products. Although some companies voluntarily reveal some ingredients, only about one in seven cleaning products reviewed by EWG in 2016 fully disclosed ingredients on their packages or websites.
Even when they do list the ingredients, manufacturers often use generic terms like “surfactant,” “colorant,” “preservative” or “fragrance.” These vague terms can mask dozens of compounds, some of which have been linked to serious health impacts.
Use EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to find cleaning products that disclose all of their ingredients to the public so that you know exactly what you are bringing into your home.