Don’t Be Fooled by ‘Green’ Cleaners

Few things are more satisfying than walking into a clean home, but it is important to remember that clean doesn’t always mean safe.

Research has identified the dangers associated with some ingredients in cleaning products, and consumers have increasingly voiced concerns about the potentially dangerous health effects of home cleaning products. This has led to a boom in production of so-called “green” cleaning products – that claim to use more environmentally and health-friendly ingredients.

But recent studies have shown that “green” products often have the same dangerous chemicals as their conventional counterparts. Last year, a study by Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne, Australia, found that 80 percent of the volatile organic compounds found most often in products containing fragrance were in both the regular version of the product and the versions labeled green, organic or natural.

This highlights a problem that spans the cleaning product industry – lack of ingredient disclosure.

Right now, there are virtually no regulations in the U.S. to require disclosure of cleaning product ingredients. The Steinemann study found that the products tested released an average of 15 volatile organic compounds, some of which are linked to cancer, and more than 90 percent of those hazardous ingredients weren’t listed on labels.

Here are a few tips to reduce potentially harmful exposures:

  • Choose fragrance-free products. The label “fragrance” on a product can hide dozens of ingredients, such as diethyl phthalate, which has been linked to hormone disruption in humans.  
  • Avoid antibacterial dish soaps. The Food and Drug Administration recently banned the antibacterial ingredient triclosan from hand soaps, effective September 2017. Triclosan has the potential to disrupt hormone systems and may promote liver tumors in mice. It has not been shown to prevent the spread of germs any better than plain soap and it may contribute to the growing problem of antibacterial resistance.
  • Make sure the room is well ventilated. Opening windows for better air flow can significantly reduce the level of airborne toxic chemicals.
  • Make your own cleaners. With a few simple ingredients you can make your own effective cleaning products. For example, instead of a commercial cleaner containing chlorine bleach that could irritate eyes, skin and lungs, just add half a cup of baking soda to a little liquid soap and water to create a gentle scrub for the bathroom.

Check out EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to help find healthier options across many types of cleaners, and’s Greener Way to Clean for more tips on exposure reduction.

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