Time for Cleaning Products to Come Clean on Ingredients

Are there cancer-causing chemicals in your cleaning products? You wouldn’t know, because the majority of cleaners don’t fully disclose their ingredients on the label or online.

Today (May12), Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., reintroduced legislation that would require manufacturers of cleaning products to label their ingredients on packaging and product websites. The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2016 would strip away the secrecy that shrouds the chemicals used to make most cleaners.

EWG has been working for years to close the labeling loophole that allows ingredients in cleaning products – including some that are potentially harmful – to remain undisclosed.

Last year, EWG joined with the Breast Cancer Fund to co-sponsor legislation in the California Assembly to require manufacturers of most household and commercial cleaning products to disclose their ingredients on the labels and online. The bill was defeated early this year, but we greatly raised public awareness of this critical issue and made a compelling case for safety over secrecy.

A new EWG analysis of more than 400 cleaning products released last month showed only about a quarter of them adequately disclose their ingredients. Many companies use vague terms, such as “preservative” or “colorant,” instead of listing the specific chemicals they use. More than two-thirds of products list only “perfume” or “fragrance,” terms that can mask potentially harmful, persistent chemicals such as galaxolide, a skin irritant and possible hormone disruptor that’s highly toxic to aquatic life.

Moreover, most cleaning products contain ingredients that can cause harmful respiratory effects. They include common antibacterial agents such as sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) and quaternary ammonium compounds, or “quats.”

Rep. Israel’s bill would direct the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue regulations to standardize ingredient lists and enforce the act. It also calls for a public process allowing consumers to file a petition with the Commission if they suspect that a product doesn’t comply with the law. In addition, manufacturers would be required to provide supplemental information, including each ingredient’s Chemical Abstract Service identification number and function, on product websites. 

The Right to Know Act would also alert consumers to incidental ingredients used to make the cleaner, including contaminants that may be introduced in production or may form over a product’s shelf life. These can include carcinogens such as 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, which have been routinely detected and reported in a variety of cleaning products. Frequent exposure to formaldehyde and some other chemicals can cause asthma in healthy people.

Passing the bill would be a major victory for the public.

In the meantime, EWG’s interactive Guide to Healthy Cleaning provides detailed information on more than 2,500 products to empower consumers to make safer choices and prod industry to formulate products with safer ingredients and raise the bar on transparency.

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