This amazing guest post was written by Jenni + Mimi, Registered Holistic Nutritionists and founders of The Naughty Nutritionists! They’re passionate about helping you incorporate delicious foods into your lifestyle without dieting. You can take their free Diet Review Quiz here that examines your current diet and gives you realistic strategies to help turn that ‘diet’ into the lifestyle that works for you.
You’re eating clean, exercising and making every effort to live a healthier lifestyle. Despite it all, that red skin patch and nagging cough don’t seem to go away.
While most of us focus on the stuff we directly put inside our body, we sometimes neglect the other things that our body – mainly skin and lungs – is in touch with from the outside. And while we cannot directly control some factors, like the air we breathe we can definitely focus on what we use inside our house.
What we are exposed to from our external environment can have as much of an impact on our health and wellbeing as what we’re putting in our body. And yes, we are talking about household cleaning products. From laundry detergents, window, oven, bathroom and floor cleaners to air fresheners, candles, and dishwashing detergents – the products we use to clean and refresh our house can have a tremendous effect on our health.
Not only do we inhale these products, but they also come in contact with our largest organ, the skin – which unlike our intestines provides a direct link to our blood. Anything absorbed through your skin can make its way to your blood supply and into your body bypassing your filtration organs.
To make matters worse, household products not only affect us but they also end up in our waterways and pose a threat to marine life. And our obsession with cleanliness, shiny mirrors, tidy counters and anti-bacterial products has put more and more toxic products on our store shelves.
Main Toxic Ingredients To Avoid
Have you ever looked at the ingredient list of your Mr. Clean and saw ‘fragrance’ or ‘dye’?
Well, in the US and Canada manufacturers are not required to disclose all ingredients in their products, meaning there is no way to really know what that ‘fragrance’ or ‘dye’ actually is, or if it’s a hidden trade secret ingredient that is not shared with the public.
Ingredient safety is a huge gray area, where manufacturers don’t really have to prove that a chemical is safe before using it in their products. Chances are if you see extreme warnings on a simple cleaning product such as avoid contact, wear gloves, ventilate or dangerous then best to bet it’s probably not safe for you!
We do however know of some toxic chemical ingredients that are best avoided:
- Sodium hypochlorite: Or what you commonly find in bleach products. This chemical is highly toxic, can cause skin burns, eye irritation, aggravate asthma and lead to respiratory problems. If it’s mixed or in contact with a cleaner that contains an acid, it creates the toxic chlorine gas.
- Triclosan: Is typically found in anti-bacterial personal products and may be used as an anti-bacterial in laundry detergents and dishwashing liquid. It poses a great risk to the environment; it’s linked to microbial resistance and can mess with your hormones.
- Fragrance: This term alone can mean any of the 3000+ chemicals that may or may not have been proven safe, and it’s linked to allergies so unless it has specified exactly what the fragrance is, then we’d recommend avoiding products that have it on the label.
- Phthalates: Are not only little pretenders that can mimic your hormones and act as endocrine disruptors, but they also do a pretty good job at being sneaky on the label. You will never really see them listed as an ingredient, but they tend to go hand in hand with fragrance or perfume.
- Quaternary ammonium compounds: Are used as disinfectants in detergents, as well as in fabric softeners. The CDC labels some of those compounds as highly toxic when concentrated, but even though they may be more diluted in household products, they are still linked to severe burns, irritation, and redness as well as being extremely toxic to the environment. Many types can be listed on the label, and you can see some examples below which are already making our heads spin.
- Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC) or Benzalkonium chloride
- Stearalkonium chloride
- Cetrimonium bromide
- Quaternium 1-29
- Formaldehyde Releasers: Used as antimicrobials and mainly to extend shelf life can be found under many different names. They are mostly used in cosmetics, but can also be added to household cleaning products. They negatively impact your immune system and are linked to skin and respiratory irritation. Plus, formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
- Some other ingredients to watch for: 2-butoxyethanol, alkylphenol ethoxylates, dyes (like fragrance can be hiding a more dangerous chemical), ethanolamines, methylisothiazolinone.
A Lesson in Chemistry
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While some ingredients may be safe on their own, they can become toxic when mixed with others. For example, you should never mix bleach with ammonia, vinegar or any other acids as these combinations can produce toxic and even deadly gasses.
Yeah, we’re not all chemists so if you’re not sure or reading labels isn’t your thing, then check out the Environmental Working Group’s fantastic Guide to Healthy Cleaning to help you decode the labels and find the safest cleaning products for your home.
Now that we’ve covered all the no-no’s, the good news is that we still have a lot of great options to keep your living space clean and toxic free (or at least reduce that exposure). Although there are many toxin free homemade options like good ol’ vinegar, we get it – you don’t want your house to smell like a fish and chip parlor…so here are some brands The Naughty Nutritionists have used and loved.
Top 8 Cleaner Brands To Consider
1. Green Works
Yes, we know they are owned by Clorox – a brand we don’t overall recommend but they are avoiding some of the nasty ingredients listed above, so they made their way onto our list. But they still sneak fragrance into their bottles, and in our opinion could put a lot more effort into being green. Therefore we consider them the least green out of our top 8.
2. Nature Clean
They’ve done really well with their dishwasher, laundry and oxygen bleach; however, they are still disguising some ingredients under the term cleaning agents and fragrance; and can improve the formulations of their glass and all-purpose cleaners that have a high concern for developmental and reproductive toxicity as well as the environment.
This is one of the world’s best known environmentally friendly brands, and we wish they truly lived up to the title, but they still use some toxic preservatives in their laundry detergents such as Benzisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone that are linked to immune system toxicity, allergies, and irritation.
Nevertheless, they are a much better option, and their cream scrub, non-chlorine bleach, zero dish soap, bathroom cleaner and all-purpose cleaner all scored really well on the EWG database.
This is one of those brands that can absolutely make you think that they are super clean (they’re actually owned by Ecover now); their packaging and colors draw you in. And it’s true many of their products are much safer than others.
However, they still use ingredients that may cause eye and skin irritation as well as pose a threat to aquatic life. On their website, they have stated that the fragrance used in their products is free of phthalates, NPEs + other dirty ingredients; non-toxic in use, free of carcinogens + tested for skin irritation + allergies. We find that this is the perfect in between brand to switch to.
Brands That Really Put a Squeaky-Clean Smile On Our Face
Almost perfect attitude from these guys as most of their products scored an A or B.
6. Green Shield Organic
Another great alternative, they’re organic, cruelty-free and their Toilet Bowl Cleaner scored an A.
Kudos to those guys, while they don’t have too many products (why do we need so many anyway?), they have scored perfect A’s on everything and are also cruelty-free, vegan, and EcoCert certified.
EcoLogo certified Canadian based brand is one of our favorites and their products are scented with essential oils. Their lavender laundry detergent is just heavenly, and their dish wash detergent has aloe vera extract for soft and silky hands…not to mention that they are environmentally friendly.
12 Brands to Avoid
While some of their products may be slightly less toxic than others, overall the below brands scored mostly D’s and F’s on EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, and as you now have so many options to choose from, why not just avoid them.
- Airwick Air Freshener’s
- Arm & Hammer (their baking soda products are clean)
- Mr. Clean
Check out these great natural alternatives you can do right at home!
- 10 DIY Natural Household Cleaners
- All Natural Soap That Can Clean Almost Anything
- 61 Ways To Use Lemons To Clean Your Home
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