How Clean Are Your Cleaners? 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Choosing safer cleaning products will improve the quality of indoor air. When I clean my home, I do so in order to make it a safer, healthier place for my family. That’s the idea, right? Well, you might be just as upset as I was to learn that many of the household cleaners on the market today contain ingredients that are detrimental to our well-being.

Fortunately, safe alternatives do exist.

When choosing your household cleaners, it’s important to rule out those that damage indoor health.  We’ve found 5 ingredients that are harmful to indoor air:

  • Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are found mainly in detergents, citrus cleaners, stain removers, and disinfectantsNPEs disrupt hormone levels in mammals, damaging our reproductive systems.
  • Terpenes, a class of chemicals found in wood polishes and citrus cleaners form carcinogenic compounds when they come in contact with ground-level ozone.
  • Ethylene-based glycol, a common solvent, is classified as a hazardous air pollutant by the EPA.
  • Chlorine, which is also commonly labeled “sodium hypochlorite” or “hypochlorite,” causes damage to the eyes, ears, skin and respiratory system. Chlorine has even been used in chemical warfare – probably not what you have in mind for your home.
  • Ammonia, is harmful to the respiratory system, eyes, and skin. Ammonia, when it comes into contact with bleach, releases a fatally toxic chlorine gas.

Particularly alarming is our population’s increasing sensitivity to chemicals. One study found that 1 in 5 people have a chemical intolerance.

Fortunately, the manufacturing of safer cleaners is gaining traction. Many of the healthier ingredients in these cleaning products are derived from nature. A few safe ingredients include:

  • Sodium carbonate/bicarbonate are natural salts more commonly referred to as washing/baking soda. These can be used in cleaners or on their own for scouring, whitening and to absorb odors.
  • Lactic acid is a safer alternative to other, more harmful antibacterial agents.
  • Hydrogen peroxide, simply water with an extra oxygen atom, is nature’s disinfectant, and can also be used in place of bleach to whiten laundry and surfaces.

Finding cleaning products with natural ingredients is easier than ever. Many consumers have also begun making healthy, homemade cleaners with ingredients like vinegar and essential oils with excellent results. Between the “do-it-yourself’ers” and those who are choosing safer commercial products, it’s becoming more and more clear that harsh, toxic chemicals are not necessary when it comes to having a clean home.

What are your favorite green cleaners? Have you ever tried making your own?

Photo Credit: “Spring Cleaning” by Voorjaarsschoonmaak on Flickr CC Licenced 


Leave a Reply


  1. Jenna W.

    I swear by Mrs. Meyers. The rosemary scent is almost enough to make me want to clean! (Almost…)

  2. Nice tips! I stay away from anything antibacterial.

    When I was a student and came home for the holidays, my dad gave me a lecture on how to really get my laundry clean (yes, we looked like some detergent ad). He gave me a box of enzyme cleaner: great for protein stains (like eggs and blood). To this day, I keep a box of it around.

  3. Tamara @ Silent Springs

    Good reminders! Thank you. I always like Straight up Vinegar and essential oils too!

  4. Sarah

    I would add Triclosan to the list of ingredients to avoid. I like making my own cleansers to use with essential oils. Brands I trust are CleanWell and Dr. Bronner’s.

  5. I make all our own using water, vinegar and essential oils – my faves are lavendar and tea trea oil. I also add grapefruit seed extract since it’s like a natural bleach.

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