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One common source of noxious chemicals is the cleaning products people bring into their home. Many of these cleaning and hygiene products are created from a base of chlorine and benzene, both of which are toxic chemicals. Precise recipes are typically considered confidential proprietary information, so we don’t know precisely what’s in them. But what we do know leaves plenty of room for concern.

Many dishwashing detergents carry a warning to “keep away from children” because some of the ingredients can mix to create formaldehyde. Others contain triclosan, which in addition to being toxic, can interact with chlorinated water to create chloroform. (Shabecoff & Shabecoff, 2010) Antibacterial soaps and other products (including toothpaste) also typically contain triclosan. Not only is triclosan toxic, but there are legitimate concerns about the use (and overuse) of antibacterial soaps. So it’s best to stay away from these products altogether.

Laundry detergent can contain phthalates (an endocrine disruptor), monoethanolamene, alkyl- and nonyl-phenol ethoxylates, and aluminum hydroxide, among other chemicals. Glass cleaners typically contain ammonia, butyl ceuuosolve, d-Limonene, glycol ethers, isobutane, triclosan, and monoethandamene. Generic cleaning agents can contain formaldehyde, toluene, chloroform, acetaldehyde, benzene, and a host of other chemicals.

Anytime you’re dealing with multiple cleaning products there’s also the potential that mixing them could create harmful chemical byproducts. Pine-Sol contains 15-20% terpene, which is normally a harmless substance. But if mixed with other cleaners and exposed to air, it can create formaldehyde and other toxic carcinogens. Mixing chlorine-based products with other chemicals can create mustard gas or other harmful fumes.

Health consequences from chemicals in cleaning products

The chemicals in cleaning products can pose both short and long-term health risks. In two national surveys conducted by Anne Steinemann, 10% of people reported health problems from laundry products, and the rate was around twice as high among people with asthma. (Koch, 10-28-2010) It’s also been found that mothers who use the most household cleaners are more than twice as likely to have kids who wheeze and develop asthma. (McCook, 2005)

It’s unclear whether this is due to the chemicals in the products (which are well known to increase asthma risk) or because of the overly sterile environment these mothers create through their increased use of cleaning products. (Asthma is an autoimmune disorder, which means it arises when a child’s immune system is overactive and attacks harmless substances, which is much more likely to develop in sterile environments that give a child’s immune system little to do.) Either way, it’s evident that cleaning products in general pose a health risk to your family and offer very little benefit in return. (They are more marketing ploy than necessity.) So try to limit their use, or opt instead for natural organic cleaning agents.

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