Unacceptable Chemicals - Household Cleaning Products

of three

Household Cleaning Products - Unacceptable Chemicals

The majority of chemicals in household cleaners cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and respiratory system. Thirty-three unacceptable chemicals found in household cleaning products have been identified and are presented in alphabetical order below.



  • 2-Butoxyethanol is found in hard surface cleaners such as window and glass cleaners and multipurpose cleaners.
  • This chemical is a possible carcinogen that will irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat when inhaled.
  • It can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, and passing out.
  • When exposed to 2-butoxyethanol over the long term or in high amounts, it can cause kidney and liver failure and can possibly damage the reproductive system as well.

Alkyl Ammonium Chloride


  • Ammonia is found in both household and industrial cleaners, including window and glass cleaners, multipurpose cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, shining waxes, oven cleaners, and drain cleaners.
  • Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia can cause "immediate burning of the nose, throat, and respiratory tract," which can result in respiratory distress or failure.
  • Skin and eye contact with concentrated ammonia can cause burns, permanent eye damage, or blindness.
  • The ingestion of high concentrations of ammonia will result in "corrosive damage to the mouth, throat and stomach."
  • Low concentrations of ammonia exposure can cause coughing and irritation of the nose and throat.

Ammonium Hydroxide

  • Ammonium hydroxide is found in car cleaners, disinfectants, glass cleaners, metal polishes, stain removers, floor cleaners, clog removers, surface wipes, and upholstery cleaners
  • This chemical "causes skin irritation; contact can lead to severe irritation and burns. Ingestion can cause vomiting, nausea, gastric irritation and, in severe cases, perforation, central nervous system depression, shock, convulsions and pulmonary edema."

Boric Acid




  • Glutaral is found in oven cleaners, drain cleaners, hard water stain removers, toilet cleaners, and stove top cleaners.
  • Exposure to glutaral can cause severe burns and eye damage. It is also an asthmagen (causes allergy and asthma symptoms) and in high doses, can impair the central nervous system.


  • Hydrocarbons are found in wood cleaners, oil cleaners, metal cleaners, adhesive removers, pine cleaners, spot removers, and liquid furniture polishes.
  • If hydrocarbons get into the lungs, they can cause a "pneumonia-like condition; irreversible, permanent lung damage; and even death." If ingested, they cause mild digestive issues like burping and diarrhea.

Hydrochloric Acid

  • Hydrochloric acid is found in toilet cleaners, whiteners, fabric softener, lime removers, stain removers, rust removers, plastic cleaners, air fresheners, and shampoos.
  • Hydrochloric acid is corrosive and if it comes into "contact with the skin, eyes, or internal organs, the damage can be irreversible or even fatal in severe cases."

Lauramide Diethanolamines (DEA)


  • Methanol is found in brake and parts cleaners, adhesive removers, de-icers, wheel cleaners, bug removers, brass cleaners, and porcelain cleaners.
  • Ingestion of methanol can cause permanent blindness, central nervous system poisoning, coma, and possibly death.


  • Methoxydiglycol can be found in floor cleaners and polishes.
  • This chemical is suspected of "damaging fertility or the unborn child," is a skin irritant, and can cause eye irritation.

Monoethanolamine Citrate

  • Monoethanolamine citrate is found in oven cleaners, clog removers, stain removers, toilet cleaners, and stove top cleaners.
  • This chemical is an asthmagen and will cause severe burns if it comes in contact with the skin. There is also some evidence that it can cause central nervous system depression.

Nonylphenol Ethoxylate

PEG Compounds

  • PEG compounds are found in baby wipes and cleaners such as "penetration enhancers and surfactants."
  • The issue with PEG compounds is that "ethylene oxide is used in their production in a process called ethoxylation," which can cause contamination with "ethylene oxide, a chemical associated with multiple kinds of cancer."


Petroleum Distillates

  • Petroleum distillates are found in car cleaners, vinyl cleaners, polishes, waxes, tire cleaners, stainless steel polishes, heavy-duty hand cleaners, furniture polishes, shoe polishes, air fresheners, and degreasers.
  • These chemicals can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; dizziness, drowsiness, headache, nausea; dry cracked skin; [and] chemical pneumonitis."


Potassium Hydroxide

  • Potassium hydroxide is found in degreasers, wheel and tire cleaners, sanitizers, oven and grill cleaners, floor cleaners, mildew and stain removers, clog removers, all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergent, dish soap, and stone cleaners.
  • The dangers of potassium hydroxide include severe burns to the skin, eyes, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract. This chemical can be fatal if ingested.
  • Prolonged exposure to potassium hydroxide can lead to tissue destruction.


  • Quaternium-15 is found in anti-static sprays, toilet cleaners, leather wipes, stain lifters, antibacterial hand soaps, floor refinishers, furniture wipes, shampoos, and body wash.
  • This chemical is a highly carcinogenic compound that "is known to target the brain and the central nervous system."
  • It can also "negatively affect the overall blood circulation and induce related conditions such as normocytic anemia and altered white blood cell count."
  • Inhalation of quaternium-15 can cause respiratory tract damage and skin exposure can "cause severe skin irritation and dermatitis."


  • Quaternium-24 is found in disinfectants, multipurpose cleaners, deodorizers, foaming cleaners, stain removers, toilet cleaners, laundry sanitizers, and mold inhibitors.
  • This chemical can cause severe skin burns and eye damage at high exposure. Lower levels of exposure can cause eye and skin irritation.

Sodium Hydroxide

  • Sodium hydroxide is found in car wash products, metal polishes, all-purpose cleaners, wheel and tire cleaners, fabric cleaners, drain cleaners, disinfectants, mold and mildew stain removers, germicidal cleaners, dish detergent, carpet cleaners, heavy-duty hand cleaners, finish removers, oven and grill cleaners, toilet cleaners, and deodorizers.
  • Also known as lye, this chemical is extremely corrosive and can cause severe burns. If inhaled, it can cause a sore throat that can last for several days.

Sodium Hypochlorite

  • Sodium hypochlorite is found in bleach, clog removers, toilet cleaners, mildew removers, germicidal wipes, stain removers, sanitizing sprays, deck washes, drain cleaners, washing machine cleaners, kitchen cleaners, and bathroom cleaners.
  • Exposure to sodium hypochlorite can cause coughing and a sore throat. If ingested, it can cause "stomach ache, a burning sensation, coughing, diarrhea, a sore throat and vomiting."

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Sulfuric Acid

  • Sulfuric acid is found in wheel cleaners, degreasers, liquid dishwasher detergent, liquid laundry detergent, rust dissolvers, stain removers, bleach, foaming hand soap, and water clarifier.
  • As this chemical is corrosive, it can cause serious chemical and thermal burns. If it comes into contact with the eyes, it can lead to permanent blindness and if it is ingested, it can lead to "internal burns, irreversible organ damage, and possibly death."
  • High concentration exposure can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, tissue damage, and even tooth erosion.


  • Triclosan is found in antibacterial soaps and body washes.
  • High doses of triclosan have been linked to a "decrease in the levels of some thyroid hormones."
  • There may also be an increased risk of skin cancer when exposed to triclosan over long periods of time.

Triethanolamine (TEA)

  • Triethanolamine is found in battery cleaners, wheel and tire cleaners, degreasers, metal polishes, waxes, scratch and blemish removers, oven and grill cleaners, disinfectants, hand cleaners, laundry detergents, wood cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, bleach, stain removers, dusters, and personal cleansing products.
  • There is strong evidence that this chemical is a "human immune and respiratory toxicant or allergen" and a "skin toxicant or allergen."\\

Trisodium Phosphate

  • Trisodium phosphate is a dry powder that when mixed with water, is used for heavy-duty cleaning that requires degreasing.
  • Both the dry and wet forms of trisodium phosphate can irritate the skin.

Troclosene Sodium, Dihydrate

  • Troclosene sodium, dihydrate is found in powdered bathroom cleaners (Comet).
  • This chemical is known to cause respiratory effects, general systemic/organ effects, damage to vision, developmental effects, endocrine effects, reproductive effects, and skin irritation.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

  • Volatile organic compounds are found in air fresheners, chlorine bleach, detergent, dishwashing liquid, dry cleaning chemicals, rug and upholstery cleaners, furniture and floor polishes, and oven cleaners.
  • These chemicals "contribute to chronic respiratory problems, allergic reactions and headaches." They have also been linked with occupational asthma after long-term exposure.

Research Strategy

To identify 33 unacceptable chemicals in household cleaning products, we first identified the 15 chemicals provided in the early findings. Then, we used a variety of government and medical sources to identify 18 other chemicals that are known to be dangerous or at least somewhat harmful and are in household cleaning products. Note that we occasionally used older sources that provided actual medical information from research studies rather than rely on less credible, but more recent sources.
of three

Household Cleaning Products - Alternatives to Unacceptable Chemicals

Alternatives to dangerous chemicals used in cleaning products include sodium bicarbonate, lactic acid, glycerin, coconut oil, and hydrogen peroxide. Details on the types of cleaning products these and other safer ingredients are typically used in, as well as an outline of the research strategy used, are provided below.

Sodium Bicarbonate

  • Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, is used in carpet deodorizers, toilet cleaners, laundry stain removers, and drain cleaners.
  • EWG gives sodium bicarbonate an "A" rating.

Sodium Tallowate


  • Glycerin is used in car waxes and glazes, grill cleaners, septic treatments, air fresheners, toilet cleaners, laundry detergent, and dish soap.
  • EWG gives glycerin an "A" rating.

Lactic Acid

  • Lactic acid is used in dish detergent, all-purpose cleaners, and toilet cleaners.
  • EWG gives lactic acid an "A" rating.

Citric Acid

  • Citric acid is used in wheel cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, septic cleaners, and dish detergents and finishing rinses.
  • EWG gives citric acid an "A" rating.

Sodium Citrate

  • Sodium citrate is used in dish detergent, laundry detergent, toilet cleaner, and glass cleaner.
  • EWG gives sodium citrate an "A" rating.

Potassium Carbonate

Coconut Oil

  • Coconut oil is used in all-purpose cleaner, and laundry detergent.
  • EWG gives coconut oil an "A" rating.


  • Ethanol is used in glass cleaner, plastic cleaner, degreaser, and disinfectant.
  • EWG gives ethanol an "A" rating.

Quillaja Saponaria

Hydrogen Peroxide

  • Hydrogen peroxide is used in all-purpose cleaner, laundry stain remover, degreaser, and drain cleaner.
  • EWG gives hydrogen peroxide an "A" rating.

Sodium Cocoate

  • Sodium cocoate is used in laundry detergent, dish soap, toilet cleaner, and bar soap.
  • EWG gives sodium cocoate an "A" rating.

Jojoba Oil/Extract

Caprylyl Glucoside

  • Caprylyl glucoside is used in all-purpose cleaner and glass cleaner.
  • EWG gives caprylyl glucoside a "B" rating. Although the chemical receives low scores in almost every safety category, one study showed that low doses resulted in lowered prostate weight in animals. Due to all categories except one showing low negative impacts, and because the concern was based on a single study, the chemical is being included as a safer alternative.

Research Strategy

To find ingredients to include on the list, we utilized the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) database of ingredients and relied on their extensive expertise in this area. EWG is "a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment," and the organization rates products and ingredients on a scale of "A" to "F". A rating of "A" indicates there are few to no concerns that the ingredient will negatively impact health or the environment. An "F" rating indicates there are significant potential concerns regarding the negative impact on health or the environment. A full description of EWG's extensive methodology can be found here. Therefore, any ingredients that received an "A" rating from EWG would be more acceptable to use since it was determined that they have a minimal negative impact on health and the environment.

Once we had our ingredient list, we utilized the Household Product Database published by Health & Human Services to determine the products where each ingredient would typically be found. For each ingredient provided above, we supplied the cleaning products it is typically found in, and the rating the ingredient it received from EWG. If the rating is an "A," no further explanation is provided. For any other ratings, a full explanation of why the ingredient is more acceptable is provided.
of three

Consumer and Employee Sentiment - Toxic Chemicals in Cleaning Products

In a Home Cleaning Products: Health and Safety Concerns of Consumers by Ipsos, almost half of the adults surveyed were concerned about the use of toxic chemicals in their cleaning products, while 40% said they use natural cleaning products like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon. Unfortunately, while there were many articles on how to keep employees safe around chemicals, we were unable to find any information from employees concerning their feelings toward the chemicals they need to use.

Consumer's Opinion of Toxic Chemicals in Cleaning Products

  • In a blog called Lexi's clean kitchen, the author and homemaker informs her readers that household cleaning products can cause adverse reactions from minor skin irritation to hormone disruption to cancer. According to the Environmental Working Group, using toxic cleaners just once a week can result in harmful effects.
  • The Environmental Working Group has both an app and a website service that allows consumers to enter their product name or scan the bar code. The EWG database will return the list of toxic products in any product. The website for the Environmental Working Group gets between 1.8 and 2.0 million hits a month. 72.39% of those come from the US. This traffic shows a significant number of people who are worried about toxins in their environment as well as other environmental issues.
  • According to an online survey of 1000 people conducted in the US between February 20 and March 1, 2019, 41% of surveyed adults are concerned about the safety of the ingredients in their cleaning supplies
  • In the same survey, 29% are worried about the accuracy of the claims made by their "safe" cleaning supplies. 25% are concerned that the product has ingredients they are not familiar with, while 23% prefer to buy eco-friendly or green products.
  • In another survey, 40% of people surveyed use household products such as vinegar, lemon juice, and baking powder.

Consumer's Opinion on Efficacy of Alternative Cleaners

  • One homemaker stated that "Branch Basics is literally magic". Branch Basic, which describes its product as human-safe and non-toxic, is a single multi-purpose concentrate that can be used for many cleaning tasks and makes cleaning simple, affordable, and sustainable. Another homemaker wrote a much longer review rating the product on simplicity, safety, and price. The user found it easy to use, it was highly rated by EWG, and she was happy with the cleaning ability and the price.
  • The Today show had three popular cleaning experts who have wide followings on social media. They spoke and gave advice on cleaning products. One stated, "White vinegar is great for getting rid of bad odors, cutting grease and shining glass ... Something like cleaning vinegar might take an area in your home that might look hopeless and transform it and make it look clean and shiny." Another expert uses vinegar for cleaning sealed wood furniture, glass, and even fabric.
  • KrudCutter is a biodegradable, non-toxic cleanser that was also recommended by these experts. One of them recommended this powerful cleanser as "for your whole world and everything in it." Because kitchen and bathroom dirt are both primarily grease. She commented, "What better product to clean grease with than a degreaser?"
  • Another expert recommends diluted, vegetable-based Castile soap as an all-purpose cleaner because it all provides a nice squeaky clean feel."

How Employees Feel About Chemicals in Their Work Environment

  • Many employers and building managers are purchasing "green" cleaning chemicals with the expectation that green cleaning products are safer for workers and the environment. While that is not always the case, it does show concern at all levels for the safety of the employees.

Research Strategy

Insights on how consumers feel about toxic chemicals and natural replacements were easily found in publicly available information.

Insights from employees were not as accessible. We began by searching through magazines for cleaners and suppliers of cleaning supplies.

We searched through cmmonline.com, a cleaning and maintenance magazine, cleaner.com, cleaningmag, and American Cleaning and Hygiene. We were looking for articles on cleaning products, switching to green, environmental issues, and anything else that could provide comments from workers. Every piece we read was written from the point of view of either a vendor, a manager, or a health and safety professional.

We also searched for information about office workers and their cleaning concerns. Again we found advice on how to survey employees, how to deal with their complaints and checklists for cleaning, so there were no complaints, but nothing from the actual employees expressing concern about the products used in their area. That is not surprising as many of the articles we read before this step talked about how more and more cleaning companies are using green cleaning supplies.

Turning to the issue of employee safety, we turned to OSHA and various worker compensation board web sites throughout the country. Again we found many articles with information on how to remain safe, but nothing is written from the perspective of the employee, or even contains any quotes from employees.

We then shifted to looking for any statistics or reports that might be useful. The Bureau of Labor does not track any data elements that could be useful. From there, we moved to the CDC, where we found a department called the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Even after a deep dive into their website and their database, we were unable to find any relevant information.


From Part 01
From Part 02