Friday, July 13, 2012

Hazards in the Household #1: Cleaners

I’ll be honest, my kitchen sink cabinet scares me (rubber gloves help me conquer those fears). Besides dishwashing soaps, I keep Clorox Green Works all-purpose spray (not scary – “natural”, slight eye/skin irritant), Pine Sol (not scary – “natural” again), Lysol 4 in 1 all-purpose cleaner (scary…but my husband insists on it for his medical work), OFF! Bugspray (scary), and Windex (very scary) down there. Heard of BabyGanics? They are not required to list their ingredients, but from what I've been able to find it's the same stuff as Clorox Green Works (surfactants made of palm kernel, coconut, and corn). Ironically, Clorox took all the chlorine out of its product line, but I use their creepy blue toilet bowl wands. Anti-perspirant and baking powder, both aluminum-containing products, lurk around my home as well. I’m just glad I don’t have a pool so I don’t have to mess with any chlorine. 

The facts are that the FDA prohibits household cleaners from carrying known carcinogens. However, their substances are still known to potentially damage the body. FYI, here is a comprehensive listing of known and probable human carcinogens from the American Cancer Society in case you ever want to explore the ingredients list on any of your cleaning products.
My mom used to ban things like cereal with food coloring because she knew some dyes can be carcinogenic. Today (and maybe then) dyes that are carcinogenic have been banned from textile and food use. These include Acid Red 26, Direct Blue 6, Direct Black 38 and Direct Red 28 with negative ionization mode, Basic Red 9, Basic Violet 14, Disperse Blue 1, Disperse Orange 11 and Disperse Yellow 3. 

We’ll take a look now at all of our culprits. I found the U.S.D.H.S.S.Household Products Database to be very helpful. 
Windex Original
Windex packaging comes with warnings about breathing, ingestion, eye, and skin contact.

It contains:   
  •  Cocamidopropyl betaine (a surfactant derived from cononut oil, may cause allergies )
  • Ammonium hydroxide. A healthy liver manages ammonia exposure by converting it into harmless compounds like urea (excreted in urine) and helpful compounds like amino acids (for building bodily proteins). However, people with liver damage such as cirrhosis do this less effectively, and ammonia can cause Hepatic Encephalopathy, or as my major professor used to say, “fry the brain.” The brain cells, or astrocytes, when exposed to ammonia can behave like an Alzheimer’s patient’s brain cells: they become swollen and dysfunctional, their genetic material can become corrupt, and finally fluid can enter and accumulate in the brain to further impair it. Ammonia exposure can occur both from the external and internal environments: external, from using ammoniated products, and internal, from consuming a high-protein diet without adequate fiber. (See "Eat Your Vegetables!"). This should only be a concern if you have a liver that does not function fact, you can probably get just as much ammonia exposure by changing diapers.
  •  Monoethanolamine (MEA). Inhaling MEA can cause respiratory allergic reactions, skin irritation, and even liver damage (Christian M, ed; J American College of Toxicology 2 (7): 183-226 (1983)and Gillner M et al; Nord 29: 49-73 (1993)).  

OFF! Deep Woods 
  •  OFF! is shockingly flammable! The four other ingredients besides DEET are Ethanol, Isobutane, Butane, Propane, all liquid fuels. DEET, or N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, can inhibit an important central nervous system enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. This enzyme controls neuron transmissions that in turn control muscles. DEET exposure, therefore, has been shown in laboratory studies to lead to paralysis and suffocation. DEET is so effective because it paralyzes olfactory (smelling) nerves in insects so they are “blind” to you and don’t bite (Corbel et al., 2009).  

Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease
Research findings in the 1960s allegedly linked aluminum exposure to Alzheimer’s patients, but the findings have never been replicated. This connection is now largely refuted within the medical/scientific communities. See Aluminum reports from UK Alzheimer’s Society and

Lysol 4 in  1 All-Purpose Cleaner 
According to the labeled warnings, this product will likely burn eyes if and may cause an upset stomach if ingested. It contains:
  • Alchohol Ethyloxylate (an alchohol)
  • Benzalkonium Chloride. While not listed as carcinogenic, this biocide and surfactant is toxic to fish and slightly toxic to wildlife and humans. In small doses it irritates skin and gastrointestinal linings ... possibly by killing these cells, being a nondiscriminant biocide.  
  • Yellow Dye
Clorox Disinfecting Toilet Wand Refills contain:

Chlorine-containing bleaches and pool treatments have:
  • Chlorate
  • Sodium hypochlorite
Chlorine can form Hydrochloric acid (HCl) when it is inhaled or touched. This can cause anywhere from mild irritation to burns on the skin and can permanently damage lungs. It disinfects by oxidizing (stripping electrons from) bacterial cell membranes and killing them, and also by forming hypochlorous acid (OHCl). It bleaches by oxidizing pigments. 

I think I can live at ease with all my products except Lysol, Windex, and OFF! I can do without the ammonia, environmental toxins, and DEET since there are other cleaning and insect repellent alternatives (unless I travel to a malaria zone). 

What do you Think?


  1. I use a spray bottle mix of half vinegar and half water for windows, hardwood floors, and appliances. It leaves things sparkly clean and kills germs and mold. You can also add essential oils and tea tree oil for fragrance and extra cleaning power. I posted up a recipe for a homemade bug repellant on my "Guide To Summer Camps Without Food Coloring" last week. I'm not convinced that the remaining petrol dyes approved by the FDA are non-carcinogenic. Our family has awful reactions to Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, and Green 3. We also react to a natural food colorant called annatto. MUCH more research needs to be done. ~Rebecca at "Die, Food Dye!"

  2. Thanks for your comment and recipe suggestion! I find that buying raw ingredients rather than paying for a brand (generic vinegar vs. Clorox) presents a far more economical solution in the long run while offering some peace-of-mind.