Is Your Home Making You Sick? How to Clean Your House Without Chemicals

Sponge with clothDid you know that your “clean” house might not be clean at all? Despite its shiny sink, polished furniture and freshly scrubbed floor, your house could be filled with toxins. Cleaning products often contain toxic chemicals that can make you and your family sick.

How Your Cleaning Products Could Be Poisoning You

Cleaning products are full of dangerous chemicals. These include bleach and ammonia, which create toxic fumes that can get into your lungs. Products containing ammonia or bleach, including surface cleansers, oven cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners, are so harmful to your respiratory system that they are often labeled for use only in well-ventilated areas.

Laundry detergents and dishwashing liquids can contain diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA), which are used to make suds. DEA and TEA can irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Some animal studies suggest that these chemicals might cause cancer.

Quiz: Is Your Body TOXIC? Take the Test...
(get your free personalized report)

Cleansers can contain the solvents 1,4-dioxane and 2-butoxyethanol. 1,4-dioxane can irritate the eyes, skin, nose and throat and can cause nausea, vomiting and headaches. It can cause kidney and liver damage. It has caused cancer in animals. 2-butoxyehtanol is an eye, skin, nose and throat irritant. It affects the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the lymphatic system, kidneys and liver.

Update: Please be aware of the products professional cleaning companies are using when they are in your home; we’ve recently heard reports about carpet cleaning companies in Australia using products which contain potentially harmful chemicals. These products should be avoided, especially if you have children or pets. Always ask cleaning companies what products they use, and ideally ask to see the bottle before letting them use products in your home.


Fragrances added to cleansers, dishwashing liquids, laundry detergents and fabric softeners can cause allergic reactions and asthma attacks in some people. Synthetic fragrances can contain:

  • p-dichlorobenzene – a possible carcinogen that is also used as a pesticide. It can cause eye irritation, runny nose, headache, nausea, vomiting, kidney damage and liver damage.
  • styrene oxide – which can cause skin and eye irritation, liver damage and nerve damage, and could possibly cause cancer.
  • tonalide, galaxolide and phthalates – all endocrine disruptors.

Air fresheners can contain phthalates, as well as:

  • acetone – which can cause skin, eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness and central nervous system depression.
  • acetaldehyde – which irritates the eyes, nose, throat and skin. It can cause skin burns, conjunctivitis, coughing, pulmonary edema and central nervous system depression. Animal studies show that acetaldehyde can harm the kidneys and the reproductive system. It is a potential carcinogen.
  • benzene – a toxin that affects the skin, eyes, bone marrow, respiratory system, central nervous system and circulatory system. Benzene can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, staggered gait, lack of appetite and exhaustion. It causes bone marrow depression and is a potential carcinogen.
  • butane – a skin, eye and lung irritant that can cause organ damage.
  • formaldehyde – a lung and eye irritant that can cause coughing and wheezing. Formaldehyde is a potential carcinogen.
  • isobutane – which affects the central nervous system and can cause drowsiness, unconsciousness and asphyxia.
  • methyl chloride – which affects the liver, kidneys and the reproductive system. Also known as chloromethane, methyl chloride can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, hallucinations, slurred speech, staggering, liver damage, kidney damage and convulsions. It has been shown to cause tumors in animals.
  • propane – which affects the central nervous system and can cause dizziness, confusion, excitation and asphyxia.

Do you think you can avoid toxins in scented products by reading the labels? Think again. Fragrance formulas are considered “trade secrets,” so companies don’t have to reveal which chemicals their fragrances contain.

Quiz: Is Your Body TOXIC? Take the Test...
(personalized report)

Healthy Cleaning

You can keep your house looking and smelling beautiful without adding toxins to your environment. Here are some tips:

1. Use a natural disinfectant

Try lavender, thyme or tea tree essential oil, instead of ammonia or bleach. Add a few drops with water in a spray bottle to keep your home clean and pleasant smelling. You can use your homemade disinfectant to clean kitchen counters and cutting boards safely, without having to worry about toxins getting into your food.

2. Discover the many wonders of baking soda

It is slightly abrasive and can be used as a surface, floor and oven cleaner. Baking soda neutralizes odors. An open box in the refrigerator, in a closet or at the bottom of a trash can will eliminate bad smells.  Use it as a natural carpet deodorizer or air freshener.

3. Vinegar

It doubles as a deodorizer and disinfectant. Use it on its own or mixed with baking soda for effective, toxin-free cleansing. Vinegar can be used to clean surfaces, windows and mirrors. It gets rid of tea and coffee stains. You can use it to remove stains from your carpet.  A baking soda and vinegar mixture is great for clearing a clogged drain.

4. Make your own laundry detergent

Mix baking soda with a chopped up bar of plain, unscented soap. You can add an essential oil of your choice to give your clothes a natural, pleasant fragrance.

5. Enjoy the natural smell of lemon

Use lemon juice instead of air fresheners filled with chemicals. Mix lemon juice with vinegar in small bowls and leave them around the house to keep your home smelling fresh. Add a few drops of lemon oil to warm water to make a safe and great smelling furniture polish.

6. Make your own furniture polish

Just mix together olive oil and water.

7. Toxin-Free Washing up Liquid

Combine baking soda, washing soda, lemon juice and sea salt to create a toxin-free dishwashing liquid.

8. Use Cinnamon instead of air fresheners

To get rid of a bad smell quickly, instead of reaching for an aerosol air freshener, throw some cinnamon into a pot of water, then boil.

Additional Sources:

Clearing the Air: Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners, National Resources Defense Council

Efficacy of Chlorine Dioxide, Ozone, and Thyme Essential Oil or a Sequential Washing in Killing Escherichia coli O157:H7 on Lettuce and Baby Carrots, LWT – Food Science and Technology

Endocrine disruptors on the SIN list, International Chemical Secretariat

Fragranced consumer products: Chemicals emitted, ingredients unlisted, Environmental Impact Assessment Review

Health Hazards of Fragrance in Cleaning Products: What You Don’t Know Might Hurt You, Physicians for Social Responsibility

How Toxic Are Your Household Cleaning Supplies?, Organic Consumers Association

Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties, Clinical Microbiology Reviews

NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, Centers for Disease Control

Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, Environmental Working Group

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