Toxic Cleaning Products in the Kitchen

Many automatic dishwasher detergents contain dry chlorine that is activated when it encounters water in the dishwasher. Chlorine fumes are released in the steam that leaks out of the dishwasher. Harmful effects are intensified when chlorine is exposed to heat.  In addition, dishwasher powders can cause severe burns to the mouth and throat if ingested, burns that can cause severe injury and require multiple surgeries to repair.  Even wet, undissolved powder in the dishwasher has caused this type of injury to curious toddlers. 

Cascade and Sun Light, two of the best-selling brands of automatic dishwashing detergent, contain phosphates. Phosphates released into the environment rob lakes and ponds of oxygen, leading to the suffocation of aquatic plants and animals.

Have you noticed that many dishwashing liquids are labelled “harmful if swallowed”? Most contain Naphtha, a CNS depressant, diethanolsamine, a liver poison, and/or chlorophenylphenol, a toxic metabolic stimulant. Ethoxylated alcohols in liquid detergents can also contain carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane. I urge you not to use these toxic products on the dishes your family eats off of.  It is important to remember that cleaning products are not required to list all ingredients, so you may not see these items listed on the label.

Do your hands get irritated when you wash dishes? Some dishwashing liquids use petroleum-based surfactants, containing detergents such as diethanolamine (DEA) and sodium dodecylbenzensulfonate. Both ingredients can be skin and eye irritants.

There are safe alternatives available which are free of chlorine, Naptha, petroleum derivatives, fragrances, and phosphates.  Have you tried using green products to wash your dishes but were dissatisfied with the results?  My favorite safe dishwasher powder works other green brands, and is super-concentrated, so you get a lot of clean loads of dishes from just one package. The package lasted over 9 months in our house with a family of 4.   I found a green dishwashing liquid that works great on grease too.  See my favorite products for the kitchen here.

All-Purpose Cleaners: Many popular household cleaning solutions, like Fantastik and Formula 409, contain a synthetic solvent and grease cutter called butyl cellosolve. This hazardous petroleum-based chemical can irritate your skin and eyes, and repeated exposure to it can cause permanent liver and kidney damage, and impair the body’s ability to replenish its blood supply.

A safer alternative: superconcentrated Basic Household Cleaner can clean your counters, kitchen table, greasy stovetop, and more. Just 1/4 teaspoon of Basic Household in 16 ounces of water cleans most surfaces. As a degreaser, use 1 1/2 teaspoons. To clean windows, just 1 or 2 drops.

Oven Cleaners: One of the most dangerous cleaning products, oven cleaners can cause severe damage to eyes, skin, mouth and throat. (Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.) The active ingredient in many oven cleaners is sodium hydroxide, which is very corrosive and can cause severe burns in all tissues that come in contact with it. Sodium hydroxide is odorless; thus, odor provides no warning of hazardous concentrations. Inhalation of sodium hydroxide is immediately irritating to the respiratory tract. Swelling or spasms of the larynx leading to upper-airway obstruction and asphyxia can occur after high-dose inhalation. Inflammation of the lungs and an accumulation of fluid in the lungs may also occur. Ingestion of solid or liquid forms of sodium hydroxide can cause spontaneous vomiting, chest and abdominal pain, and difficulty swallowing. In the case of accidental ingestion, corrosive injury to the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach is very rapid and may result in perforation, hemorrhage, and narrowing of the gastrointestinal tract. Cancer of the esophagus has been reported 15 to 40 years after the formation of corrosion-induced strictures. Skin contact with sodium hydroxide can cause severe burns with deep ulcerations. Long-term exposure to sodium hydroxide in the air may lead to ulceration of the nasal passages and chronic skin irritation. Sodium hydroxide contact with the eye may produce pain and irritation, and in severe cases, clouding of the eye and blindness.

Whew! Here is a safe alternative to clean your oven. Used with plenty of water, Scour it Off is terrific on ovens and even barbecue grills. This product lasts a long time, you don’t need much to do the job.

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If you have a poison emergency or a question about poisons and you’re in the United States, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222


Hazardous Cleaning Chemicals in the Bathroom

Think about the following as you read: If you were using these types of chemicals in an industrial workplace, what precautions would OSHA require? Gloves? Goggles? Respirator? Do you use these when you clean the bathroom?  Do you clean with these around children?

Toilet Bowl Cleaners: One of the most dangerous cleaning products, toilet bowl cleaners can contain chlorine and hydrochloric acid. Harmful just from inhalation. Toilet Bowl Cleaners accounted for 10,461 poison exposures in 2005. (Source: Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poisoning and Exposure Database) (2005).

Hydrochloride/ Hydrochloric Acid (HCl): Contained in some toilet bowl cleaners, HCl can cause severe damage to skin and eyes. Some people exposed to HCl may develop an inflammatory reaction called reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS), a type of asthma caused by some irritating or corrosive substances. Swallowing HCl causes severe corrosive injury to the lips, mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach. (Sources: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2007). Managing Hazardous Materials Incidents. Volume III, Medica)

Scouring Powders: Many traditional scouring cleansers, like AJAX powder, contain crystalline silica, an eye, skin, and lung irritant, classified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Some scouring cleaners may contain sodium hydroxide or bleach that can irritate mucous membranes and cause liver and kidney damage.

Limescale removers: Many limescale removers contain sulfamic acid, which is toxic to lungs and mucous membranes. Direct skin contact with sulfamic acid is corrosive and causes irritation, dryness or burning. Eye contact can result in corneal damage or blindness. Inhalation of sulfamic acid will produce irritation to gastro-intestinal or respiratory tract with burning, sneezing or coughing. Severe over exposure of sulfamic acid can produce lung damage, choking, unconsciousness or death.

A person who spends 15 minutes cleaning scale off shower walls could inhale three times the “acute one-hour exposure limit” for glycol-ether containing products set by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Sources: News-Medical.Net; University of California at Berkeley.

For safe alternative products and to make the bathroom cleaning job easier, see The Self Cleaning Bathroom.

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

If you have a poison emergency or a question about poisons and you’re in the United States, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222