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Cleaning Supplies and Household Chemicals
Cleaning helps to protect our health in our homes, schools and workplaces. However, household and cleaning products—including soaps, polishes and grooming supplies—often include harmful chemicals. Even products advertised as “green” or “natural” may contain ingredients that can cause health problems. Some cleaning supplies can even be flammable or corrosive. Fortunately, you can limit your exposure to those risks. Read all labels and follow instructions when using cleaning products.
How can cleaning supplies, household products affect health?
Many cleaning supplies or household products can irritate the eyes or throat, or cause headaches and other health problems. Some products release dangerous chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are chemicals that vaporize at room temperature. Even natural fragrances such as citrus can react to produce dangerous pollutants indoors.
VOCs and other chemicals released when using cleaning supplies contribute to chronic respiratory problems, allergic reactions and headaches. Studies are underway to assess how these chemicals affect people who have asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Studies also link exposure to chemicals from cleaning supplies to occupational asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Cleaning supplies and household products containing VOCs and other toxic substances can include, but are not limited to:
- Aerosol spray products, including health, beauty and cleaning products;
- Air fresheners;
- Chlorine bleach*;
- Detergent and dishwashing liquid;
- Dry cleaning chemicals;
- Rug and upholstery cleaners;
- Furniture and floor polish; and
- Oven cleaners.
*Never mix bleach or any bleach-containing product with any cleaner containing ammonia. The gases created from this combination can lead to chronic breathing problems and even death.
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Learn how to make safe tub/sink cleaner.
Learn how to make safe window cleaner.
Learn how to make safer drain cleaner.
How can you prevent harm from cleaning and household products?
Read all labels on cleaning supplies and household products before you buy them. Choose products that do not contain or have reduced amounts of VOCs, fragrances, irritants and flammable ingredients. Avoid using air fresheners altogether.
Manufacturers are not obligated by U.S. law to list all ingredients in consumer products. Products that are labeled “green” do not necessarily mean they are safer. Do a little research on the product from a reliable source. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a list of products that meet its Safer Choice requirements for cleaning and other needs. The list includes cleaning products for home and vehicles.
As a safer cleaning alternative, warm water and soap often will do the trick, especially at home. Baking soda is good for scrubbing. A mix of vinegar and water can clean glass.
When using cleaning or household products, keep the area well ventilated. Open windows and doors. Never use cleaning products in a small, enclosed space.
Page last updated: November 17, 2022
Living Safe – Are You Breathing In Your Cleaning Products?
Blog / For your home
6 minute read
As COVID-19 retains its grip on the headlines, keeping our homes clean and virus-free remain top priorities. But, does all the spraying, scrubbing, and disinfecting come at a cost to our health? The truth is – yes – all that deep cleaning can spread some nasty chemicals into the air of your home.
Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors – even without a global pandemic – and our indoor air can be dirty. In fact, it’s been found to be 2-5x more polluted than outdoor air. Much of our indoor pollution comes from what’s called volatile organic compounds – a.k.a. VOCs – from chemicals in our cleaning products and other household items.
The Notorious VOCs
Invisible and insidious, VOCs are toxic chemicals that vaporize or “off gas” and enter the air from thousands of common items like traditional cleaning products, disinfectants, air fresheners, aerosol sprays, paints, pesticides, and more. You not only breathe VOCs in while using these products, but they can continue to “off gas” while stored away in a cupboard or under the sink. As anyone who has used ammonia or bleach without proper ventilation can tell you, VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, and skin reactions, or more severely, trigger asthma symptoms or damage the liver, kidneys, or central nervous system.
Healthy Advisory: User Error
A recent CDC survey revealed that 1 in 3 respondents have been using chemicals and disinfectants unsafely while trying to protect against COVID-19 and a related uptick in calls to poison centers since the start of the pandemic. They identified big knowledge gaps on proper preparation, storage, ventilation, and a host of other high-risk behaviors like misting the body with disinfectant and purposely inhaling cleaning product vapors. Yikes.
All this exposure to toxic VOCs and chemical substances on any given day, week, or year can accumulate over time, adding to the body’s overall toxic burden and can contribute to a variety of health problems. Despite obvious health concerns, there is no national requirement to list ingredients on cleaning product labels. This leaves consumers in the dark, unknowingly bringing potentially harmful chemicals into their homes. According to the Environmental Working Group, over 53% of household cleaners include one toxic ingredient, 22% contain chemicals reported to cause asthma in otherwise healthy individuals, and over 93% of manufacturers won’t even list their ingredients!
Know Your Clean
Cleaning and disinfecting smart starts with learning what to avoid, and swapping out conventional cleaners with products that contain safer ingredients, so you aren’t spraying toxic chemicals into the air. Some common toxins and VOCs to steer clear of include:
- Ammonia (or ammonium hydroxide) – causes nose and throat irritation, leading to coughing and difficulty breathing.
- Chlorine Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) – toxic if inhaled; causes respiratory, skin and eye irritation.
- Quats (quaternary ammonium cations) – often listed as “cationic surfactant” or “benzalkonium chloride,” can cause wide-ranging health concerns from lung and skin irritation to reproductive issues; known asthma contributor.
Here are some simple steps you can take to spray, scrub and disinfect smarter and safer to improve the air quality in your home and help protect your health:
- Look for plant powered cleaning sprays that are U.S. EPA Safer Choice certified. It’s a great way to find products that use the safest ingredients in their class, have proven superior performance, and avoid potentially toxic ingredients.
- Find products with safer disinfectant chemical alternatives that have been shown to be just as effective in killing viruses and other germs without the related health hazards like: hydrogen peroxide.
- Open the windows! Let fresh air inside daily, especially while you clean. Circulate the air with ceiling, bathroom, attic, or portable fans.
- Invest in an air cleaner and change the HVAC filters in your home every 60-90 days – more often if you have pets.
A Safer Way to Clean
Current CDC COVID-19 guidelines advise cleaning visibly dirty surfaces first, then disinfecting. Try ECOS One-Step Disinfectant Cleaner, to safely kill germs and clean without VOCs or harsh fumes. If you just need an effective surface cleaner, try Safer Choice-certified ECOS All-Purpose Cleaner Parsley Plus. Both are safe for everyday use throughout your home.
ECOS is so committed to using safer ingredients that we made a list of 500 known toxins – a.k.a. “the Nasties” – that we promise never to use in our products. Check out the list here. We hope it helps guide you to products that are better for your home and your health during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
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Allergy to household chemicals – symptoms and treatment
The long-awaited cleaning – the windows shine with cleanliness, the floor shines, everything in the apartment is arranged on the shelves, the dust is wiped off the surfaces, beauty! And suddenly, unexpectedly, you start sneezing, coughing and other signs of allergies. It is quite possible that this is due to the reaction of your body to household chemicals. What leads to the development of an allergy to household chemicals, can it be avoided? How to protect yourself from exacerbation, and are there treatments to completely cure this type of allergic reaction? Answers in this article.
What is an allergy to household chemicals?
An allergy to household chemicals refers to hypersensitivity to substances in various cleaning products and detergents, as well as shampoos and soaps. These substances damage the skin by making it more permeable to chemicals and are themselves serious allergens 1, 2 .
What are its reasons?
The most powerful factor in the development of sensitization, that is, increased sensitivity to foreign substances, is the contact of the skin or respiratory tract with household chemicals. At the same time, contact can occur not only when using cleaning and hygiene products, but also be indirect – that is, through things and household items that have leftovers of detergents or cleaning agents.
After contact, the substances enter the body, causing a reaction from the immune system, the cells of which come into battle with the substances, trying to destroy them as quickly as possible. The biological and immunological processes that take place during this battle lead to the formation of special complexes and antibodies, which in the future must fight allergens.
At the same time, it is important to remember that the complexes are specific: some develop on insect bites or plant pollen, others on cleaning products or animals, that is, in each case, the antigen is different. This explains a kind of paradox, in which some people have a reaction to household chemicals, others to animals, but at the same time they can all safely use ordinary detergents 1.3 .
What household substances and products can provoke an allergic reaction?
There are many substances that can lead to allergies to household chemicals 1.2 .
Cleaning products, including those containing chlorine.
Surfactants, including those found in washing powders and other household chemicals.
Food additives and certain food products.
Means for coloring and care of hair.
House plants and preparations for their care.
What are the symptoms of an allergy to household chemicals?
This type of allergy refers to contact, and the first symptoms appear at the site of direct penetration of the allergen into the body. Most often, this is the skin and mucous membrane of the respiratory tract – the main points of contact of household chemicals with the body. So, for example, a rash and itching, dryness, redness, peeling, cracking or blisters, a rash in the form of urticaria, etc. may appear on the skin. If the allergen has penetrated the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract, then the allergy is manifested by a respiratory syndrome: runny nose, copious secretion of mucus, a feeling of nasal congestion, itching and perspiration in the nose and nasopharynx, cough. But when an allergen enters through the eyes, an allergic inflammation of the mucous membrane of the eye develops – that is, the conjunctiva. If the remedy was swallowed by inhalation and entered the digestive system, then the symptoms may be similar to those of poisoning: nausea, vomiting, stool disorders.
Severe allergies to household chemicals can manifest as bronchospasm, Quincke’s edema, anaphylactic shock 2, 3 .
The treatment of allergies to household products depends on many factors: the localization of the manifestations (that is, where exactly it arose), the severity of the symptoms (what exactly happens to the body), the individual characteristics of the patient, as well as his social activity.
Therefore, the first thing treatment begins with is, if possible, the complete exclusion of contact with allergy-causing agents. This does not mean that you have to move around the apartment in a spacesuit, not at all. You can, for example, start using hypoallergenic products, clean with a steam cleaner and a vacuum cleaner, and involve other family members who do not suffer from allergies.
Drug treatment (as a rule, long-term and requiring careful adherence to doctor’s prescriptions) is built according to individual schemes, and may include taking various drugs and their combinations. To begin with, diagnostics are carried out, which helps to identify the allergen and prescribe appropriate therapy. Based on its results, antihistamines can be prescribed, and their selection will depend on which symptoms are leading. In addition to antihistamines, enterosorbents, glucocorticosteroids, as well as physiotherapy procedures are also used in the treatment 1, 3 .
Prevention of allergies to household chemicals
Prevention of allergic reactions to household chemicals is similar to the initial treatment regimen and consists primarily in the exclusion of contact with household allergens.
There is a whole bunch of tips here, of which the main ones are:
- Careful selection of detergents and hygiene products. In no case do not buy those that contain potentially dangerous components.
- Use of barrier methods of prevention – gloves, masks for the nose and mouth, respirators, protective clothing.
- If allergens do get on the skin, they should be washed off as soon as possible: removal of allergens should be carried out with clean water using non-allergenic detergents.
- Strict ban on clothing and bedding that has been laundered using conventional, non-allergenic detergents.
- Exclusion from the diet of foods with a high risk of an allergic reaction: citrus fruits, exotic fruits, smoked meats, fried, spicy, industrial convenience foods, chocolate, etc.
- The healthiest lifestyle possible. That is, walking in the fresh air, playing sports, alternating work and rest, getting enough sleep.
- And finally, avoid contracting SARS. And also treat various foci of infection – teeth, tonsillitis, chronic otitis media, etc. 1, 3
Poisoning by cleaning agents and detergents.
- Category: In the Republic
Today, no housewife can do without cleaning and detergents, which make people’s lives so much easier. All these substances are harmless and useful as long as they are used for their intended purpose. If used incorrectly, they can cause irreparable harm to health and even death. How can you get poisoned by cleaning products? Since household chemicals have become an integral part of our life, there will always be a risk of getting poisoned. The main causes of poisoning are: inhalation of drug vapors, ingestion of the drug into the body (accidental or intentional ingestion), contact of the drug on the skin (work with aggressive substances without personal protective equipment). According to official statistics in the Chuvash Republic from 2017-2019years, 13 cases of poisoning with detergents were registered (10 – children from 1-2 years old, 1 – a schoolboy aged 13 years and 2 – adults) (for 8 months of 2020 – 3 cases). Children aged 1-2 years were poisoned when taking drugs in the absence of parents, a 13-year-old schoolboy and 1 adult – when taken by mistake (with a fatal outcome), 1 adult – when taken with the intent of suicide. Signs of poisoning with cleaning and detergents. The clinical picture in case of poisoning can appear immediately, or after a certain time, and depend on which way and what substance has penetrated into the body. Common symptoms of intoxication include: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loose stools, skin manifestations in the form of spots, itching and urticaria, irritation of mucous membranes, eyes. There are general weakness or loss of consciousness, convulsions, respiratory failure, coughing, blurred vision, impaired urine output. How to provide first aid? If there is a strong poisoning with cleaning or detergents, you should immediately call an ambulance. Before the arrival of the doctors, provide all possible assistance – this will help relieve the pain. Depending on what poisoned the victim, appropriate assistance should be provided. 1. If detergents get into the eyes, they are washed under running water (if a chlorine-containing agent has got in, use a 2% soda solution for washing). 2. If the toxic substance only got into the mouth, rinse the mouth thoroughly with plenty of water. 3. When swallowing an alkaline agent, neutralize it with weak citric or acetic acid at the rate of 4 tbsp. l. acids per liter of water (drink little by little at intervals of 15 minutes). 4. If acidic household chemicals are ingested, quickly prepare a soda solution (5 tbsp. / 1 liter of water) and give to drink 3 tbsp. l. once every 10 minutes (for the same purpose, you can use milk or raw egg white – they will prevent further absorption of the chemical into the blood). 5. If an aggressive substance gets on the skin, it is washed with clean warm water, then the burn is lubricated with a neutral cream. If a burn is received with alkaline or acidic agents of high concentration, keep the affected area under running water for at least 20 minutes until the chemical is completely washed out.