The hidden toxins you clean your house with

Part three 'around'

You may not have realised that by ridding your home of unwanted dirt and mess, you could actually be filling it with another kind of mess – nasty chemicals and toxins. These nasties are hidden in your cleaning products, and when you start listing all the products you use in the laundry, kitchen and bathroom, the number adds up! Did you know that the ingredients in these products could be affecting your health? Think about it, our skin absorbs everything it comes into contacts with(1) and our lungs breath in anything that's in the air, including chemical fumes(2). To know exactly what they are doing to your health, we are tackling some of the common toxins used around your home. A quick hello needs to be made to the repeat offenders; fragrancesphthalates, triclosanformaldehyde and heavy metals, which are used AROUND our homes, as well as products we use IN and ON our bodies.

1. Perchloroethylene (PCE)

PCE is used in dry cleaning, textile processing, metal-cleaning(3). It is considered to be a cancer causing agent(3,4) and can irritate your skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract. Swallowing PCE isn't a good idea as it will cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea(5), not to mention it's toxic to many of our vital organs. Our nervous system is the most affected if exposed to PCE for long periods; even at low doses, as it can negatively impact our vision, memory, cognition and reaction time(3,6)

2. Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QACs)

QACs are used in dishwashing liquids, hand soaps, window cleaners, “all-purpose” cleaners, floor products, baby-care products, disinfectant sprays and wipes and air fresheners(7). QACs can cause irritant and/or allergic contact dermatitis and can be bigger problem if you have open wounds, infections or eczema(8). Your skin can become dry, red, chapped and scaled or at worse it can swell, blister and chemically burn(9). Breathing in QACs is a problem as they are often used with fragrances and can cause asthma or trigger symptoms of existing asthma(8,10,11). Don't get this stuff in your eyes either as it can cause serious damage to your cornea(12,13).

3. 2-Butoxyethanol

2-Butoxyethanol is used in paints, paint thinners, glass-cleaning, surface-cleaning products, household cleaners, metal cleaners, spray lacquers, quick-dry lacquers, enamels, varnishes and varnish removers(14). Animal studies have shown that breathing in 2-Butoxyethanol increase some types of cancers(15). In humans it can cause difficulty breathing, runny nose, coughing, painful and tearing eyes and red, irritated dermatitis. It so toxic that our red blood cells can become fragile(16) and you can poisoned just through breathing it in(14)

4. Ammonia

Ammonia can be found in cleaning products for your car, windows, drains, toilet, bathroom, oven and stainless steel products(15,16). Just by cleaning your home with these products and using oven cleaning sprays you increase your risk for asthma(17). Ammonia's main toxic effects occur at the site of direct contact and effects depend on how much you are exposed to. For example, if you spill a product containing ammonia, the fumes may cause your eyes to water, but if you spill a bottle of concentrated ammonia your eyes could have serious vision loss(16). Mixing chlorine bleach with ammonia also creates a toxic gas that can cause short term or permanent breathing problems(18).

5. Chlorine bleach

Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is the most commonly used disinfecting and cleaning agent in the developed world(19) and is used in scouring powders, toilet cleaners, mould removers and laundry whiteners(20). Being around chlorine gas can cause your throat to burn, lungs, eye and nose irritation, asthma(21), chest tightness and coughing. It's not very nice for your skin either as direct contact can cause burning pain, inflammation and blisters (22).

6. Sodium Hydroxide aka Lye and Caustic Soda

Sodium hydroxide is found in aquarium products, drain cleaners, hair straighteners, metal polishes and oven cleaners(23). Sodium hydroxide is strongly irritating and corrosive and can cause severe burns and permanent damage to any tissue that it comes in contact with. Your eyes may burn and develop cataracts, glaucoma and blindness. If breathed in, it can result in asthma, a swollen voice box or persistent hoarseness(24). So really, its effects ain't pretty.

Tips to make your home safer

Thankfully, we have some solid take home messages and safer alternatives to make cleaning your home a safer experience

1. Read the label. Just because a product says it's 'green' or 'environmentally friendly' doesn't necessarily mean it's safe for your health. Additionally, just because it includes lemon or bi-carbonate of soda as ingredients, they probably aren't the only ingredients in the product and may be added to chlorine bleach.

2. DIY cleaning recipes can be safer (and cheaper). Finding recipes that use ingredients like bi-carbonate of soda, lemon, salt, vinegar and essential oils are highly effective and safer for your family.

3. Use micro-fibre clothes and mops so you can clean with water and forget the chemicals.

4. Protect yourself by using gloves, face masks, eye masks to inhibit contact with any nasties.

5. Ventilation! If you have to or choose to continue using chemical cleaners make sure there is adequate airflow when you clean.

If you are wondering what brands are safe to buy, next week we will be sharing our absolute favourites we use to clean the bathroom, kitchen and laundry.