Did you Know About Cleaning Products?

Did you Know? (about cleaning products)

 In general, choose products that are less-toxic, fragrance-free, contain no dyes, preservatives, solvents, toxins, phosphates, caustics, chlorines, carcinogens, mutagens, teratogens, and endocrine disruptors.

Spray cleaners are not hypoallergenic by nature.  Those most knowledgeable about producing hypoallergenic products avoid supplying products in spray bottles.  This form of delivery creates airborne droplets of the product which are easily breathed in.  Recent research has substantiated this.  “The risk of developing asthma…on average was about 30 to 50 per cent higher in people regularly exposed to cleaning sprays than in others.” CBC news report on research, October 12, 2007.

Squirt, don’t atomize (better still, dip and wring cloths, with hand protection if needed)

Avoid use of aerosol propellants

Small doses can affect functions of the body. (For example, endocrine disruptors)


Product claims can be misleading. For example, “non-toxic”, “hypo-allergenic”, “green”, “natural”, “earthwise”, “eco-friendly” … and many other word and phrases have no legal meaning.


“Green” products are not always the answer. Some ingredients that are “natural”, and fine for the natural environment, may still be harmful to humans. For example, d-limonene, from citrus, is a strong solvent and also combines with natural ozone to create formaldehyde.  D-limonene is a very common allergen and also usually triggers symptoms in individuals with ES.  See the Guide to Les Toxic Products for more.  Also, green products often have added “natural” scents, usually to mask the odours of the active ingredients, and these scents may cause symptoms in people with allergies or sensitivities. For example, mint, pinene, eucalyptus, and others are common allergens. In some cases petrochemical ingredients, in particular those which are not volatile, can be better than many “natural” products. Caution: this is not an excuse to use toxic products.


Clarification: Chlorine and Chloride are very different.  Chlorine is toxic.


Clarification: Citric acid and citrus d’limonene are not the same thing.  Citric acid is OK to use.  D’limonene is a known sensitizer.  Up to 7% of those who use d’limonene become sensitized.

Where possible, use micro fibre cloths to minimize the need for cleaning solutions.  Pair them whenever possible with the least-toxic product possible to do the job. Some of the products designed for both low environmental impact and for environmentally sensitive people are TSP, Envirodesic, Hydrox, Nature Clean, Down East or Green Knight.  There are others.  Micro fibre cloths are recommended by the EHANS Guide to Less Toxic Products as being adequate to use with only water.

TSP is also generally well tolerated.  However, use it in liquid form, not powder.  (Do not inhale the powder.)

Take care that staff do not bring products from home. (Desk cleaners in classrooms, Family studies and cafeteria included)

Do not sweep.  Dust is not what it once was. It now contains dust mites and chemical residues, better not inhaled. Use HEPA vacuum or damp-mop or use self-attractant mops (not swiffer-types that have added fragrance or strong chemical treatments).

Caution is warranted when using MSDS to choose products.  Many ingredients may not be listed. For example, some list only “active” ingredients. “Scent-free” products may contain masking fragrances.  MSDS are not required to list ingredients that make up less than 1% of the product, and carcinogens below .1% can be exempt.


From the Guide to Less Toxic Products:

“Air Freshener, Deodorizer, Odour Remover”

Far from freshening air, chemical-based air fresheners and deodorizers add dangerous chemicals to the air we breathe. Air fresheners work by using a nerve-deadening chemical that interferes with our sense of smell, by coating nasal passage with an oily film, by masking an offending odour with a different odour, or by deactivating the odour.

Air fresheners are made from a number of chemicals including formadehyde, a carcinogen and sensitizer, naphthalene, a suspected carcinogen, xylene, a neurotoxin and possible reproductive toxin, butane gas, a neurotoxin, cresol, ethanol, phenol and strong fragrances. Some solid deodorizers include the pesticide paradichlorobenzene, a carcinogen which can also cause liver and kidney damage. Aerosol air fresheners release chemicals as tiny particles which can be inhaled deeply into lungs and transferred into the blood stream. Plug in air fresheners break chemicals into even smaller particles.

The key to freshening air is to remove or dilute the offending odor (by cleaning, ventilation or absorption), not to cover it with another chemical.



There is a need to disinfect certain things in schools.  Disinfectants are registered pesticides.  Custodians would come in contact with these chemicals but children would likely not.

The Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta found normal scrubbing to be as effective as disinfectants. Scrubbing, however takes a bit more time and effort. Additional research was conducted for one year in a U.S. hospital where the commercially available disinfectant was compared to a mixture of borax and hot water. The monitoring bacteriologist reported that borax satisfied all the hospital’s germicidal requirements. (Dadd, The Nontoxic Home and Office, p.22)

Dr. Doris Rapp, physician, allergist, and Environmental Health Specialist suggests a 3% solution of Hydrogen Peroxide as a safer alternate disinfectant. (Healthy School Handbook)

From the Less Toxic Guide (www.lesstoxicguide.ca):

“…some brands of disinfectants use highly caustic chemicals like sodium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite and phosphoric acid that can burn eyes and skin. Breathing vapours can burn lungs. Disinfectants may also contain phenols which can damage DNA as well as the liver, kidney and nervous systems, cresol, a suspected carcinogen and respiratory toxin, formaldehyde, a carcinogen, sensitizer and suspected central nervous system depressant, chlorine, a lung irritant, and alcohol. There are more than 300 different active ingredients approved for use in anti-microbial products, ingredients classified by the EPA as pesticides, because they kill microbes. In the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases, Dr. Elaine Larson wrote that because of potential health risks, antibacterial agents and disinfectants should be reserved for hospitals and home care of patients with suppressed immune systems.

Scientists are also concerned that products containing antibacterial and anti-microbial agents kill beneficial bacteria and contribute to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Not all bacteria will be killed by antibacterial agents. The surviving bacteria are resistant to antibiotics and go on to produce new generations of resistant bacteria. Triclosan, one of the most popular antibacterial agents, creates dioxin, a carcinogen, as a by-product. Triclosan is a derivative of 2,4-D, an herbicide. There is concern that use of antibacterial products may affect human health. A Swedish study found high levels of this bactericide in human breast milk. See also anti-bacterials.

Less-toxic Alternatives:


Hydrogen peroxide – drugstore dilution.  Use undiluted

20 Mule Team Borax

Zephiran Chloride 17%  (1 part to 10 parts water)”

Toilet Bowl Cleaner and Deodorizer

Many toilet bowl cleaners are often highly caustic and form toxic gases when mixed with water.  They can contain ammonium chloride, a corrosive, 1,4-dichlorobenzine, a carcinogenic pesticide which can cause liver and kidney damage, hydrochloric acid, whose vapours can cause coughing and breathing difficulties, and sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate which is a severe eye, skin and respiratory irritant, which can form carcinogenic chlorine gas. Sulfate-based products containing sodium sulfate or sodium bisulfate may cause asthmatic attacks.

Less-toxic Alternatives:

Hydrogen peroxide – drug store dilution

Nature Clean – Natural Laundry Bleach (powder)

Nature Clean – Natural Liquid Bleach

Nature Clean – Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner

President’s Choice – Active Oxygen Bleach

Soapworks – Safe Bleach”

Dryer balls can be purchased to replace fabric softeners and anti-static sheets.