two plastic gloves hanging up secured with a washing clip

Toxins in Cleaning Products


Spring is almost around the corner (even though it is currently still freezing here in Germany) and with it comes (usually) the time for some spring cleaning. I absolutely love a spring clean (which oftentimes turns into a huge de-clutter as well… I could write a whole other blog post on this). This week I want to focus on toxins in cleaning products though. Why might be the first question you are asking? Because what many people do not know is that conventional cleaning products contain a lot of toxins that once you cleaned your house with are IN YOUR HOME! That means you are then breathing them in all day long… Let me dive in.

Someone holding conventional cleaning products
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Toxins in Cleaning Products

Unfortunately, conventional cleaning products can be harmful to both our bodies and the environment. What is worse is that there is a long list of toxins that you will likely not even be able to identify in the ingredient list on the bottle, because regulations mean that you do not necessarily need to spell them out. Wow!

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are toxic fragrance ingredients that do not need to be listed on the label. They can all be hidden under the name “fragrance”. VOCs can include benzene, acetone, and formaldehyde. VOCs are released as a gas into the air when being used. Studies have shown that VOC levels tend to be 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outside. VOCs have been associated with numerous health risks, including respiratory illnesses and hormone disruptions. You may also notice eye, nose, and throat irritations, headaches, nausea, fatigue, or dizziness. In addtion, VOCs have also been shown to potentially cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and the central nervous system. There is also some evidence that it may cause cancer in animals.


Phthalates belong to the phthalic acid group. They help smells to linger. Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals, which have been linked to early-onset puberty, obesity, lower sperm count in men, and reproductive disorders. Interestingly, whereas phthalates are airborne, they collect in dust around the home.


Bleach has been used as a disinfectant and deodorizer since the 1820s. It is still commonly used today for sanitizing and cleaning. Bleach can become toxic very, very quickly. Inhaling it can cause harm to the respiratory system, in particular in people who already suffer from respiratory conditions (e.g. asthma), or have allergies. Bleach can also burn your skin if you come in contact with it and is harmful to the environment.

Window cleaner in a plastic spray bottle next to a roll of paper towels
Photo by Crystal de PassillΓ©-Chabot on Unsplash

Butyl Cellosolve

This is an ingredient that is oftentimes found in glass cleaners but may also be used in other common household cleaners. This chemical has a distinct sweet odor and is colorless. You can also find butyl cellosolve in paint colors AND pesticide production. Yep – read that again: Pesticide production. Butyl cellosolve can cause throat, eyes, and nose irritation, but has mainly been linked to damage done to the kidneys and liver. In studies, it has been shown that butyl cellosolve destroys red blood cells, which in turn is what damages the kidneys and liver. It may also cause reproductive issues.

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds

Also known as “quats” – these compounds irritate the respiratory tract, skin, can cause asthma and have been linked to reproductive issues. Quats are most commonly found in disinfectant cleaning wipes, disinfectant sprays, and antibacterial soaps. Whereas quats do not appear to raise systemic toxicity levels in humans, I am not sure that – for me personally – I need to see the scientific research proven I say “goodbye” to this one.

A hand spraying a cleaning bottle
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

A Word on “Natural”

Last but not least, I wanted to quickly touch on the word “natural”. In the US, the regulations around ingredient disclosure for cleaning products are fairly poor. This means that if you see the word “natural”, “organic”, or “green”, or even the word “scent-free” they can still contain “fragrances” which then can hide again VOCs.

Whereas not a “fun” topic, I hope this post on toxins about cleaning products has opened your eyes (literally 🤪). Next week, we will discuss some easy alternatives that will likely do the cleaning job just as well! The beautiful cover photo is by Karolina KoΕ‚odziejczak on Unsplash.

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