Are Your Cleaning Products Hiding These 7 Troubling Ingredients?

Last Update: April 8, 2020

The number of chemicals and toxic substances we all use in pursuit of a “clean” home is truly astounding. Bleach, ammonia, you name it—savvy marketers have told us that as long as a product disinfects and leave a fresh scent, we’re “helping” our home.

The problem is, some of the chemicals left behind by common household cleaners may be just as bad as (if not worse than!) the germs you were trying to clean up in the first place. Getting that squeaky clean feeling shouldn’t put you at risk for respiratory problems, burning skin, and even certain cancers.

Thankfully, there is a simple way to avoid these risks: Choose safer cleaning supplies and ditch the harsh, potentially dangerous options.

Avoid these ingredients whenever possible:

1. Glycol ethers including 2-butoxyethanol and butoxydiglycol

Also known as:

2-(2-butyoxyethoxy) ethanol, Ethylene glycol mono butyl ether, Diethylene glycol mono butyl ether, among others

Avoid them because:

These chemicals have been linked to developmental problems in unborn children, impaired fertility, and respiratory issues.

2. Alkylphenol ethoxylates

Also known as:

nonylphenol ethoxylates, octylphenol ethoxylates, nonoxynols, octoxynols

Avoid them because:

These chemicals have been associated with disruption of the endocrine system and are often contaminated with impurities linked to cancer.

3. Dye

Also known as:


Avoid them because:

Manufacturers often use the word “dye” to hide the specific names of harsh coloring agents. Some colorings and dyes have been linked to cancers in animals. If you don’t know what specific chemical dyes or colors a product includes, it’s best to choose another.

4. Ethanolamines

Also known as:

mono-ethanolamine, di-ethanolamine, tri-ethanolamine

Avoid them because:

These compounds can cause severe burns, eye damage, and problems with the nervous system.

5. Fragrance

Avoid them because:

Like “dye,” this general term can often hide the true chemical names of many perfumes and fragrances. Some “fragrance” ingredients are known to irritate the skin, trigger allergic reactions, and interfere with the nervous system.

6. Pine or citrus oil

Also known as:

pinus oil

Avoid them because:

Though these oils sound natural, on smoggy days, some of the compounds in pine and citrus oils can react with ozone in the air and form formaldehyde—a carcinogen.

7. Quaternary ammonium compounds

Also known as:

alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC), benzalkonium chloride, dodecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride

Avoid them because:

These compounds can irritate the nose and throat and can worsen asthma and allergies. They are also highly toxic to aquatic life when they enter our waterways from runoff and wastewater discharge.

It may be hard to check if these concerning chemicals are lurking underneath your sink because cleaners manufacturers aren’t require to list their ingredients on their products. Your best bet will be to use Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to identify safer products.

For cleaning products you can trust, turn to Thrive Market. We’ve got a huge selection of safer and environmentally friendly cleaning products.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Gunnar Lovelace

Thrive Market CEO and Co-founder. Gunnar started Thrive Market because he was inspired to make healthy living affordable for everyone.

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