Archive for December, 2009

Purge Your Home of Harmful Chemicals

Posted on December 14th, 2009 by Tonia 8 Comments

It’s that time of the year when the wind-chill likes to lurk somewhere around 25 degrees below zero in northern Minnesota.  It’s also that time of year when you hear yourself saying “why do I live here again?” a couple times a day.    

Perhaps because we’re indoors more in the winter, I have begun to notice all the little things that bug me about our house.  For example, the cabinet under our kitchen sink is full to the gills with half-empty (or half-full?) bottles of cleaning agents.  Windex, Febreze, Mr. Clean, etc.  The whole gang’s there.  

It seems that we have a nasty habit of buying a new bottle before the old one’s totally used up.

cabinet-pictureBut our over-zealous purchasing of cleaning liquids isn’t the only issue here…

The really irksome part of it is that only half of the products in our cabinet are environmentally safe, let alone safe for humans to be absorbing.  It was only about a year ago that we started making an honest effort to buy only “green” household products, so many of the “not so green” ones are still sitting around, half-empty.


These “not so green” cleaners contain toxins that leech into our water system, getting ingested by wildlife and people.  {Read more about the effects of these chemicals on the environment here.}  The scariest chemicals are the ones that effect human and animal endocrine systems, because they imitate hormones and cause irreversible damage.

In reference to endocrine disrupting chemicals, the National Resources Defense Council’s website says,

Many animal species are showing signs of ill health due to exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. For example, fish in the Great Lakes…have numerous reproductive problems as well as abnormal swelling of the thyroid glands.”

In some cases, the fishes capacity to reproduce was eliminated, as they became feminized by the amount of estrogen-imitating chemicals in the water. {Read more about that here.}

Yesterday I put my foot down and decided it was time to rid our home of these awful products.  

I got a big surprise as I opened the cabinet door:  I looked at my bottle of Lysol toilet cleaner, expecting to see a nice long list of big words I can’t pronounce (i.e. ingredients).  But there was nothing but a big long list of cautionary alerts about not eating it or rubbing it into your eyes.  Hmmmmm!  

Turns out cleaning supply manufacturers are not required to list their ingredients on their bottles.  Some {like Febreze and Dawn} only list certain ingredients on the bottle, and conceal others.  {More about Dawn’s attempt to come across as a “green” product here.}

A few big questions were arising at this point, so I turned to the power of Google for some answers:

Itty Bird iconWhich products contain harmful chemicals?

Too many.  The most common include commercial laundry detergent, especially those with added fragrances, dryer sheets and commercial fabric softener, drain cleaners, pesticides, herbicides, anti-bacterial ANYTHING, potpourri, air fresheners, incense.

 Itty Bird iconWhat are the “bad” chemicals, so I can avoid them in the future?

Ammonia Fatal when swallowed
Ammonium Hydroxide Corrosive, irritant
Bleach Potentially fatal if ingested
Chlorine Number one cause of poisonings in children
Formaldehyde Highly toxic; known carcinogen
Hydrochloric acid Corrosive, eye and skin irritant
Hydrochloric bleach Eye, skin and respiratory tract irritant
Lye Severe damage to stomach and esophagus if ingested
Naphtha Depresses the central nervous system
Nitrobenzene Causes skin discoloration, shallow breathing, vomiting, and death
Perchlorethylene Damages liver, kidney, nervous system
Petroleum Distillates Highly flammable; suspected carcinogen
Phenol Extremely dangerous; suspected carcinogen; fatal taken internally
Propylene Glycol Immunogen; main ingredient in antifreeze
Sodium hypochlorit Potentially fatal
Sodium laurel sulfate Carcinogen, toxin, genetic mutagen
Sodium tripolyphosphate Irritant
Trichloroethane Damages liver and kidneys

Itty Bird iconHow do I dispose of these products?

Many communities hold special collection days or have special drop-off sites for harmful household products.  Contact your local trash service for help, call EARTH 911 (1-877-EARTH911), or visit

In Duluth’s case, we have a hazardous waste disposal facility near our house, but we never knew it until a helpful neighbor told us about it!  Thanks neighbor!

Itty Bird iconWhich products should I use instead?

Non-toxic, non-toxic, non-toxic.

Even “all-natural-plant-derived” ingredients can be toxic!  Do research before buying a new product.  Make sure that the super-duper-eco-licious cleaner actually holds up in court (uh, Google)- don’t just trust the commercials.


One brand I have investigated and have found to be as-good-as-it-gets: Seventh Generation.  It’s slightly more expensive than its toxin-infested cousins, but really, the cost of using those other products is much, much greater.