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 www.earth911.org

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.


  1. Wow, what an in-depth article. I use Seventh Generation products in my dishwasher and on my dishes. I especially love the lavender scented wash.

    I’m beginning to incorporate environmentally friendly products into other household cleaning chores.

  2. beth says:

    Ok, ok, I’m SO on board with this post. I absolutely agree, and have been trying to find a way in my own house to avoid nasty chemicals AND dirt rings in the bathtub. Seventh generation seems to be pretty great, but many “green” cleaning alternatives are made by the same companies who make the toxic stuff. It’s sort of frustrating to me, despite all my good intentions, to still be giving my money to the big bad, fish-effeminating corporations, you know?
    Then I learned about a fabulous book I think you’d love: it’s called “Making Your Place” by Raleigh Briggs– an entirely handwritten book about sustainable nesting skills. You’ll love it, and the section on making your own cleaning products rocks my world.


  3. Tonia says:

    I completely agree. There is a whole lot of greenwashing out there when it comes to cleaning products. I love the idea of making it! Thanks so much for the book rec! I might have to try out a few of the recipes and write a post letting everyone know how they worked!

  4. Jasmine says:

    Hey, I am doing a project in science and really found your article useful…is there anyway you could post pics of the ingredients of these household products for more info….

    Thanks! Keep up the good work!

  5. Tonia says:

    Hi Jasmine! Thanks for visiting. Unfortunately, the ingredients aren’t fully listed on the bottles, or anywhere on the products’ corporate website (that I could find). It is not required for them to disclose their full ingredient lists to the public, which I find rediculous. Please feel free to email me and I can try to help you get some more info: toniasimeone {at} gmail {dot} com

  6. Nicole says:

    Great article!!
    If you are looking at natural, safe cleaning alternatives to toxic chemcials you should really check out Norwex Products. You can clean 90% of you home with just their microfiber cloth and water! Now how environmentally friendly is that! And safe!
    Norwex Microfiber cloths have a unique property to them in that they have Colloidal Silver in the fibers that kills all the bacteria that the microfibers collect and trap within the cloth. Colloidal Silver is known for it’s antibacterial properties, it’s a natural ingredient, and has been used for the last 90 yrs to ward off infections and life-threating pathogens.
    So you are cleaning with just water leaving a truly clean, bare surface free from chemical residue.
    They have a 2 yr warranty on all their microfiber and a 60 day money back guarantee.
    If you are interested in more info about this and their other products, please get in touch with me at holistichealth@shaw.ca .
    The Norwex Mission is to improve quality of life by radically reducing chemicals in personal care and cleaning.
    I don’t currently have my own website but am working on it! You can email though if you’d like to know more :)

  7. I really appreciate the detail and links in this post. We’ve been purging our home of everything from personal care to cleaners.

    We just bought some books on making your own cleaners and watched your video as well.

    Thank you for your care to educate us and connect us to great resources.

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