Dear EarthTalk: I'm concerned about toxic ingredients in my cleaning supplies, especially now that I have young children. Where can I find safer alternatives?
-Betsy E., Hartford, CT
Household cleaning products are responsible for almost 10 percent of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. poison control centers. Fortunately, there are plenty of safer alternatives available, from brands like Ecover, Seventh Generation, Green Shield and Earth Friendly Products, pictured here. © Earth Friendly Products
It is true that many household cleaners contain potentially toxic substances, so parents especially should make an effort to keep them out of the reach of children or, better yet, replace them with safer alternatives.
"We use a wide array of scents, soaps, detergents, bleaching agents, softeners, scourers, polishes and specialized cleaners for bathrooms, glass, drains and ovens to keep our homes sparkling and sweet-smelling," reports the Organic Consumers Association. "But [many] contribute to indoor air pollution, are poisonous if ingested and can be harmful if inhaled or touched." The group adds that household cleaning products are responsible for almost 10 percent of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. poison control centers, with more than half of cases involving kids under six years old.
According to the Washington Toxics Coalition, leading offenders include corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners. Contact with these chemicals can cause severe burns on the eyes and skin and can damage the throat and esophagus if ingested. The chlorine and ammonia contained in some can each cause similar problems, and the hazardous gases unleashed when they combine can be lethal. Other ingredients to avoid for many reasons include diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), 1,4-dioxane, ethoxylated alcohols, butyl cellosolve (aka ethylene glycol monobutyl ether), and p-nonylphenol.