The Lowdown on Other Chemicals

Editor’s Note: We wrap up our series looking into common chemicals in household cleaners with a summary of other ingredients that have negative impacts on our health and environment.  

Nitrobenzene – a toxic, flammable oily liquid found in furniture polish and floor cleaners. Eye and skin irritations, skin discoloration, difficulty breathing, and nausea are just some of the exposure risks. Nitrobenzene is associated with liver and central nervous system problems. It can leach into soil and enter groundwater and can be toxic to aquatic life in high concentrations.

Petroleum distillates – compounds that are extracted through distillation during the refining of crude oil. They are used in furniture and floor polish, dishwasher cleaners, aerosol sprays, and laundry detergents. Low level exposure can cause skin and eye irritations. More serious health effects include chemical pneumonia, lung problems, and dermatitis. Some PD’s may also contain benzene, a known carcinogen. Many PD’s do not biodegrade in the environment and are toxic to aquatic life.

Phenol – a caustic chemical used in cleaning products, detergents, furniture polish, disinfectants, and more. Exposure can cause skin and eye irritations, diarrhea, fainting, dizziness, and kidney and liver damage. It’s highly toxic to humans if swallowed. It’s also an endocrine disruptor. Phenols are very toxic to aquatic life, depending on the exact nature of the phenol and its concentration.

Phosphoric acid – an extremely corrosive substance found in some liquid dishwasher detergents, metal polishes, disinfectants and bathroom cleaners (primarily lime and mildew removers). Exposure could cause skin, eye, and upper respiratory system irritation. Also causes mild respiratory and central nervous system depression, and kidney toxicity. Phosphoric acid entering the environment can acidify soils and waters and pose a threat to aquatic life in waters of low alkalinity.

Sodium hydroxide – also known as lye or caustic soda, it’s used in the manufacture of soaps, detergents, drain cleaners, and oven cleaners. Can be very harmful and cause skin burns, eye irritation, and has deadly consequences if ingested. Repeated exposure can lead to chronic upper respiratory problems. It’s very reactive with water, acids, and other materials and is a fire hazard under certain conditions. It can be toxic to aquatic life, depending on the concentration in the water environment.

Trichloroethylene – a solvent and degreaser used in spot removers and rug cleaners. It is considered one of the most common containments in the water supply, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Exposure to TCE over time can increase the risk of some types of cancer, and also cause liver, kidney and immune system disorders.

Triclosan – an organic compound used in antibacterial products such as hand sanitizers, dish detergent, and cleaners. Triclosan has come under fire lately because it interacts with chlorine in tap water to produce chloroform gas, which is a carcinogen. The EPA also says it possibly has dioxins, which are also carcinogenic. It’s also an endocrine disruptor and can impair thyroid function. Triclosan has also been linked to higher rates of allergies in children. It biodegrades very slowly and has been found in rivers, streams and sewage sludge that’s often used to fertilize crops. It’s toxic to aquatic life and can be absorbed, thereby affecting the food chain.


There are literally hundreds of other chemicals not mentioned here that are used in household cleaning products. A lot is still unknown about long-term, low-level exposure to many of these chemicals. It may not be so much the use of a single product as it is in how we use it or in what combination and whether our homes are properly ventilated.

We’ve been taught through time that if it doesn’t have a strong odor or cause your skin to dry out or burn, then it’s not working. These products may work, but at what cost to your health and the environment? These products cause, at the minimum, skin, eye and respiratory irritations. Long term and repeated use can cause more serious health problems. A lot of these products do not biodegrade in the environment and end up in our soil and water and have harmful effects on aquatic life.

Changing the way we think about our cleaning products is imperative to improving our health and quality of life. Switching to natural alternative cleaning products, like those made with soy, is one way to improve our health and environment. Soybeans are broken down into micro particles that move at incredible fast speeds across a surface, destroying grime, dirt and bacteria. Product performance isn’t compromised with soy, and the best part is you get to eliminate the fumes and hazardous chemicals. Soy is also biodegradable and gentle on the environment, you, your family, and your pets.

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