How to Protect Yourself From Harmful Cleaning Chemicals at Home

You love the bright and tidy look. There’s a certain sense of calm that comes with walking into an orderly, pleasing space — especially if it’s your home. When everything is polished, fluffed-up and fresh, it makes you feel like kicking off your shoes and sinking into relaxation mode. Cleaning might not be your favorite job (is it anybody’s?), but the result is worth every effort.

Many popular cleaning products, however, contain ingredients that raise a red flag for toxicity and pose a plethora of health risks associated with both long- and short-term use. What are the chemicals to watch out for, and how can you protect yourself and your family from harmful exposure? Read on for helpful information and tips.

[Read: 7 Home Renovations to Consider for 2018.]

Know the Risk

An article published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in June 2017 recounts a study completed by European researchers on the respiratory health effects of exposure to cleaning chemicals. Risk of developing asthma and COPD — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — runs notably high. In fact, people who clean professionally with chemical products can see an accelerated decline in lung function comparable to smoking 20 cigarette packs or more per year for 10 years.

Other symptoms of toxic agent exposure include dizziness, headaches, sneezing, coughing, vomiting, tremors, loss of coordination, reproductive system irregularities and liver and kidney damage. While some of these physical effects are acute in nature and present immediately, long-term exposure leads to chronic problems as well.

Identify the Bad Guys

You don’t have to be a professional cleaner to assume a hefty risk. Many products you’ve probably been using for years contain ingredients with alarming effects. Bleach, for instance, kills microbes — part of what makes it such an effective cleaner. Unfortunately, bleach also irritates the respiratory tract, and when mixed with vinegar, can be fatal. In fact, the combination of bleach and vinegar on a large scale is used as a chemical weapon.

Other harmful chemicals found in commercial household cleaning products include:

— Formaldehyde

— Chloroform

— Ammonia

— Chlorine

— Diethanolamine — DEA

— Triethanolamine — TEA

DEA and TEA are sudsing agents found in many all-purpose cleaners, and some personal care products like shampoo and hair conditioner, that readily penetrate the skin and are suspected carcinogens.

[Read: Is Your Home a Death Trap? Don’t Take the Chance — Test for Asbestos.]

Consider Natural Alternatives

The good news is several everyday household commodities can be used as all-natural cleaning agents without posing a risk to your health. Consider white vinegar for tackling mildew and grease. Lemon juice is fantastic for removing stains and cleaning glass, and it even acts as a natural deodorizer. Try polishing furniture with olive oil, and mixing vinegar with baking soda to efficiently scrub toilets.

Baking soda can also be used to:

— Disinfect hairbrushes, combs and toothbrushes

— Protect stored patio furniture from mildew

— Scrub outdoor grills

— Freshen rugs before vacuuming

— Remove baked-on residue from pots and pans

— Deodorize laundry hampers

— Unclog drains

Castile soap is another nonabrasive alternative made entirely of vegetable oils. Its name is derived from the unique olive oil cleaning products originating out of Castile, Spain. Available in liquid or bar form, castile has a pH similar to mild dish soap and can be used for everything from personal care to heavy house cleaning. Castile soaps are biodegradable and safe for pets and children.

[Read: 6 Things to Do to Prepare for Your Home Renovation.]

Reduce Harmful Exposure

Whatever you ultimately choose for use, safeguard yourself and your family with standard protective measures. Lack of air flow in a room helps create the right environment for mold growth. You should open windows wherever possible, but especially in rooms that are mold-prone, such as the bathroom. It’s also important to use plastic gloves to avoid skin exposure. Never mix products, and be sure to store them in a secure location inaccessible to children. Keep cleaners in their original containers, clearly noting hazardous agents.

Fragrances commonly added to cleaners may also cause acute irritation. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health estimates that up to one-third of the substances used in commercial products are toxic, yet there is no requirement to identify chemical ingredients on labels. Look for products that are marked “No Fragrance Added” — preferably from an organic line — and beware of scented home goods such as candles and air fresheners.

As an alternative, consider fresh flowers, a kitchen herb garden or the ventilation of a strategically created cross-breeze. After all, nothing can quite compare with pure, fresh air, and perhaps the only thing better than a sparkling clean home is knowing it’s also entirely safe.

More from U.S. News

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How to Protect Yourself From Harmful Cleaning Chemicals at Home originally appeared on

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