They aren’t pretty, but you need to know about them.

It’s a fact that the air in most households today has a higher rate of chemical pollutants than the outside air in most large polluted metro cities. One of the main contributors to indoor chemical pollutants is household cleaners. They contain all kinds of toxins–common household chemicals that adversely affect physical health and mental health as well.

Acetone is a neurotoxin found in spot treatment cleaners. It can harm the liver and cause kidney damage, and do harm to a developing fetus. It’s also a skin and eye irritant.

Aerosol products and propellants. Aerosol sprays break solutions into minute particles which can be more deeply inhaled than larger particles, increasing their toxic effect. The spray often contains formaldehyde, a carcinogen, neurotoxin and central nervous system depressant. They may also contain methylene chloride, a carcinogen, neurotoxin and reproductive toxin. Finally, they may contain nitrous oxide.

Ammonia is found in a wide range of cleaning products and can be a severe eye and respiratory irritant causing burning pain and corrosive damage including chemical burns, cataracts and corneal damage. It can also cause kidney and liver damage. Repeated or prolonged exposure to vapors can result in bronchitis and pneumonia. Ammonia can react with bleach to form poisonous chlorine gas that can cause burning and watering of eyes, as well as burning of the nose and mouth.

Bleach is found in a wide range of household cleaners as sodium hypochlorite, a corrosive chemical which is an eye, skin and respiratory irritant. It is especially hazardous to people with heart conditions or asthma, and can be fatal if swallowed. It may be a toxic to the liver.

Diethanolamine (DEA) is also used in a wide range of household cleaning products. It is a suspected carcinogen. This chemical is a skin and respiratory toxicant and a severe eye irritant.

D-limonene is the active ingredient in some insecticides and is a solvent found in many all-purpose cleaning products, especially ‘citrus’ and ‘orange’ cleaners. It is listed on labels as citrus oil and orange oil and is produced by cold-pressing orange peels. The extracted oil is 90% d-limonene. It is a neurotoxin, a moderate eye and skin irritant, and it can trigger respiratory distress when vapors are inhaled by some sensitive individuals. There is evidence of carcinogenicity.

Ethoxylated nonyl phenol is used in laundry detergents and other cleaning products. Nonyl phenols are hormone disruptors. Some contain traces of ethylene oxide, a known human carcinogen. And, they are eye and skin irritants.

Formaldehyde is used in a wide range of products, including some furniture polishes. Formaldehyde may be released by other chemicals, eg.quaternary 15.has caused cancer and damaged DNA in lab tests. Formaldehyde is also a sensitizer, with the potential to cause asthma. Several laboratory studies have shown it to be a central nervous system depressant. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness and loss of sleep. An estimated 20 per cent of people exposed to it will experience an allergic reaction.

Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients, most of which are synthetic. Many compounds in fragrance are human toxins and suspected or proven carcinogens. In 1989, the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health evaluated 2,983 fragrance chemicals for health effects. 884 were identified as toxic substances. Synthetic fragrances are known to trigger asthma attacks. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of perfumes contain toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus. Symptoms reported to the FDA from fragrance exposure have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation. Clinical observations by medical doctors have shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioral changes. Fragrance is a common skin irritant.

Methylene chloride is used in stain removers, and is a carcinogen, a neurotoxin and a reproductive toxin. Inhalation of it can cause liver and brain damage, irregular heartbeat, and even heart attack. It is a severe skin and moderate eye irritant.

Monoethanolamine is found in many cleaning products including oven cleaners, tub and tile cleaners, laundry pre-soaks, floor strippers and carpet cleaners. It may cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage, as well as depression of the central nervous system. Inhalation of high concentrations – when cleaning an oven for example – can cause dizziness or even coma. The chemical can also be absorbed through the skin. It is a moderate skin irritant, and a severe eye irritant.

Morpholine is used as a solvent in a number of cleaning products including some furniture polishes and abrasive cleansers. This corrosive ingredient can severely irritate and burn skin and eyes, and can even cause blindness if splashed in eyes. It can cause liver and kidney damage, and long-term exposure can result in bronchitis. It reacts with nitrites (added as a preservative in some products) to form carcinogenic nitrosomines. Morpholine is a moderate to severe eye, skin and mucous membrane irritant.

Naphthalene is found in mothballs, some pest repellants, and in deodorizers, It is a registered pesticide and is listed as a suspected carcinogen by the state of California. As a reproductive toxin, it is transported across the placenta and can cause blood damage. It can cause liver and kidney damage, and corneal damage and cataracts. Skin exposure is especially dangerous to newborns.

Parabens is widely used in cleaning products as a preservative. Paraben is usually preceded by the prefixes methyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, or propyl. Parabens may cause contact dermatitis in some individuals and it is a hormone disruptor.

Paradichlorobenzene is used in mothballs and in some washroom deodorizers and in urinal blocks. It is a highly volatile registered pesticide and is in the same chemical class as DDT. It is a suspected carcinogen that may cause lung, liver and kidney damage.

Phosphoric acid is found in some liquid dishwasher detergents, metal polishes, some disinfectants, and bathroom cleaners, especially in those that remove lime and mildew It is extremely corrosive and can severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes. Breathing vapors can make the lungs ache, and it may be toxic to the central nervous system.

Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate is found in some toilet bowl cleaners and deodorizers, as well as industrial detergents and some institutional dishwashing detergents. This corrosive chemical is a severe eye, skin and respiratory irritant. It may cause liver and gastrointestinal damage, and may be toxic to the central nervous system. It will react with bleach to form poisonous chlorine gas that can cause burning and watering of eyes, as well as burning of the nose and mouth.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is used as a lathering agent and a known skin irritant. It also enhances the allergic response to other toxins and allergens. The U.S. government has warned manufacturers of unacceptable levels of dioxin formation in some products containing this ingredient. SLS can react with other ingredients to form cancer-causing nitrosamines

Toluene – Exposure to toluene may cause liver, kidney and brain damage. It is also a reproductive toxin which can damage a developing fetus.

Turpentine is found in specialty solvent cleaners, furniture polish and shoe products.- This chemical can cause allergic sensitization, and kidney, bladder and central nervous system damage. It is an eye irritant.

Xylene is used in some spot removers, floor polishes, and ironing aids. Xylene has significant neurotoxic effects, including loss of memory. High exposure can lead to loss of consciousness and even death. It may damage liver, kidneys and the developing fetus. It is a severe eye and moderate skin irritant.

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Our thanks to Nova Scotia’s Environmental Health Association for much of the information found in our list.