Cruising down the cleaner aisle of the local superstore, do you ever feel like you need a master’s degree in chemical engineering or a secret decoder ring to understand the labels?

Yeah, me too.

I assumed that the government oversees the safety of household cleaning products, but the reality is that the industry is largely unregulated.

Household cleaners fall under the Federal Hazardous Substances act. Manufacturers are NOT required to list all the ingredients on the label of household cleaners, and they’re the only product that gets this exception.

The power of large companies’ well-funded government lobbying efforts has allowed them to avoid legislation, often hiding behind the principal of “trade secrets.”

Without full disclosure, consumers like us can unknowingly expose our families to unhealthy chemicals.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), of the nearly 3,000 top selling chemicals in the U.S., only 7% have a full set of basic toxicity information! For the most part, the EPA simply relies on voluntary testing agreements with major manufacturers.

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently tested 14 air “fresheners” and found that 12 contained phthalates, and none of the products listed this on their label, because they’re not required to. Phthalates are some of the most dangerous carcinogens and endocrine disruptors we’re exposed to regularly.

Some regulatory bodies are doing a better job than others. The European Union has banned 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics, while the U.S. has only banned 11!

I’m a clean person and I want my home to feel fresh and be free of pests and germs; however, I worry about some very serious health risks that these household products carry.


I’m sure you’ve noticed more and more “green” and “natural” products on the shelves of your local grocery store cleaning aisle.

I thought “This is great,” my shopping is so much simpler now. Until I came home and looked up the Environmental Working Group (EWG) rating of my newly purchased “green” dish soap.

The marketing arm of the industry has caught on to the fact that people want natural cleaners and they’ve responded with products that cost 20-30% more and claim to be green and natural.

Unfortunately, there is no regulation on the labels of cleaning products and the words “natural” and “green” don’t mean safe or free of toxins. A lot of these products contain the same amount of chemicals!

This misleading practice is called green washing—marketing that makes products appear healthy.

What can you do now to create a non-toxic home?

Be on the lookout for these three common toxic household cleaner ingredients:


“Fragrance” is code for a secret mixture of chemicals. Companies aren’t required to list these chemicals on product labels under the guise of “trade secrets.”

If you hate walking down the cleaner aisle at the grocery store, or through the perfume section at department stores, you’re not alone.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Health reports that 30.5% of the general population experience symptoms of irritation, like headaches or breathing problems, when exposed to air fresheners or laundry products. Higher percentages were reported by those with asthma and known chemical sensitivities.

Fragrance is found in nearly everything – from shampoo, to baby products, to dish soap, to air “fresheners.” Unscented is actually a fragrance that masks other odors.

Look for fragrance-free products or those scented with essential oils tested to be free on contamination.

Polyethylene Glycol or PEG

Polyethylene Glycol is found in pretty much all personal care products, including baby products, cleaners, deodorants, lotions, shampoo, sunscreen, and toothpaste.

PEGs function in three ways:

  • To enhance the penetration of other ingredients, helping them get into your skin more effectively – especially if you barrier is already compromised.
  • As emollients to lubricate or soften your skin.
  • As emulsifiers helping oil and water-based ingredients mix together.

PEG’s in and of themselves are not super-dangerous, but they almost always accompany other toxic ingredients and help those absorb into your body more efficiently.

Avoid them.

Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Sodium Laurel and Laureth Sulfate are foaming agents and emulsifiers.

They’re one of the most common ingredients used in cleaners and personal care products, including those labeled natural or organic. They’re included in pretty much anything that foams, like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, conditioner, and cleansers.

Laboratories use them to purposely irritate the skin of animals and humans so that they can then test the effectiveness of healing agents on irritated skin.

They’re a mouth irritant that’s in most toothpaste and can cause canker sores. If you have mouth sores, switch to an SLS-free toothpaste and you’ll feel the difference right away!

If you’re healing from eczema, acne, or another skin condition, avoid SLS and SLES completely to lessen irritation.

We’re living in a chemical world

We live in a chemical world where we’re exposed to toxins, chemicals, and pollution every day. It may not be possible to avoid ALL of the toxins in the world today, but there are plenty of ways to reduce our exposure and create a non-toxic home with simple lifestyle changes and behaviors.

You can significantly decrease your family’s exposure to chemicals by seeking out safer alternatives or making your own non-toxic products at home.

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