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Are your Home Cleaners Harming your Health?

One of the most asked about questions from our staff at SeattleOrganicRestaurants.com is from people who want to know what alternatives are available to them if they choose not to use the usual house hold cleaners in their home.

I guess, some would first ask if the house hold cleaners sold in supermarkets are safe or not.


Yes it is true that there are some health and environmental hazards associated with long-term exposure to chemical ingredients in household cleaning products. But some products are much worse and the ingredients are much more severe than others. The fact is that most of us are exposed to cleaning products and their residues at low levels on a daily basis and these chemicals used to clean our home, do linger in the air and we breathe them in, unfortunately. It is often even more problematic for children whose bodies are not use to these products and are quickly acquiring chronic allergies and breathing problems if exposed to these chemicals in homes or apartments that have little or no air ventilation.

Some of the chemicals/ingredients as well as their side effects are:

1. A skin and eye irritant which is also associated with blood disorders, is the top of the nasty list, called 2-BE. Exposure to high doses of 2-BE (2-butoxyethanol, sometimes known as glycol ether) has been shown to cause reproductive problems as well as a range of other chronic and acute health problems. These chemicals are found in glass cleaners, laundry detergents and stain removers, carpet cleaning products, furniture polishing sprays, hardwood floor cleaners, rust removers and even in your car’s windshield wiper fluid.

2. Ammonia is used in drain cleaners, toilet cleaners, bleach, oven cleaners, stainless steel cleaners, furniture polish (and car polish), and deck cleaners often irritate the skin, eyes, throat, and lungs, cause asthma in people with low immune systems, children and elderly, and in high doses may cause kidney and liver damage.


3. Coal tar dyes, used as an ingredient in household cleaners is implicated in allergic reactions as well as hyperactivity in children. It is derived from petrochemicals, and may be contaminated with trace amounts of heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and lead while it is quite unnecessary in the actual function of cleaning or sterilizing surfaces. New studies now point to synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents as aggravating ADD and ADHD symptoms at the very least, if not directly contributing to it. There is concern that synthetic dyes may cause cancer and that heavy metals can result in irreversible brain damage, can harm the nervous system and cause other adverse health effects. Dyes in cleaning products can be absorbed through the skin or ingested in the case of soap residue on dishes.

4. MEA (monoethanalomine), DEA (diethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine) with their hard to pronounce lofty names are chemicals that are often used in household cleaners and cosmetics for texture creation or to regulate the pH, and utilized with numerous fatty acids to change acid to salt (stearate), which then develops into the base for a cleaner. DEA is a chemical that functions as a wetting agent in shampoos, lotions, creams and other cosmetics. It is used mostly because it supplies a rich lather in shampoos and maintains a positive consistency in lotions and creams. By itself, DEA is not harmful, but while hanging around on a store shelf or in your bathroom cabinet at home, DEA may react with other ingredients in the cosmetic recipe to form a particularly potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). NDEA is promptly absorbed via the skin and has been connected with stomach, esophagus, liver, and bladder cancers. The reaction with nitrites to form carcinogenic nitrosamines, has been a major concern in Europe and hence why there are restrictions in 22 European countries regarding use of DEA and MEA. DEA is a skin irritant and severe eye irritant. MEA is known to induce asthma in workplace settings. DEA, MEA, NDEA can be found in general all-purpose household cleaners, oven cleaners, floor cleaners, bathroom cleaners, glass cleaners, dish washing soup, and car wash products.


5. Triclosan is used as an antibacterial agent that is included in soaps, detergents, dish washing fluids, antiperspirants, deodorants, cosmetics, lotions, creams and toothpaste. Yes, toothpaste. That’s right, toothpaste. The EPA regards Triclosan as a pesticide which means that it is highly dangerous to humans.

6. Imidazolidinyl Urea And DMDM Hydantoin are two chemicals used in house hold cleaners, such as fabric softeners, and are just two of many preservatives that release formaldehyde. They are called formaldehyde-donors. It is a colorless liquid or gas with a pungent, distinctive smell. It is utilized in the manufacturing of synthetic resins that are used in adhesives for plywood, particle board, coatings for paper and textiles, degreasers, and scent creating products.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website states that the two ingredients in almost all chemically based household cleaners are ammonia and isopropanol. The EPA states that, at minimum, these may be irritating to the eyes, nose, throat and skin. In extreme cases of ingestion, they can cause death, with drowsiness or unconsciousness other possibilities. If you have to use household cleaners, always wear gloves and use it only in a well-ventilated area.

So what are the alternatives, if you don’t want to expose yourself and your family to these harmful chemicals?


Before all these chemicals, herbs and essential oils were used as an antibacterial agent.

You may be surprised to know that in addition to having a great taste and have high nutritional value, herbs and essential oils are very effective against bacteria, fungi, and growth of microorganisms. Herbs and some plants have essential oils which are concentrated fragrant extracts that retain most of the essential and useful properties of the plants they are extracted from.

You can add a few drops of essential oils to a natural ingredient like distilled white vinegar or lime/lemon juice, or to spring water to quickly create a cleaning product that does not harm you or your family – while it is incredibly effective against dirt and bacteria.

Herbs that fight off microorganisms are: basil, bay leaves or bay leave oil, benzoin, bergamot, camphor, cardamom, chamomile, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, eucalyptus, fir, ginger, grapefruit, juniper, lavender, lemon, lemon balm, meadowsweet, myrrh, myrtle. Nutmeg, orange, oregano, patchouli, peppermint, Peru balsam, pine, rose scented geranium, rosemary, sage, sandalwood, savory, spearmint, spruce, tea tree, thyme.

In particular, clove, parsley, coriander, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, and rosemary fight body of bacterial and fungal organism and even taken raw with food, they inhibit and fight infections as well as coughs, chills, bronchitis and allergies. These herbs have also been known to reduce pain, improve circulation and fend off depression. Wild oregano and grapefruit seed extract are two potent medicinal plants that fight and destroy flesh eating bacteria.

Herbs that kill or repel insects include: basic, benzoin, cajeput, white camphor, cardamom, eucalyptus, juniper, lavender, lemon, lemon balm, orange, peppermint, rosemary, sage, savory, southernwood, thyme, wormwood, and yarrow.


Here’s a recipe for a dishwashing cleaner:

  • 1 cup of borax
  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • ½ cup filtered lemon/lime juice
  • 2 table spoons of sea salt
  • ¼ cup of lemon essential oils
  • ¼ cup of lavender and basil essential oils

Instructions: Mix, and ready to use when it cools down enough that it would not burn your skin when touched. You can also store it until you need to use it. Try to experiment with the measurements above until you are happy with the density of the paste that you can use for cleaning.
Here’s a recipe for a general household cleaner (not for plastics or fiberglass or stove tops):

  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • 1 cup clay powder
  • 1 cup fine-grade pumice
  • 4 table spoons grapefruit essential oil
  • ½ cup baking soda
  • 1 table spoon of lemon/lime juice essential oils
  • ½ cup filtered lemon/lime juice

Instructions: Mix, and ready to use when it cools down enough that it would not burn your skin when touched. You can also store it until you need to use it. Try to experiment with the measurements above until you are happy with the density of the paste that you can use for cleaning.
Here’s a recipe for washing machine detergent/cleaner:

  • 1 cup of washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • 1 cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • ½ cup of borax
  • 1 table spoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ cup distilled white vinegar
  • 2 table spoons of lemon/lime essential oils

Instructions: Mix, and ready to use when it cools down enough that it would not burn your skin when touched. You can also store it until you need to use it. Try to experiment with the measurements above until you are happy with the density of the paste that you can use for cleaning.
If you need foaming action to be added to above cleaners, simply add 1 table spoon of castile soap, and increase the portion until you get the desired effect.


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