Chemical Cocktail: What’s Hiding in YOUR Cleaning Products?

Anyone who knows me, knows I’ve become passionate within the last couple years (the last 10-ish months especially) about clean(er) eating, which has meant many changes in what we buy (or will never buy again, for that matter.) It’s all about holding a higher standard of what you’re willing to put in your body.

That being said, I also starting thinking about what goes on our bodies, not just in, because we all have to remember that our skin is, in fact, our largest organ. Anything that we put on our skin gets absorbed into our bloodstream within seconds and enters our vital organs.

In terms of what goes on our bodies, I started focusing on frequency. Which chemical-filled products touch your skin every day, many times a day? Cleaning products! (And this is probably true 50 fold if you’ve got kiddos.) Think about how many times a day you wash your hands at home. Or clean dishes. It’s a lot. Like it or not, hand soap and dish soap are cleaning products. Each time you use them, you’re exposing yourself to their potentially dangerous chemical ingredients, some of which can even bioaccumulate. Scary!

And so, I’ve spent more time than a sane person would looking into what’s lurking in our cleaning arsenal. You know, you grow up with this stuff, you trust this stuff, you assume that it’s safe. It’s upsetting to realize this isn’t the case. A lot of people assume that a laundry list of ingredients you can’t pronounce is just the way of things, and we shouldn’t concern ourselves with it, because if it’s there, it’s there for a reason and must be okay. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Just like with food, there are plenty of chemicals that should be avoided. You can make better, safer choices.

In short, I was not happy with what I discovered.

By and large, one of the most disturbing things I found is that our hand dishwashing liquid (Ajax) and our handsoap (Softsoap clear) contained something called DMDM Hydantoin, which is a preservative and formaldehyde-releasing agent. (Side note: I also discovered this same chemical in virtually all our shampoos, which will soon be going bye-bye.) Also, the Softsoap contained Triclosan, an antibacterial/preservative chemical, now under fire for being a known hormone disruptor and contributor to antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains.

Other than DMDM Hydantoin and Triclosan, what else should you watch for? Beware:

  • Parabens – These preservatives pose many risks, including endocrine disruption, skin cancer, and developmental/reproductive issues. Look for anything containing the word “paraben”, like Methylparaben.
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (“Quats”) – These contribute to antibiotic resistance, as well as pose a major allergic/irritant risk. Watch for benzalkonium chloride, as well as cetalkonium chloride, cetrimonium chloride, and stearalkonium chloride. Avoid any “Quaternium” followed by a dash and number.
  • 2-Butoxyethanol – This solvent poses inhalation and organ damage risks. Usually found in cleaning sprays, especially window cleaner.
  • Ammonia – Commonly found in cleaners, this also poses a huge inhalation risk.
  • Chlorine bleach – Not only is it an inhalation risk, but chlorine also absorbs easily into warm, wet skin, so any heavy-duty cleaning products containing this pose a double risk.
  • MEA (monoethanalomine), DEA (diethanolamine),  or TEA (triethanolamine) – These chemicals can be heavily contaminated with carcinogens during production, as well as posing various irritation and inhalation risks.
  • Phthalates – These endocrine-disrupting chemicals are found in products with heavy artificial fragrance, so watch for “Fragrance” on the label. Fragrance-free products are best, or products with scents from essential oils.

It became perfectly clear that I needed to find a better alternative that won’t break the bank or require a wild goose chase just to buy it. I considered making my own cleaners using Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap, but unfortunately those are all hemp-based, and I have a wicked hemp oil sensitivity. Nope!

So, I turned to Good Guide and the Environmental Working Group’s consumer guide dedicated to cleaning products to help shed some light. I used them in conjunction, but sometimes found them almost at odds with one another, and had to pick which one’s opinion to go with.

It’s kind of a double-edged sword, you know? You want cleaning products that work, and kinda have to accept that there are going to be some chemicals involved (if you’re cleaning with anything other than vinegar and baking soda, that is). But at the same time, cleaning products don’t need to be a toxic mess – you want them to be as safe as possible!

Sticking to my mantra about simply making BETTER choices, I decided ultimately to go with Method products, which are largely plant-derived and biodegradable, and are widely available at many well-known chain stores, the biggest of which is Target. (Actually, today only, Target has them all online for 20% off and free standard shipping – SCORE! Guess who just stocked up…)

L to R: antibac bathrom cleaner (spearmint); antibac all-purpose cleaner (bamboo); dish soap dispenser (clementine); gel hand wash refill pack (cucumber). 

On top of replacing our hand soap and hand dishwashing liquid, I decided to also switch out our bathroom cleaner and our all-purpose cleaning spray with Method products too, as you can see in the pic. Although they do have a line of all-purpose cleaners, I opted for the newer “antibac” spray, which is powered by citrus. Antibac is apparently rather new for them, as they previously hadn’t marketed a specifically “anti-bacterial” cleaner because they hadn’t been able to do it in a way that would satisfy the company’s mission statement.

I’d actually used Method gel hand wash previously at a former workplace, not knowing that it was a “greener” product, and had wrongly been under the impression that Method products were super expensive. I’m sure prices may vary across the country, but here are the prices at my local Target:

  • Gel hand wash dispenser (filled) – $2.99 for 12 fl.oz.
  • Gel hand wash refill pack  – $4.99 for 34 fl.oz. (which is about 3 bottles’ worth)
  • Spray cleaners – $2.99 for 28 fl.oz.
  • Dish soap dispenser (filled) – $2.99 for 18 fl.oz
  • Dish soap refill pack – $4.99 for 34 fl.oz.

Not too shabby! If you stock up when they’re on sale or have a discount coupon on Cartwheel (Target’s savings app), it’s pretty darn affordable and convenient.

In terms of performance, I’m offering up high marks for all! I’ve always liked using the gel hand wash, and am happy to have it here at home. It leaves a nice, clean feeling, with no residues or overdrying. The dish soap sudses up nicely and rinses cleanly, and I’m really impressed how far a little of it goes a rag (much further than the Ajax we’d been using). So far, the all-purpose spray cleaner has me impressed too, as it left our kitchen sink sparkling clean, and even tackled some of our really tough, stuck-on hard water stains around the knobs. Goooo citrus power! The bathroom cleaner does a great job too, and tackles hard water stains and sink stains like a champ.

On top of all this, the products really do smell nice! The cucumber-scented gel hand wash is a cool, refreshing scent, and the clementine-scented dish wash is fruity and energizing, so it makes dish washing a little more fun. The bamboo-scented antibac spray is spot-on as a nice “clean” scent, though definitely stronger than expected, and I usually take a step back after I spray. The antibac bathroom cleaner (spearmint scented) is probably my least favorite because it’s not as minty as I’d like, and is a bit overwhelming. But, it’s definitely better than the nose-burning, eye-watering, typical “bathroom cleaner” smell.

One thing I can definitely say for Method from browsing their website is what appears to be a solid commitment to the customer and the planet, which is a step in the right direction.  They want to empower the customer in making better product choices, so that goes a long way in my book.

I really like that Method freely discloses the ingredients in their products on their website. They explain what they use and why, and what they refuse to use (see below). It raises quite a bit of suspicion in my book when I have to dig on Google to discover what’s in other products, which is exactly what I had to do in order to check out some bigger name brands’ products that I (luckily) didn’t have on-hand in my cabinet to directly reference.

Screenshot 2015-11-19 12.26.46

Keep in mind, Method is a way better choice, and they are making strides to do right by the consumer, but it’s only fair to point out a few things I feel they could improve further:

  • The hand/dish soaps contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (cleansing agent). There’s so much data out there suggesting it’s safer to avoid it entirely, but you’ve got to pick your battles. I mean, I definitely don’t want SLS in my shampoo, but when it comes to cleaning our dishes especially, I can sweep a little SLS under the rug – we eat off these things, so I need to be confident they’re sanitary. [Per Method’s FAQ section, the SLS they use is coconut-derived (rather than petroleum-derived), but there still is a manufacturing process there that isn’t necessarily the safest.]
  • Method uses two preservatives (methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone) that I’d love to see them remove/replace, not because of toxicity, but for their potential to cause allergic reactions in some individuals, depending on the concentration used. Many dermatologists are now raising the caution flag over their use, even in rinse-off products like these.

All in all though, I can’t ding them too much over those concerns, because these two issues pale in comparison to what you find in other commercial products. If you’re going for store-bought cleaning products, these are undoubtedly a much better choice.

So, there you have it – cleaner cleaning products. Every better choice counts! One good thing leads to another, so I’m keeping the momentum going!

Wishing you healthier, happier (and cleaner) days!


July, 2016 ~ I’ve continued my use of Method products, though I’ve decided to switch to the Method gel hand wash that is free of dyes and perfumes, so it’s clear and scent-free. To be honest, the scent while washing my hands was so brief anyways that I don’t even miss it. I’d rather be even safer with my product!

I’ve also picked up a bottle of the Honeycrisp Apple all-purpose cleaner, because I want to make that my go-to for the majority of cleaning. I’ve noticed that the antibac sprays bother my nose if I don’t immediately walk away, so I plan to reserve their use only for certain situations that pose a big bacterial risk (like, cleaning up after we’ve cooked raw chicken).


6 thoughts on “Chemical Cocktail: What’s Hiding in YOUR Cleaning Products?

  1. Hi, me again!
    What about laundry detergent? For almost three years now, I have been making my own. It’s fairly easy to do, and SO MUCH CHEAPER… A great way to save money so you can spend it on healthier food. What do you think?


    1. Yes, totally right! Laundry detergent is another HUGE area where toxins and allergens can unknowingly creep in. It definitely could’ve had a mention in this post, though at the time I hadn’t yet switched over, so that’s why I left it to the more typical household cleaning products.

      A post focused on just laundry detergent options has been on my to-write list, so I think it’s likely that one will be coming about in 2017!

      On that note, I agree, homemade is a good option for laundry detergent, since it can be made in such bulk! I have a good recipe saved on Pinterest that I plan to try before I recommend it. Unfortunately, Pinterest is ripe with people’s homemade recipes that aren’t always as clean as they should be, especially when they use ingredients like Borax, which receives an F rating from the Environmental Working Group. I also see people adding other chemically things like Purex or OxiClean (neither of which are horrible per se), but still, in my mind, that defeats the purpose of avoiding manufactured chemical cleaners. Though, I understand that many of the Pinterest recipes aren’t by people who want to go clean ingredient-wise, but rather are just out to go the money-saving route, so that explains it.

      Liked by 1 person

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