9 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid When Spring Cleaning

I love this time of year, as it is the perfect time to do a bit of spring cleaning! I love decluttering my home, my wardrobe and giving the house a deep clean. However, my deep clean doesn’t include toxic products and harmful chemicals! I want you to know that there are many natural products, such as apple cider vinegar, that can do an amazing job at cleaning your home. There are also many more brands popping up that specialise in non-toxic cleaning products. However, to opt for these, you need to be aware of what ingredients are a big no-no for your health! 

To assist you in reducing your exposure to these toxic ingredients, I've compiled a list of 14 ingredients to avoid in cleaning products. I have simplified this list to make it easy to follow, although I do appreciate that avoiding toxic chemicals in this day and age is a bit of a minefield - that’s why I stick to what I can trust, apple cider vinegar! 


  1. Fragrance

Did you know that fragrances are in almost all the products you use at home, from bathroom cleaners to laundry detergents? They can be natural or synthetic, but even essential oils can cause allergies for some people.

These fragrances are made up of over 3,000 chemicals, and they're used to create or cover up smells. So, your air fresheners, deodorizers, and fabric softeners are all guilty of it. But watch out for air fresheners in particular - they might contain cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde, as well as phthalates and VOCs.

Parfum and perfumed products are also big offenders due tophthalates, which can interfere with your hormones. Some companies have already removed phthalates from their products due to health concerns, but watch out for dibutyl phthalate (DBP) in glass cleaners and floor polishes. The European Union actually says it's highly toxic to aquatic organisms.

To spot these fragrances on a label, keep an eye out for "Perfume/Fragrance" or "parfum." Phthalate, DEP, DEHP, and DBP may also be listed as ingredients.

  1. 2-Butoxyethanol

Butyl Cellosolve, also known as Ethylene Glycol or 2-BE, is a colourless, flammable liquid that functions as a solvent in cleaning products. Solvents help remove dirt with minimal scrubbing effort, making them a popular ingredient in cleaning products. Butyl Cellosolve is part of the glycol ethers family and is commonly found in paints, coatings, hair dyes, nail polishes, nail polish removers, and skin cleansers. It is also present in glass cleaners, laundry stain removers, carpet cleaners, automobile cleaners, windshield wiper fluid, degreasers, oven cleaners, and rust removers.

Butyl Cellosolve is a toxic substance, which can cause harm to our health. Indoor air and skin contact with cleaning products are the main routes of exposure. Regulations limit the concentration of Butyl Cellosolve in most household cleaners to 5-6%, but higher concentrations are allowed in some products such as laundry stain removers (up to 22%).

Butyl Cellosolve takes longer to break down in water and soil compared to air, and it can travel from contaminated soil to groundwater. To identify Butyl Cellosolve on a label, look for the terms "Butyl Cellosolve," "Ethylene Glycol," or "2-BE."

  1. Coal Tar Dyes

These dyes are produced from petrochemicals and may contain trace amounts of heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic, and lead. They are synthetic and used to change the colour of cleaning products, such as bright purple lavender laundry soap. However, dyes in cleaning products can contribute to indoor air pollution and may be absorbed through the skin or ingested from soap residue on dishes. These dyes are also found in cosmetics such as hair dye, shampoos for psoriasis and dandruff, and even lipstick.

Cleaning products that may contain coal tar dyes include soaps, laundry detergents, and all-purpose cleaning products.

Coal tar is a known human carcinogen, which means it has the potential to cause cancer. There is absolutely no need for coal tar dyes to be in cleaning products! Furthermore, coal tar dyes can bioaccumulate over time, causing harm to ecosystems and aquatic life.

To spot coal tar dyes on a label, look for names that may be preceded by FD&C and D&C. Other names include P-phenylenediamine, coal tar solutions, naphtha, estar, and benzin B70.

  1. Phosphates

Phosphates are present in multiple cleaning products. They are used as chelating agents, which help to prevent minerals in hard water from messing with our cleaning. They're pretty good at softening the water and stopping magnesium and calcium ions from binding with surfactants. You can find them in all sorts of cleaning products, like bathroom cleaners, laundry detergents, and dishwasher detergents.

But hold up, because when these phosphates enter our waterways, they can cause some major problems. They actually promote the growth of algal blooms, which can lead to weed growth and decrease the oxygen levels in the water, harming aquatic life. So, let's avoid them in cleaning products, okay?

If you want to spot phosphates on a label, look out for the ingredient "Sodium Tripolyphosphate."

  1. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

You'll definitely want to pay attention to SLS and SLES, because they’re everywhere! These sneaky little surfactants are found in a ton of different cleaning products, and they're used to help remove oil and dirt from surfaces while also creating that foamy lather that we all love.

You can find SLS and SLES in dish soap, liquid laundry detergents, cleaning towelettes, and even toilet bowl cleaners. However, these ingredients aren't just harmful to dirt and grime - studies have shown that they can also be toxic to aquatic life. While there isn't a ton of data on their effects on humans, some studies have suggested that high concentrations of these ingredients can cause skin and eye irritation.

One big issue with SLES is that it can be contaminated with ethylene oxide (which is a known carcinogen) and 1,4-dioxane (which is a "possible" carcinogen). Yikes! Unfortunately, this information isn't typically listed on the bottle, so it's best to avoid these ingredients altogether.

If you want to spot SLS and SLES on a label, keep an eye out for names like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium salt, ammonium laureth sulfate, sodium n-dodecyl sulfate, dodecyl sulfate, and sodium dodecyl sulfate. Stay safe out there!


  1. Triclosan

Triclosan is a major no-no when it comes to toxic ingredients in cleaning and skincare products. It's used as a preservative and odor masker, but it's actually one of the worst cleaning products out there. You can find it in disinfectants, dish soaps, antiperspirants, hand sanitizers, laundry detergents, facial tissues, and even toothpaste!

But don't worry, there are plenty of amazing eco-friendly products out there that are free from triclosan. Check out zero waste toothpaste, zero waste deodorant, all-natural hand sanitizers, DIY disinfectant wipes, and the best eco-friendly laundry detergent for some great options.

When it comes to health risks, triclosan is a suspected endocrine disruptor that can interfere with hormone function. Plus, its use as an antimicrobial agent can contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, limiting treatment options for infections. The European Union also classifies it as an irritant to the skin and eyes, and it's not great for aquatic life either. Studies have shown it can be very toxic and contribute to the formation of dioxins, which accumulate in the environment.

To spot triclosan on a label, look for the abbreviations TSC or TCC.

  1. Sodium Hydroxide

Did you know that sodium hydroxide is one of the harmful cleaning ingredients you should avoid? Some people confuse it with salt - it is most definitely more harmful than salt!!  It's a white solid that dissolves in water to create a really strong alkaline solution. Sodium hydroxide is used in a lot of products, including soaps, paper, dyes, and even explosives! In fact, combining it with chlorine creates bleach.

Some cleaning products that contain sodium hydroxide include disinfectants, toilet bowl cleaners, oven cleaners, drain openers, and bathroom cleaners.

However, sodium hydroxide can be really harmful to humans if we're exposed to it. It can burn our eyes, skin, and lungs, and long-term exposure can lead to chronic health issues. 

To spot sodium hydroxide on a label, look for the words "caustic soda," "lye," or "sodium hydroxide." Stay safe and avoid products that contain it!

  1. Silica Powder

Silica powder is basically a gritty ingredient that's made from sand or quartz. It can be found in two forms: crystalline and noncrystalline. You might come across it in abrasive cleaning powders.

Inhaling this stuff can be dangerous. In fact, it's classified as a known human carcinogen. If you're looking for it on a label, you might see the term "Sodium Silicate".

  1. Ammonia

Have you ever used a cleaning product that smells super strong and makes your eyes water? That's probably because it contains ammonia, a colourless gas made up of nitrogen and oxygen. You can find ammonia in all kinds of cleaners like all-purpose, window, and bathroom cleaners, as well as car polish. Ammonia can irritate your lungs, throat, eyes, and skin, especially if you have asthma or other respiratory issues. Some studies have even suggested that it can cause damage to your kidneys and liver. If you mix ammonia with products that contain chlorine bleach, you could create a dangerous gas called chloramine - chlorine bleach can be found in cleaning products so you need to be so careful when mixing these toxic products! 

The Bottom Line

We are exposed to toxic chemicals, whether we try our best to avoid them or not. If we go into any public space that has been deep cleaned, there is likely to be toxic-residue from the cleaning products. Therefore, we will ALL have been impacted by these chemicals. This is why I am constantly talking about how important it is to do the 21 Day Reset, if you haven’t already done so. My recommendation is to do this once a year, and a 7 day reset every 3 months after. 

If you haven’t made the switch to natural cleaning products, I hope this post has convinced you to do so! 

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