ecomii - a better way
March 23, 2018  |  Login
Clues for Choosing Safe Cleaners
Quirks in labeling make it easy to clean green
By Debra Lynn Dadd

Often the biggest threats among us are the ones right under our noses …or sinks. Cleaning products contain some of the most toxic chemicals found in homes. Among children ages five and under, the second most common poison is a household cleaner (the most common is a personal care product).i While some cleaning products, such as drain cleaner, are widely known to be dangerous, even common detergents, such as those used for laundry and dishwashers can and do poison curious children.i

Toxic chemicals do more than harm health, they also pollute the environment. The manufacturing of toxic cleaners produces toxic waste that enters the environment through air and water emissions, and the same occurs when we use these products at home. When our toxic cleaners go down the drain, they flow into sewers that often dump directly into local waterways.

Toxic Cleaners Keep Secrets

Those cheerful television commercials for household cleaning products show happy families polishing furniture and wiping counter tops, but there is no warning voiceover that says, “And by the way, this product could be hazardous to your health.” 

On average, one poison exposure every 14 seconds is reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers across the United Statesi. Over half involve children under the age of 6, who cannot read the warning labels.ii 

Fortunately there is a simple fix for this: follow the instructions on the label, and KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. If children can’t reach the product, they can’t poison themselves.

It’s easy to identify the most toxic cleaning products. According to the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, administered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, cleaning products that are hazardous to health must carry warnings on the label. In general, it is best to avoid using products that say "Danger," "Poison," or "Warning," on the label. At one time, these signal words accurately indicated toxicity, but after decades of poor labeling practices, these words now only suggest a general degree of danger.

Another indicator that there are toxic chemicals in the product is that you won’t find an ingredients list on the label. Cleaning products are among the most toxic products in your home, but manufacturers are not required by law to tell you what’s in them. You can find out, however, by looking at the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the product. These are now available on most manufacturers’ websites. If not, they must provide it to you on request. Look under “Hazardous Ingredients” for toxic ingredients, and especially steer clear of cleaning products that contain lye, ammonia, petroleum distillates, phenol, nitrobenzene, or formaldehyde.

Beyond immediate poisonings, cleaning products can also cause common symptoms such as headaches, flu-like symptoms, lightheadedness and depression, which are not on the label. Neither are warnings for long-term effects that don’t show up for years, such as cancer and birth defects.

Natural Cleaning Products Tell the Truth

Even though they fall under the same labeling regulations, safe and natural cleaning products are generally labeled quite differently.

First, you probably won’t find a signal word. You may see an occasional "Caution" on the label, but this is more for legal protection than an indication of any real danger.

The most obvious difference is that most natural cleaning products list their ingredients on the label. more


 i National Safe Kids Campaign, Poisoning and




ecomii featured poll

Vote for your Favorite Charity



ecomii resources
ecomii Tips Newsletter 

Sign up today to receive a weekly tip for living greener

Get in Touch

Got suggestions? Want to write for us? See something we could improve? Let us know!