Published: January 12, 2024
Bottles of toxic chemicals in cleaning products with warning signs on white background

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The average American household contains up to 62 toxic chemicals, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group. Cleaning supplies are often necessary to rid your home of dirt, dust, and grime.

However, there are many chemicals in cleaning products. Some of the toxic chemicals in cleaning products can cause cancer, reproductive issues, respiratory and neurological problems. Others may be harmful to the environment. 

In fact, a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that more than 60 percent of U.S. households use at least one product containing toxic chemicals.

In an effort to help you avoid these risks, we’ve compiled a list of 16 of the most toxic chemicals in cleaning products. Read on to learn more about them and find out how to protect yourself and your family.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Chemicals in Cleaning Products: Dive into the composition of common household cleaners to identify potential risks.

  2. Toxic Chemicals in Cleaning Products: Uncover the hidden dangers of certain chemicals present in everyday cleaning items.

  3. What Chemicals Are Used in Cleaning Products: Gain insights into the specific chemicals used, empowering you to make informed choices for a safer home.

  4. Are Household Cleaners Toxic: Explore the potential toxicity of household cleaners and discover alternatives for a healthier living space.

Take a look at a video about the toxic chemicals in cleaning products:

What Chemicals Are Used in Cleaning Products?

list of toxic chemicals in cleaning products


1. Bleach

Bleach is one of the most toxic chemicals in cleaning products  that is highly corrosive substance that can cause severe skin burns, respiratory problems, and eye damage.

There are many toxic chemicals in cleaning products on the market. One of the most dangerous is bleach. Bleach is a corrosive, poisonous gas that can cause serious injury or death if inhaled. It can also cause skin irritation, burns, and blindness.

Bleach is a popular household cleaner, found in many cleaning products.  Bleach is often used to clean toilets and other bathroom surfaces. It is also used to disinfect kitchen counters and tables.

It is a corrosive agent that can cause severe damage to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. Inhalation of bleach can cause coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Prolonged exposure may lead to pulmonary edema, a build-up of fluid in the lungs. Bleach is also a reproductive toxin and can cause birth defects.

This study indicated:

“The majority of people exposed to bleach do recover without residual sequelae. However, those with preexisting lung disease may suffer from lung impairment if the fumes are inhaled.

The skin irritation is usually relieved quickly as long as the site is thoroughly irrigated with water. In patients with reactive airway disease, coughing and sloughing of the mucosa may persist for a few days.

Long-term follow up reveals that some of these patients may have residual lung and vision impairment for up to 2 to 3 years after the acute exposure.”

However, there are many safer and equally effective alternatives to bleach. Baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice are all great alternatives for disinfecting and cleaning.


2. Ammonia 

Ammonia (NH3) is a colorless gas with a pungent, suffocating odor. It is composed of nitrogen and hydrogen and is used in a variety of industrial processes. In the home, ammonia is used as a household cleaner.

When ammonia comes in contact with water, it forms ammonium hydroxide, a caustic and poisonous liquid. Ammonium hydroxide can cause severe skin burns and permanent blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.

Here is a fact sheet about ammonia:

“A person exposed to harmful amounts of ammonia will notice it immediately because of the strong, unpleasant smell; strong taste; and likely irritation to the skin, eyes, nose and throat.”


3. Chlorine

Chlorine is another one of the toxic chemicals in cleaning products. It is a powerful disinfectant that can kill bacteria and other organisms. It is the same chemical that is also used to disinfect swimming pools.

However, chlorine can also be harmful to humans if it is inhaled or comes into contact with the skin. Remember how your eyes and skin become irritated after a swim in the pool.

According to the CDC:

“Exposure to low levels of chlorine can result in nose, throat, and eye irritation. At higher levels, breathing chlorine gas may result in changes in breathing rate and coughing, and damage to the lungs. Additional symptoms of exposure to chlorine can be severe.”

Sodium hydroxide

4. Sodium Hydroxide 

Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is a strong alkaline cleaning agent that is used in many industrial and commercial applications. It is a white solid that is soluble in water, and it has a wide range of applications in the food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries. 

Sodium hydroxide is also used as a drain cleaner and a metal degreaser. Sodium hydroxide is one of the most common toxic chemicals in cleaning products. It is a corrosive substance that can cause severe burns and respiratory problems. Sodium hydroxide is also a skin and eye irritant.

Here is a fact sheet: 

“Sodium hydroxide can cause serious burns. If it gets in the eyes it can cause blindness. While sodium hydroxide does not vaporize, if sodium hydroxide dust or powder is inhaled it can cause severe lung damage.”


5. Phthalates

Phthalates are another group of toxic chemicals in cleaning products. Phthalates have been linked to a variety of health problems, and there is some evidence that they may be toxic.

Despite this, phthalates are still widely used in many products, including cleaning supplies. Some cleaning supplies even contain high levels of phthalates. This is alarming, given the potential health risks associated with these chemicals.

People should be aware of the dangers posed by phthalates, and should take steps to avoid products that contain them.

According to Institute of Health:

“In animals, phthalate exposure has been linked to many reproductive health and developmental problems. To reduce your exposure, read product labels and avoid using products that contain phthalates.”

6. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Perchloroethylene (PERC) is a toxic solvent used in dry-cleaning and other industrial processes. Exposure to high levels of PERC can cause dizziness, confusion, headache, and nausea. It can also damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. PERC is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Despite these dangers, PERC is still widely used in dry-cleaning and other industrial processes. Many products that contain PERC are not labeled as such, so it is important to be aware of the dangers of this toxic chemical.

PERC is often used to clean carpets and furniture. It is also found in dry-cleaning fluids. Products that contain PERC should be avoided. If you are unsure whether a product contains PERC, read the label or contact the manufacturer.

This article showed:

“PERC is a reproductive toxicant, neurotoxicant, potential human carcinogen, and a persistent environmental pollutant.”


7. Triclosan 

Triclosan is another one of the toxic chemicals in cleaning products. It is an endocrine disruptor, which means it interferes with the body’s natural hormonal balance. This can lead to problems such as infertility, cancer, and developmental delays.

Triclosan has been linked to a number of health problems, and yet it is still allowed to be used in many cleaning products. It’s time to start demanding that these products be free of this harmful ingredient.

This article concluded that:

“Triclosan is a synthetic (man-made) antimicrobial chemical designed to kill germs. Yet it doesn’t kill viruses, which are the causes of colds and the flu. Exposure to triclosan has been associated with some serious health concerns: It’s been linked to hormone disruption and increased risk of breast cancer.”

8. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”

Quaternary ammonium compounds, or QUATS, are a family of toxic chemicals in cleaning products. They are used as disinfectants and germicides, but they are also known to be respiratory irritants and skin sensitizers.

QUATS are often disguised on product labels under innocuous-sounding names like “ammonium lauryl sulfate” or “ammonium laureth sulfate.” However, these chemicals can cause serious health problems if they are inhaled or come into contact with skin.

This study demonstrated:

“Our expanded review of the literature identified a total of 37 cases of asthma linked to quats exposure; of those, in 29 cases the diagnosis was confirmed via a SIC test. These cases were reported in a variety of locations across the US and several European countries, and spanned a period of over 20 years.”


9. Butyl cellosolve/ 2-Butoxyethanol

Butyl cellosolve, also known as 2-butoxyethanol (2BE), is a toxic chemicals in cleaning products. It is toxic and can cause a variety of health problems, including skin irritation, respiratory problems, and damage to the liver and kidneys.

Despite the risks, 2BE is still widely used in products such as window cleaners, degreasers, and car wash detergents. Manufacturers often do not disclose the presence of 2BE on product labels, so it is important to be aware of the dangers and avoid using any products that contain this solvent.

Here is more information from the CDC:

“Some information on harmful effects also comes from case reports of people who swallowed large amounts of cleaning agents containing 2- butoxyethanol.

These harmful effects included breathing problems, low blood pressure, lowered levels of hemoglobin (the substance in the blood that carries oxygen to organs of the body), blood in the urine, and metabolic acidosis (high levels of acid in the body).

The lowered levels of hemoglobin and blood in the urine indicate effects related to hemolysis, which involves destruction of red blood cells that results in the release of hemoglobin.”

10. Galaxolide

Galaxolide is used as an “aroma fixative” in many products. This means it helps other scents last longer. It’s also been found to be toxic and potentially carcinogenic. Studies have shown that it can cause reproductive problems and damage the immune system; it has been linked to adverse effects in aquatic life.

In February of 2017, a study was published that found that galaxolide was present in high levels in six of the eight rivers tested. This study prompted the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to start investigating the use of galaxolide in consumer products.

This study concluded:

“It may interfere with hormones and other chemical signals in the body which can result in developmental, reproductive, metabolic, brain, and behavior problems. And, emerging science shows that Galaxolide may break down the body’s natural defenses against other toxic chemical exposure.”

11. Sulfates

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a detergent and surfactant found in many personal care products such as shampoo, toothpaste, and soap. It is also a common ingredient in industrial and automotive cleaners. SLS is a harsh detergent that can cause skin and eye irritation, as well as other health problems.

SLS is not only irritating to the skin and eyes, but it is also toxic. It has been linked to cancer, organ toxicity, skin irritation, and neurotoxicity. SLS is also an environmental toxin. It is toxic to aquatic life and can cause reproductive issues.

Phosphoric acid

12. Phosphoric acid

There are many toxic cleaning products on the market that contain phosphoric acid. It is often found in metal degreasers, rust removers, and toilet bowl cleaners. When these products are used, the phosphoric acid can cause skin irritations, respiratory problems, and even chemical burns. Ingestion of phosphoric acid can cause stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.

According to the EHS:

“Phosphoric acid can be very hazardous in the case of skin contact, eye contact, and ingestion. It can also cause irritation if vapors are inhaled. This chemical can cause damage to the skin, eyes, mouth, and respiratory tract.”


13. Formaldehyde 

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas that is used in a variety of industrial and commercial applications, including the production of resins, plastics, and adhesives. It is also used as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories. Formaldehyde is known to cause cancer in humans.

In recent years, formaldehyde has begun to be used in household cleaning products. These products are marketed as being “toxic-free” and “chemical-free,” but they often contain high levels of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is released when these products are used, and can cause

Inhaling formaldehyde can cause a number of adverse health effects, including coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. It can also aggravate asthma and cause other respiratory problems.

This research study investigated the following:

“The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) determined in 2011 that formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen based on sufficient human and animal inhalation studies.

Nasal and eye irritation, neurological effects, and increased risk of asthma and/or allergy have been observed in humans breathing 0.1 to 0.5 ppm. Eczema and changes in lung function have been observed at 0.6 to 1.9 ppm.

Decreased body weight, gastrointestinal ulcers, liver and kidney damage were observed in animals orally exposed to 50–100 milligrams/kilogram/day (mg/kg/day) formaldehyde.”


14. Benzene

Benzene is a known carcinogen and is often found in toxic cleaning products. It can cause cancer, leukemia, and other serious health problems. It’s often found in cleaning products, paint strippers, and solvents. It can also be released into the air by burning gasoline, wood, coal, or kerosene.

Exposure to benzene can occur through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact. Symptoms of benzene exposure include dizziness, headache, confusion, and fatigue.

According to WebMD:

“Benzene is one of the substances that the Environmental Protection Agency calls a “known human carcinogen.” That means that it causes cancer in humans.

In particular, scientists believe that high levels of benzene can cause leukemia and possibly other blood-based cancers.

Benzene interferes with the way your cells work. It might damage your immune system by changing germ-fighting antibodies and white blood cells. Or it might cause your body to make fewer red blood cells.

That can lead to something called anemia. That’s when your body doesn’t make enough red blood cells to give your body enough oxygen to work well.

Benzene can also damage nerves and cause other problems with your nervous system. Exposure to high levels of it may make ovaries smaller and cause irregular periods.”

It is important to be aware of the risks associated with benzene and to take steps to protect yourself and your family. Choose products that are free of this dangerous chemical, and read the labels carefully. 


15. Chloroform

Chloroform is one of the toxic chemicals in cleaning products. It’s a volatile organic compound (VOC) that can cause respiratory problems, liver damage, and even cancer. Chloroform is also very dangerous to the environment and can contaminate water supplies.

It’s important to be aware of the dangers of chloroform and to avoid using products that contain it. There are many safe and effective alternatives to toxic cleaning products, so there’s no need to risk your health or the environment.

According to the EPA:

“Chronic (long-term) exposure to chloroform by inhalation in humans has resulted in effects on the liver, including hepatitis and jaundice, and central nervous system effects, such as depression and irritability. Chloroform is carcinogenic in animals after oral exposure, increasing kidney and liver tumors. EPA has classified chloroform as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen.”

Fragrances and synthetic scents

16. Fragrances and synthetic scents

The average person is exposed to about 100 synthetic chemicals a day, and many of these are toxic chemicals in cleaning products. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released a report that reveals the dangers of synthetic fragrances in cleaning products.

Over the past few years, the dangers of synthetic scents have been gaining attention. While they may seem like a harmless addition to cleaning products and other household items, they can be extremely harmful to our health.

According to the EWG, synthetic fragrances can be toxic and lead to health problems such as asthma, cancer, and reproductive issues. They also can cause skin irritation, headaches, and dizziness. 

These scents are often created with phthalates, which are known to disrupt the endocrine system. They’ve been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer, reproductive issues, and allergies. What’s more, they can also be incredibly irritating to the nose and lungs.

This research concluded:

“The prevalence and types of fragranced product exposures, associated health effects, awareness of product emissions, and preferences for fragrance-free policies and environments.

Data were collected using an online survey with a nationally representative population (n = 1136) of adults in the USA. Overall, 34.7 % of the population reported health problems, such as migraine headaches and respiratory difficulties, when exposed to fragranced products.

Further, 15.1 % have lost workdays or a job due to fragranced product exposure in the workplace. Also, 20.2 % would enter a business but then leave as quickly as possible if they smell air fresheners or some fragranced product.”


Frequently Asked Questions About Toxic Chemicals In Cleaning Products 

Q: Are all cleaning products harmful?

A: Not necessarily, but some may contain toxic chemicals. It’s crucial to scrutinize labels for a safer choice.

Q: How can I identify toxic chemicals in cleaning products?

A: Check ingredient lists and research unfamiliar names. Opt for products with transparent labeling.

Q: Any natural alternatives to chemical cleaners?

A: Yes, options like vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils can be effective and eco-friendly.

Q: What are the potential health risks of using toxic cleaners?

  A: Health issues may include respiratory problems, skin irritation, and long-term exposure risks. Choosing safer alternatives is a wise move.

Related Articles:


This article discussed the dangers of using chemical-based household cleaners. It highlighted 16 toxic chemicals in cleaning products and can be harmful to your health. To protect yourself and your family, start using natural cleaning products that don’t contain these dangerous chemicals.

Please let me know, in the comments below, what are your thoughts on toxic chemicals in cleaning products?


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10. Scranton, Alexandra Gorman. “Hazardous Chemical from Scented Products Is Polluting the Great Lakes.” Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, 20 May 2022, https://saferchemicals.org/2016/04/26/hazardous-chemical-from-scented-products-is-polluting-the-great-lakes.

11. “Phosphoric Acid Safety Tips.” VelocityEHS, 13 Sept. 2021, https://www.ehs.com/2015/06/phosphoric-acid-safety-tips/.

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