Editorial Feature

Environmentally Dangerous Chemicals in Cleaning Products

As environmentally friendly green cleaning becomes more popular, knowing what cleaning product ingredients to avoid becomes as important as what brands and tools to use.

Product Ingredients to Avoid

Butyl Cellosolve

Butyl Cellosolve is commonly found in all-purpose cleaners, cleaning wipes, degreasers, floor polish, carpet shampoo, toilet, bath and tile cleaners plus some window cleaners. It can cause irritation and tissue damage by inhalation and it is easy to exceed safe exposure limits. A person who spends 15 minutes cleaning a small bathroom may inhale three times the acute exposure dose of butyl cellosolve.

Butyl cellosolve is also known as butyl glycol and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE).


Aside from its use in home swimming pools, chlorine in domestic situations tends to come from bleach, dishwashing detergent, laundry soaps and powders, plus some cleaning gels. Chlorinated dishwasher soap poisons over one million children in the USA every year. Even the steam from a dishwasher contains chlorine fumes.

It may not be easy to identify whether chlorine is an ingredient in cleaning products, as it is sometimes listed as sodium hypochlorite and hypochlorite.

Ethylene Glycol

Ethylene glycol is an odourless, colorless, syrupy, sweet tasting liquid that is highly toxic. It is commonly found in the garage as motor vehicle antifreeze but is also found inside the house in window and glass cleaners, spot removers, silver polish and jewellery polish.

Ethylene glycol can be released into the atmosphere through liquid sprays. Breathing in ethylene glycol can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract.

EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid)

EDTA is used as a water softener in detergents. It is also used to stabilize cosmetics, as a preservative in pre-packaged foods and in soft drinks to stop the formation of the carcinogen benzene. EDTA can cause reproductive and developmental defects.

When used in prescription medicine, EDTA is safe. However, it can cause abdominal cramps, vomiting, and headaches.


Formaldehyde is used in some disinfectants as it kills most bacteria, fungi and fungi spores. Other uses are as an embalmer, in plug in air fresheners and in building materials where it ends up contributing to poor indoor air quality. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and has caused cancer in laboratory animal tests. However, whether exposure to formaldehyde in small amounts causes cancer is not yet known.

Hydrochloric Acid

Varying strengths of hydrochloric acid is used in a range of household cleaners, including indoor and outdoor tile cleaners and bathroom and toilet cleaners. Depending on the strength, hydrochloric acid can cause severe skin damage, respiratory distress by breathing fumes, or death if swallowed.

NPE (Nonylphenol Ethoxylate)

NPE is found in spray cleaners, degreasers, carpet stain removers and laundry detergents. It may disrupt the proper function of body hormones.

NTA (Nitrilotriacetic Acid)

NTA is a harmful replacement for phosphates and can be found in some powdered laundry soap. Although NTA is easily biodegradable and is almost completely removed during wastewater treatment, it is a carcinogen.


Phosphates are an environmental hazard that promotes weed and algae to grow in lakes and rivers. Phosphates are found in soaps, gels and washing powders.


Silica is an abrasive included in some cleaning products. Superfine, dry silica may cause some cancers if inhaled over extended periods of time.

Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide inhalation irritates the respiratory tract while direct contact can cause severe damage to the eyes, skin, mouth and throat. Exposure can also cause liver and kidney damage. Sodium hydroxide is found in dishwashing liquids, laundry products, scourers, oven cleaners and bathroom cleaners.

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on 23rd May, 2019.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this article?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.