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Shop healthy. Avoid diseases.

Bernard-Henri Louvat
CEO & Founder of Tera. I am a serial technology entrepreneur and I occasionally write articles for our blog. Drop me a line at blouvat@hellotera.com if you feel like it!

How to Live a Non-Toxic Lifestyle: Household Cleaning

Behind the promise of a pristine home are toxic chemicals that can have a serious impact on your health.

This article is the fifth in a multi-part guide to living a non-toxic lifestyle and how the Tera app can help. Click here to start at the beginning.

In the realm of household cleaning products, the array of choices can be overwhelming, all promising a sparkling, germ-free home. However, lurking behind the allure of these products are potentially harmful ingredients that can impact your health and the environment. From harsh chemicals and synthetic fragrances to toxic fumes and persistent residues, the cleaning industry uses clever marketing gimmicks to make sure you never think about the chemicals that surround you every day.

In this next edition of our non-toxic lifestyle series, we’ll discuss some of the dangerous ingredients to avoid in household cleaning products, how these ingredients can impact our health, and recommend five brands to boycott and five brands to support. Please note the brand lists are in no particular order. For more information, consider picking up a copy of Darin Olien’s insightful book, “Fatal Conveniences,” which played a key role in shaping the content of this article.

Equipped with this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to make informed choices that prioritize the well-being of your household and the planet, aligning your cleaning routine with your commitment to a healthier, cleaner, and more sustainable living space.

Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent

stock photo of a laundry

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs): NPEs are surfactants that are used to break down dirt and grease. They’re persistent in the environment and can bioaccumulate in aquatic organisms. NPEs can break down in the environment into nonylphenol (NP), which is a hormone disruptor. NP can mimic estrogen, potentially leading to hormone imbalances.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES): SLS and SLES are surfactants that are used to create foam and remove dirt and grease. SLS and SLES can irritate the skin and eyes, especially in people with sensitive skin. They can also damage DNA. When SLES goes through a process called ethoxylation, there’s a potential for contamination with 1,4-dioxane, a possible carcinogen.

Phosphates: Phosphates are water softeners that are used to improve the cleaning power of laundry detergent. Phosphates can pollute waterways and contribute to algae blooms. Algae blooms can deplete the oxygen in the water and kill fish and other aquatic life.

Dyes: Dyes are used to color laundry detergent and make clothes look brighter. They are also used in other products such as cosmetics, food, and clothing. Dyes can irritate the skin and eyes. They can also pollute waterways.

Optical brighteners: Optical brighteners are chemicals that are used to make clothes look whiter. They work by absorbing ultraviolet light and emitting visible light. Optical brighteners can irritate the respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. They can also pollute waterways.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Parabens
  • Fragrance
  • 2-butoxyethanol
  • Diethanolamine

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Tide
  2. Persil
  3. All
  4. Gain
  5. Purex

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Branch Basics
  2. Nature First
  3. Simply Co.
  4. Zum
  5. Meliora

You can also make your own DIY laundry detergent using just four simple ingredients: Castile soap, washing soda, baking soda, and coarse salt! If you’d like a nice fragrance, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

Dryer Sheets

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Quaternary ammonium compounds (Quats): Quats are softening agents that make clothes feel soft and wearable right out of the dryer. However, some quats are known to trigger asthma and may be toxic to the reproductive system. Avoid distearyldimonium chloride and anything else ending in “-monium chloride”, methylisothiazolinone, glutaral, and any ingredients described as “biodegradable fabric softening agent” or “cationic surfactant”.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): VOCs are gases that can be emitted from dryer sheets when heated. Some VOCs, such as benzene, are known carcinogens. Research by Dr. Anne Steinemann at UCLA found that over 25 VOCs are released from dryers, including 9 classified as toxic or hazardous to human & environmental health.

Fragrance: Fragrance is a complex mixture of chemicals that can cause a variety of health problems, including allergies, asthma, and headaches. All fragrance is a risk because manufacturers refuse to disclose the ingredients.

Phthalates: Phthalates are added to dryer sheets to make them more flexible, adhere to clothes, and disperse the fragrance. Phthalates have been linked to a number of health problems, including reproductive toxicity, hormone disruption,asthma and allergies, and learning disabilities.

Galaxolide: Galaxolide is a synthetic musk fragrance that is used in a wide range of products. It is a long-lasting fragrance known for its clean and floral scent. Galaxolide is a persistent organic pollutant (POP), which means that it breaks down slowly in the environment and can accumulate in living organisms. It has been detected in human breast milk, adipose tissue, and blood. Galaxolide has been linked to a number of health concerns, including endocrine disruption, allergic reactions, and aquatic toxicity.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Chloroform
  • Dyes

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Snuggle
  2. Gain
  3. Bounce
  4. Downy
  5. Method

Top 5 Brands to Support

Given the nature of this product, it was difficult to find a brand that doesn’t use any toxic ingredients. Fortunately, there are many natural, DIY methods you can try at home to replace dryer sheets!

To reduce static:

  • Use wool dryer balls
  • Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle
  • Dry synthetic fabrics separately from natural fibers as synthetics tend to create more static cling

To soften your laundry:

  • Add 1/3 cup of salt or baking soda in with your detergent in the wash cycle. Both are natural water softeners.
  • Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the fabric softener container.

To scent your laundry:

  • Toss a lavender sachet into your dryer.
  • Put a few drops of your favorite essential oil on a reusable cloth or on a wool dryer ball in the dryer.

Dish Soap

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs): APEs are surfactants that are used to break down grease and grime. However, they are also persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which means that they break down slowly in the environment and can accumulate in living organisms. APEs have been linked to reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption in aquatic life.

Antibacterial agents: Antibacterial agents are used to kill bacteria on dishes and utensils. However, some antibacterial agents, such as triclosan, have been linked to health problems such as antibiotic resistance and endocrine disruption.

Phosphates: Phosphates are used as water softeners and cleaning agents in dish soap, but they can contribute to water pollution and harm aquatic ecosystems by creating algae blooms, also known as “dead zones”, which suck up much of the oxygen in the water, causing marine life to suffocate and die.

Ethanolamines (DEA, MEA, TEA): Ethanolamines are a group of chemicals that are commonly used in cleaning products. They are effective at removing dirt, grease, and grime, and they also help to create foam. However, ethanolamines have been linked to a number of health concerns, including skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, and cancer: The European Commission has banned the use of diethanolamine (DEA) in cosmetics due to concerns about cancer. However, DEA, MEA, and TEA are still widely used in dish soaps and other cleaning products in the United States.

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT): MIT is a preservative that is often used in dish soaps and other cleaning products. It is effective at killing bacteria and fungi, but it has also been linked to a number of health concerns, including skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, and neurotoxicity. In 2013, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named MIT “allergen of the year” due to concerns about the growing number of people who are allergic to it.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • SLS and SLES
  • Fragrance
  • Formaldehyde
  • Dyes
  • Cocamide DEA and Cocamidopropyl Betaine
  • Chlorine Bleach

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Dawn
  2. Ajax
  3. Gain
  4. Palmolive
  5. Biokleen

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Aspen Clean
  2. Molly’s Suds
  3. Tru Earth
  4. Truly Free
  5. Puracy

All-Purpose Cleaner

woman cleaning a kitchen counter

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Ammonia: Ammonia is a colorless gas with a pungent odor. It is a common ingredient in many cleaning products, such as all-purpose cleaners, glass cleaners, and oven cleaners. Ammonia is an effective cleaner and degreaser, but it can also cause harm, including irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system, chemical burns, poisoning if inhaled or ingested, and environmental toxicity.

Trisodium phosphate (TSP): TSP is a chemical compound that is commonly used in cleaning products as a degreaser and stain remover. It is a powerful cleaner, but it can cause dangerous side effects, such as skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, chemical burns, poisoning if ingested, and water pollution.

Sodium hypochlorite: Sodium hypochlorite is a chemical compound commonly found in bleach and other cleaning products. It is a strong oxidizing agent and disinfectant, but it is known to irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. Exposure to sodium hypochlorite can trigger asthma attacks in people with asthma, and has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, including cancer of the bladder, esophagus, and stomach.

Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether acetate (EGBEA): EGBEA is an effective solvent and degreaser, but it can also be harmful to human health and the environment. Exposure to EGBEA has been linked to sperm damage, infertility, and birth defects. EGBEA has also been tied to an increased risk of cancer, including leukemia and cancer of the liver, kidneys, and bladder, and it’s toxic to aquatic life.

Glutaraldehyde: Glutaraldehyde, also known as glutaral, is a common ingredient in many disinfectants and cleaning products. Glutaraldehyde can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system, trigger asthma attacks in people with asthma, and is a possible carcinogen in humans. Exposure to glutaraldehyde has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, including cancer of the nose, throat, and lung.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Chlorine bleach
  • Phthalates
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds (quats)
  • Triclosan
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Fragrance
  • Dyes

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Lysol
  2. Mr. Clean
  3. The Pink Stuff
  4. Fabuloso
  5. Clorox

Top 5 Brands to Support

  1. Branch Basics
  2. Meliora
  3. Common Good
  4. Guests on Earth
  5. Ecos

Mixing distilled water with white vinegar or baking soda is also a great option.

Air Freshener

air freshner being sprayed

Top 5 Ingredients to Avoid

Acetaldehyde: Acetaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is often used in air fresheners to create a pleasant scent. When inhaled, acetaldehyde can damage the lining of the nose and throat. It can also enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body, including the lungs and liver. Long-term exposure to acetaldehyde can increase the risk of developing cancer, particularly nasopharyngeal cancer, laryngeal cancer, and esophageal cancer.

1,4-Dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB): Like acetaldehyde, 1,4-DCB is a VOC that is often used in air fresheners to mask odors. 1,4-DCB is also a carcinogen and can increase the risk of cancer. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of developing cancer, particularly non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, and liver cancer.

Phthalates: Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which means that they can interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system. Exposure to phthalates has been linked to a number of health problems, including reproductive problems in men and women, such as low sperm count, infertility, and birth defects; early puberty in girls; asthma and allergies; cancer; and obesity.

Aerosol Propellants: Aerosol propellants are gases used to dispense air fresheners and other products in a spray form. Some common propellants include butane, propane, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Some of the harms include respiratory irritation, asthma, neurotoxicity, and air pollution.

Dialkyl sulfosuccinates: Dialkyl sulfosuccinates are a group of surfactants used in a variety of products, including air fresheners. It is known to cause irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory system, trigger allergic reactions in some people, and has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals.

Other ingredients to avoid:

  • Ethylene-based glycol ethers
  • Terpenes
  • Cyclodextrin
  • Sodium polyacrylate, sorbate, and borate

Top 5 Brands to Boycott

  1. Febreze
  2. Glade
  3. Renuzit
  4. Poo-Pourri
  5. Little Trees

Top 5 Brands to Support

Similar to dryer sheets, air fresheners are a difficult product to find a list of brands that only use safe, non-toxic ingredients. Luckily, there are plenty of great alternatives you can try at home to reduce smelly odors:

  • Buy an air purifier with a HEPA filter.
  • Buy a diffuser to use with essential oils.
  • Open windows and doors to ventilate the home and let in fresh air.
  • Place bowls of baking soda or vinegar around the house to absorb odors.
  • Fill a spray bottle with witch hazel, distilled water, and your favorite essential oils.
  • Simmer pots of water with herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, or orange peels, to create a pleasant scent.

5 Ways the Tera App Can Help

  1. Ingredient Analysis: Through the Tera app, individuals can scrutinize the components of their personal care products either by searching for them or scanning their barcodes. The app actively identifies and brings to the forefront any detrimental chemicals, toxins, or potentially unsafe substances within the product.
  2. Product Ratings: Tera utilizes a rating system to gauge products based on their impact on both personal health and the environment. This system enables users to swiftly gauge the overall safety of a product, with higher ratings indicating a reduced likelihood of harmful components being present.
  3. Safer Alternatives: Tera goes beyond the mere identification of problematic ingredients; it also offers recommendations for alternative products that are safer. It suggests items from ethical brands that prioritize the utilization of non-toxic and environmentally friendly ingredients. This feature simplifies the process of finding products that align with one’s preference for safety.
  4. Personalized User Profiles: Within the app, users have the capacity to craft personalized profiles. By inputting their distinct health concerns, allergies, and environmental inclinations, the app customizes its recommendations to harmonize with each user’s specific health requirements and values.
  5. Environmental Protection: The Tera app doesn’t just focus on personal health; it also delves into the environmental impact of specific ingredients and products. By highlighting the eco-friendliness of certain ingredients and offering sustainable alternatives, the app encourages users to choose products that are not only safe for themselves but also for the planet.

App Screenshots

 

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