Harmful chemicals in the home

Harmful Chemicals in the Home

Do you really know whats lurking in your cupboards?

Ask the average person about harmful chemicals in the home and probably won’t come up with much of a list. Many of us think there aren’t any and this couldn’t be further from the truth. If they aren’t directly hurting us within the home, many are most certainly causing problems further down the line in our sewers, drainage outlets and ultimately in the open environment.

Its all too easy to grab cleaning products without really looking at what you’re buying. The colour of the container, the fancy packaging, the evocative name or the celebrity endorsement you saw on TV last night will all take precedence over the actual product. The make up of it, the chemical additives, the preservative, the active ingredients. Dishwasher Tablets are one of the most caustic substances to be found in your kitchen.

Its easy to be caught up in the hype, the array of products on sale, the careful placement at the end of the aisle. But products are placed on display for no other reason than to tempt and tease you, the clever advertising making you think you really need this product; it’s all about making money, it has to be or there would be no need for shops.

But you can’t hook in sales by telling people that this product will burn you if you leave it on too long, or this one has micro-beads which will find their way into the oceans and the sea life within it; zero sales – not a good idea.

Seemingly ‘safe’ chemicals can become toxic when mixed

So now you’ve taken home those products and you might even have taken a look at the ingredients (if your eyesight is good enough to read them), and you start using them.

The problem is that whilst one chemical on its own might be acceptable in terms of benefit v harmful potential; when mixed with another you often create a toxic cocktail of far greater potential. If for example you use a toilet rim block and then use bleach for a weekly clean you run the risk of chemical reactions.

Toilet blocks are acid and bleach is made with chlorine, and when mixed the resulting chemical reaction releases chlorine gas

Exposure to Chlorine gas result in irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and damage to membranes such as skin and eyes. For anyone with breathing difficulties it can prove extremely dangerous and in high levels can even cause death!

Ridding all potentially harmful chemicals in the homes will negate the instances of these cocktails being formed.

Do you actually know what you are buying?

How many of us can honestly say that we’ve looked at the ingredients, additives, chemicals, colourings & artificial flavourings on the label.  Having read the labels, do we actually understand the information on them; it’s usually in really small print and lists ingredients we don’t recognise, with many being given fancy names to disguise what they are.

The Toxic Trio of Personal Care & Cleaning Products

The top three but by no means the only additives to look out for are Parabens, Triclosan and Phthalates but identifying them on labels is not always easy as they are often given pseudonyms.

Combine that with the fact that ingredients are usually labelled in an impossibly small font and you often don’t stand a chance. They also refer to ordinary safe ingredients by their Latin Name so that chemical names listed alongside do not stand out so much.


Parabens are a group of compounds widely used as an antifungal agent, preservative and antimicrobial. According to breast cancer charities, they are absorbed through the skin and have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumours.

Parabens are also linked to hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation.

The EU has banned five parabens from cosmetics but not the most common ones used in products – methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. However, it has restricted the amounts of these that can be used in products.

Personal care ingredients that include: “ethyl,” “butyl,” “methyl,” and “propyl” are from the paraben family even if the word “paraben” isn’t in the name.


Triclosan and triclocarban can be used as an antimicrobial in cleaning products. Its use in toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorants, cosmetics and hand soaps is restricted by the EU whilst, last year, the US banned its use in liquid soaps and bars of soap. Unilever were due to replace all triclosan in products to a safer alternative by 2017; replacing them with alternatives including natural and nature-inspired antibacterial ingredients.

Triclosan, which is classified as a pesticide, can affect the body’s hormone systems – especially thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism – and may disrupt normal breast development.

The EU classifies triclosan as irritating to the skin and eyes, and as very toxic to aquatic organisms, noting that it may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. Widespread use of triclosan may also contribute to bacterial resistance to antimicrobial agents.

Triclosan is used in many leading brands of toothpaste with best seller Colgate Total being one of them.


Phthalates are a group of hormone-disrupting chemicals that are most commonly used to make PVC soft and flexible but are also in synthetic fragrances. Fragrances are in everything from shampoo to deodorant and laundry detergent.

Phthalate exposure has been linked to early puberty in girls, a risk factor for later-life breast cancer.

Several phthalates have been banned in the EU but not all, including diethyl phthalate (DEP). Because the chemical constituents of ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ do not have to be listed on labels, one way to avoid phthalates altogether is to go for fragrance-free products or those free of synthetic fragrances.

Phthalates generally include the term “phthalate” in the name, like “diethyl phthalate.” But not always as manufacturers are not required to list the actual ingredients in fragrances!

Instead, opt for Essential Oils which are naturally fragrant botanicals many of which contain benefits in terms of well-being.

Others to look out for

Companies all too easily help us unknowingly introduce harmful chemicals in our homes by unclear labeling.  How many of us are aware that cleaning products only have to display a list of the “Main Ingredient Families” in the product. Surely that gives them carte blanche to hide all the nasty ingredients which although small in terms of % of volume are nevertheless really harmful and often on the list of potentially carcinogenic substances.

According to environmental experts the average household contains about 62 toxic chemicals! We’re exposed to them routinely — from the phthalates in synthetic fragrances to the noxious fumes in oven cleaners. Ingredients in common household products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity. It might be time to check our cupboards and throw out harmful chemicals in the home once and for all.

Apart from the previously mentioned Toxic Trio; others to look out for are: –

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

Found in more than 90% of personal care and cleaning products, often found in toothpastes it can cause mouth ulcers as it opens the gaps in the mouth’s skin cells allowing toxins or carcinogens to get in.

Another concern is its ability to interact with other chemicals to form nitrosamines which are carcinogenic, leading to issues such as kidney and respiratory damage.


A colourless, flammable gas often used in cosmetics to help protect products against contamination by bacteria during storage and continued use. The two known categories of products with the most formaldehyde are hair straightening treatments and nail hardeners.

The most common side effect of formaldehyde in cosmetics is skin irritation, including scalp burns and hair loss. But the major concern is that formaldehyde causes cancer. The National Toxicology Program’s 2011 June report classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen under conditions of high or prolonged exposure—conditions typical for industrial workers and professional groups, including embalmers and even salon workers.


Derived from petroleum or coal tar sources, toluene (you may see it on labels listed as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane, methylbenzene), is a strong solvent that can dissolve paint and paint thinner. Commonly found in nail polish, nail treatments and hair color and bleaching products, toluene is a petrochemical that can affect the respiratory system, cause nausea and irritate your skin. Expecting mothers should avoid exposure to toluene vapors as it may cause developmental damage to the fetus. If you’re still unconvinced of its harmful impacts on your health, this potent chemical has been linked to immune system toxicity.

Propylene glycol

Propylene glycol is a small organic alcohol commonly used as a skin-conditioning agent. It’s classified as a skin irritant and penetrator. Propylene glycol  concentrations as low as 2% have been associated with causing dermatitis and hives in humans.

Propylene glycol is found in moisturizers, sunscreen, makeup products, conditioners, shampoo and hair sprays.

Sunscreen chemicals

These chemicals function as a sunscreen agent, to absorb ultraviolet light. These chemicals are endocrine disruptors and easily absorbed into the body. They may also cause cellular damage and cancer in the body.

Common names are benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate and ethoxycinnmate. Often found in sunscreen products.

In short  – we’d do better to ban harmful chemicals in the homes and go for natural products




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