Report Exposes Cleaning Products’ “Dirty Secrets”

Lab tests revealed 20 cleaning products contained ingredients not listed on the label.

by Dani Yokhna
Cleaning kitchen counter
Courtesy Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock
The products you use to clean your farmhouse could endanger your health.

Studies from the past decade have found that farm women are at higher risk for breast cancer due to their exposure to pesticides on the farm; however, what’s inside their homes could be causing them harm, as well.

A report released by Women’s Voices for the Earth, an organization working to eliminate toxic chemicals that endanger women’s health, found that 20 commonly used cleaning products from leading companies (Clorox, Proctor & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, SC Johnson & Son, Sunshine Makers) contain chemicals that have detrimental health effects on women. What’s more, the report claims that all of these ingredients were left off the label, including those marketed as “green.”

“Right now, it’s fairly difficult [to know if a household product is safe], as there are few regulations on the marketing of cleaning products and their ‘green’ or ‘healthy’ claims,” says Alexandra Scranton, WVE’s director of science and research.

Analytical Sciences, an independent laboratory located in Petaluma, Calif., found the following ingredients in the product tests: 

These chemicals, linked to problems in reproductive and neurological development, were found in products, such as SC Johnson’s Glade, in which the companies claimed to have discontinued their use. However, the report admits that the presence of these chemicals in the products they tested might be due to contamination, not intentional use.

This ingredient, found in Pine-Sol and Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner, can cause pregnancy complications, birth defects, and developmental delays in children.

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Found in two products marketed as “green” (Tide Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent and Simple Green Naturals Multi-Surface Care), 1,4-dioxane is linked to breast-cancer risk.

A carcinogen found in Clorox Clean-Up with Bleach, chloroform has been shown to cause breast cancer.

Carbon Tetrachloride
In addition to being a carcinogen, this chemical is linked to nervous-system problems, such as dizziness, nausea and headaches.

This synthetic musk found in Febreze Air Effects and Glade Touch Odor Solutions with Oust Air Sanitizer causes hormone disruption. It also breaks down slowly in the environment.

Chemicals, including limonene, DL-Citronellol, Linalool and Eugenol, were found in 19 of the 20 tested products

(For a complete list of the products WVE tested and the chemicals found, click here.) 

In response to companies’ lack of complete disclosure about the ingredients in their products, Rep. Steve Israel of New York introduced the Cleaning Products Right to Know Act to Congress in November 2011. The bill is facing resistance from the American Cleaning Institute, representing the cleaning-products industry, which doesn’t believe the law is necessary.

“The safety of cleaning products is the top priority of makers and suppliers of cleaning products,” says Ernie Rosenberg, ACI president and CEO, citing the Consumer Product Ingredient Communication Initiative, launched by the cleaning-product industry in 2010, to provide consumers with detailed information about ingredient products.

Sunshine Makers, makers of Simple Green products and the only company listed in the report that agreed to comment for this article, admits they do not include all ingredients on the label, as they are not mandated to do so by law. According to Carol Chapin, the company’s vice president for research and development, Sunshine Makers also does not “purposefully manufacture our products  with any of the chemicals [WVE] allegedly found in our products.” The only exception, she says, is the allergen limonene, which she says is needed to produce the products’ citrus smell.

Whether or not the Right to Know bill passed into law, farm women can alter their consumer practices to control the substances they and their families come in contact with on a daily basis:

1. Research cleaners before buying.
Call manufacturers and visit company websites to find out what ingredients are in the cleaners you use regularly in your farmhouse. The online resource has a database of products rated for safety based on known ingredients. However, Scranton warns any undisclosed ingredients wouldn’t be reflected in the Good Guide ratings.

2. Make cleaners yourself. 
If your pantry is stocked with baking soda and vinegar, you’re on your way to making a number of cleaning products yourself. Visit the WVE website for recipes.

3. Host a green-cleaning party.
“You save money by buying ingredients in bulk,” says Scranton, so gather a group of your favorite farm women and mix recipes for cleaning products together.

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