The Worst Household Cleaners for Your Health

Common cleaners contain many hazardous chemicals
Common cleaners contain many hazardous chemicals

Most people think of house cleaning as something that will make your living environment safer and healthier for you and your family, but according to the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) just-released "Cleaners Hall of Shame," many common products contain chemicals that can "inflict serious harm on unwary users."

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Consumers often assume that the cleaning products industry is strongly regulated by the government, but Senior Analyst Nneka Leiba tells Yahoo! Shine that this is a misconception. "Most hazardous ingredients are legal and many are unlabeled." These include toxic compounds such as formaldehyde that are banned in other countries and are known to cause or suspected of causing cancer, blindness, asthma, burns, and other afflictions. There is also little information on how the hundreds of chemicals we are exposed to react together and what their cumulative effects on the body are.

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The EWG came up with its "hall of shame" list while developing an extensive database that scientifically analyzes the chemicals in 2,000 products. "While we were researching the database, we saw glaring problems which we wanted to highlight to the public immediately," says Leiba. The full database will be published in the fall of 2012.

The EWG cites the following worst offenders:

Mop & Glo Multi-Surface Floor Cleaner contains methoxydiglycol (DEGME), a toxic chemical which is "suspected of damaging the unborn child" by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The EWG found that the DEGME levels in this product are up to 15 times higher than allowed in the European Union.

Tarn-X Tarnish Remover contains up to seven percent thiourea, which is categorized as a carcinogen by the state of California. The National Toxicology Program, an interagency governement group, says that thiourea is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."

Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner claims to be "non-toxic" but contains 2-butoxyethanol, a solvent absorbed through the skin that irritates eyes and may damage red blood cells. The EWG points out that this highly concentrated product should be diluted but is sold in a spray bottle which is can lead customers to misuse it in a hazardous way.

Target's Up & Up and Walmart's Great Value brands are what the EWG calls "mystery mixes," products whose labels offer little or no ingredient information.

There are a number of products the EWG also says to avoid. For specific information on the risks involved with each product click on the "hall of shame" list:

Whink Rust Stain Remover

Citra-Solv Cleaner and Degreaser

Spic and Span Multi-Surface and Floor Cleaner

Scrubbing Bubbles Anti-Bacterial Bathroom Cleaner and Extend-a-Clean Mega Shower Foamer

DampRid Mildew Stain Remover Plus Blocker

Easy-Off Fume Free Over Cleaner

Drano Extra Strength Kitchen Crystals Clog Remover

Walmart Great Value Heavy Duty Oven Cleaner

CVS Fume Free Oven Cleaner

Easy-Off Heavy Duty Oven Cleaner Aerosol Spray

Glad Air Freshener

Air Wick Air Freshener

Spot Shots Stain Remover

Lysol Disinfectant Power Toilet Bowl Cleaner

2000 Flushes Toilet Bowl Cleaner

X-14 Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Hagarty Liquid Jewel Clean

Ajax, Dynamo, and Fab Ultra Liquid Laundry Detergents

Static Guard

Final Touch Ultra Liquid Fabric Softener

Clorox, Fantastik, Febreze, Formula 409, Easy-Off, Lysol, Mr. Clean and Spic and Span spray cleaners

Comet Disinfectant Cleanser Powder

Lysol Neutra Air Freshmatic

Air Wick Freshmatic Compact

Febreze and Glade Automatic Air Fresheners

Until the full database comes out in the fall, which will point consumers toward the safest products, Leiba says that consumers should be stringent label readers. "The fine print warnings are revealing. If a product says it may be fatal, you probably shouldn't be using it around a young child. If it says use gloves, use gloves. If it says don't use around pets or in confined area then that is telling you something about its safety." If a product has minimal labeling, she suggests calling the company for more information.

The safest cleaning products are cheap, widely available and have been around for hundreds of years: baking soda, water, and vinegar along with some elbow grease. The EWG says these ingredients can be used to clean everything from countertops to hardwood floors to ovens. Yahoo Shine recipes for safe, homemade cleaning products can be found here.

Also on Shine:

Seven Green Cleaners That Really Work

Six Reasons to go Organic

Arsenic and Other Chemicals Found in Chicken