Under the Sink

“Will penetrate skin and attack underlying tissues and bone.”
“Known to the state of California to cause cancer.”
“Suspected of damaging the unborn child.”

Care to guess where these words appear? On the websites and technical disclosures of everyday household cleaners.

Environmental Working Group is preparing to release its first Cleaners Database in fall 2012. I rely on EWG’s Skin Deep database to determine which personal care products are safest for my family, and I can’t wait to see what EWG reveals about household cleaners.

Here’s a sneak preview, the EWG Cleaners Database Hall of Shame. The information will make your stomach sink, but the knowledge will make your family safer.

Among the worst offenders:

Clorox, Easy-Off, and Formula 409 spray cleaners: Fill the air with asthmagens, meaning ingredients that cause asthma.

Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner: Allegedly “green,” but contains 2-butoxyethanol, a solvent absorbed through the skin that damages red blood cells and irritates eyes.

Comet Disinfectant Cleanser Powder
: Emits 146 different chemicals, including formaldehyde, benzene, chloroform, and toluene, which are not listed on the label.

Whink Rust Stain Remover
: “Will penetrate skin and attack underlying tissues and bone.”

Scrubbing Bubbles – Antibacterial Bathroom Cleaner & Extend-A-Clean Mega Shower Foamer: Contain up to 10% DEGBE, banned in the EU at concentrations above 3%. Can irritate and inflame the lungs.

Target’s Up & Up
: Toilet bowl cleaner and glass and surface wipes do not list any ingredients on their packaging.

Glade air freshener: Fatal if concentrations are inhaled.

Ajax, Dynamo, and Fab Ultra liquid laundry detergents
: Contain formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen.

Static Guard: Contains DTDMAC, so persistent in the environment that it can’t be used as a cleaning ingredient in the EU.

Read more about these and other cleaning products, and how to avoid them, here.

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4 Responses to Under the Sink

  1. Alex July 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    We just noticed that Target has started carrying Bon Ami, which I find works great in situations where you need a scrub cleaner that’s a little soapier than baking soda. For a long time I could only find it at certain grocery stores, so it’s nice to see it at Target.

    • elizabethmonaghan July 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

      Alex, we use Bon Ami, too. It’s a great substitute for Comet. Good Guide gives it 10 out of 10 for health, stating, “This product has no ingredients that raise a health concern.”

      • Margaret Culbert September 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

        What do you know about Zum Clean. It came up on the Web when I was researching “wild” soaps, which were recommended for cleaning ceder soaking tubs. We plan to use our tub in the woods and empty it after every use so I want a soap that is environmentally friendly, yet can clean the tub when we are finished using it. Any ideas?

        • elizabethmonaghan September 17, 2012 at 1:27 pm #


          Several Zum Clean soaps were evaluated by Environmental Working Group and they didn’t score well (click here to see). It might be a matter of not fully disclosing their ingredients, but there’s also concern about the health effects of sodium borate, which seems to be present in several of their products. I’m not completely familiar with cedar tubs, but I would try diluting Dr. Bronner’s unscented liquid soap (it’s biodegradable and vegetable based). For a gentle scrub, mix a paste of baking soda and liquid soap. Both are safe for the environment and safe for you. Let me know how they work, and enjoy your tub!


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