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Harmful Effects of Standard Cleaning Chemicals

28 Sep 2018 9:41 AM | Yanira Morales

The standard cleaning chemical is harsh to the individual. Phosphoric acid can be found in toilet bowl cleaners. Ammonia, alkyl benzene sulfonates, chlorine, and crystalline silica can be found in general cleaners. As labeled on the products containing such chemicals, all can cause irritation in the eyes, lungs, and skin upon contact. According to the American Cancer Society, benzene, which is commonly found in detergents and industrial solvents, is a carcinogen ("Benzene and Cancer Risk" 2016). Though these risks can be mitigated by proper handling, accidents can and do occur, and that is an inescapable fact of cleaning with standard cleaning products. 

What's more, many standard cleaning products contain chemicals that have the potential to reach dangerously with other chemicals with which it comes into contact. Take chlorine-based bleach, for example. Mixing ammonia and bleach together causes a volatile reaction that releases chloramines ("Dangers of Mixing..."). Exposure to these can cause irritated eyes, nausea, coughing, chest pain, wheezing, pneumonia, and more.

But the dangers of standard chemical cleaners goes beyond personal health and safety; they also negatively impact the environment. Many common cleaners contail chemicals that are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs (Chatterjee 2018). These VOCs enter the atmosphere and increase ozone levels. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia are some common chemicals found in standard cleaners and have all been labeled as VOCs by the EPA. Some of these chemicals are also slow to biodegrade, and they can all very easily end up in the environment via drainage systems or otherwise improper disposal. 

On top of pollution, some chemicals found in standard products have a more complicated effect on our ecosystems. Benzalkonium chloride, which is a synthetic disinfectant and bacteriacide, is a biologically active chemical, which means that it can negatively affect living organisms. The widespread indiscriminate use of bactericides is also now causing the emergence of new strains of bacteria that are resistant to them. The CDC also lists this chemical as being "very toxic to aquatic life" ("Benzalkonium Chloride" 2014). Phosphorus, and by extension phosphoric acid and the cleaners containing this chemical, can cause an overgrowth of algae in water sources. This has in fact proven to be a problem in cities such as Atlanta, Georgia ("Phosphorus and Water" 2018). 

By contrast, natural cleaning products serve as a viable and appealing alternative to the standard chemical products. The use of natural cleaning products improves indoor air quality, reduces energy usage, and promotes recycling. These products are less likely to be irritants or to negatively impact long-term personal health. They will also reduce the ecological footprint left behind by cleaning businesses ("Potential Benefits..." 2017). Click here to find a green cleaning business near you.

"Benzalkonium Chloride." Center for Disease Control. Jul. 1 2014.

"Benzene and Cancer Risk." The American Cancer Society. 2016.

Chatterjee, Rhitu. "Wall Paints, Perfumes, and Cleaning Agents Are Polluting Our Air." NPR, National Public Radio. Feb. 15 2018.

"Dangers of Mixing Bleach With Cleaners." Washington State Department of Health, Department of Health.

"Phosphorus and Water." USGS: Science For A Changing World, United States Geological Survey. Mar. 13 2018.

"Potential Benefits of Green Cleaning Products and Programs." New York's Green Cleaning Program, New York State. 2017.


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