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Chemicals and Pollutants in Cleaning Agents

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 8 Jul 2014 | comments*Discuss
Chemicals Pollution Cleaning Agents

We all buy cleaning products to make our home cleaner, fresher, brighter – but at what price?

Many common cleaning products contain chemicals and pollutants to make your blood go cold – literally. Check out the list below to find out which chemical culprits could be lurking under your kitchen sink.


Found in glass cleaners and a wide range of other all-purpose cleaners. Ammonia is an effective cleaner but is also a severe irritant to eyes and lungs causing breathing difficulties and chest pains, even at dilute levels. More intense exposure can lead to headaches, kidney and liver damage and burning to the nose, throat, and skin. Prolonged use can cause cataracts and even blindness. Ammonia is also dangerous when it mixes with bleach as it reacts to form poisonous chlorine gas.

Ethoxylated Nonyl Phenol (NPE)

This chemical is used as a wetting agent, dispersing agent and surfactant. Found in laundry detergents, spray cleaners and cleaning agents. Now a banned product in the EU due to the damage it does to the environment, but still common in the USA. NPE breaks down further into a more toxic form - nonylphenol (NP) - which is a hormone disrupter and found to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. The product gets into water from laundry waste and is very hard to remove.

Hydrochloric Acid

A clear liquid and extremely poisonous. Found most concentrated in drain cleaners and at varying strengths in all kinds of other cleaners. Causes skin damage, lung damage if the fumes are breathed, and deadly if swallowed.

Monoethanolamine (MEA)

A surfactant that is found in floor cleaners as well as many other all-purpose cleaners for the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. It is a chemical that’s linked to asthma and has also been associated with birth defects in animals.


Morpholine is a corrosive chemical solvent found in cleaning products such as abrasive cleaners and some furniture polishes. It can react with other chemicals such as the preservatives used in the products, to form carcinogenic ‘nitrosamines’ which is easily absorbed by the skin. Morpholine also irritates both eyes and skin and can cause damage to liver, kidneys, and lungs over time.

Paradichlorobenzene (PDCB)

This synthetic corrosive chemical is found in mothballs, de-odorises, solid toilet bowl tablets, liquid dishwasher detergents, and particularly products that remove mildew and lime. It is extremely toxic, does not easily biodegrade and has been listed as a possible carcinogenic. Breathing in fumes from PDCB can harm the lungs, and could have an adverse affect on the central nervous system. It is also irritating to the eyes and can burn the skin.

Phosphoric Acid

Phosphates have long been recognised as harmful to the environment and banned in some countries. However phosphates and phosphoric acid – a listed toxic chemical and extremely damaging to the environment - are still found regularly in cleaning products such as toilet cleaners, lime scale removers, liquid detergents, and metal cleaners.

Sodium Hydroxide

A derivative of lye, this highly corrosive substance is found in oven cleaners and other household scouring products. The toxicity of this chemical causes a wide variety of harmful effects including damage to mucus membranes and eyes, causing breathing problems if inhaled with damage to airway passages. Prolonged exposure would also cause liver the kidney damage.

Sodium Hypochlorite (Bleach)

Bleach is a common household cleaning product found in a range of items in varying strengths. However, it is also a corrosive chemical causing irritation or eyes and skin, breathing difficulties if inhaled and is particularly dangerous to anyone with a heart condition. Moreover, bleach has added dangers in that if mixed with ammonia it can produce chloramines gas, a highly toxic substance, or can combine with organic particles to form toxic compounds called organochlorines when it gets into the water.

Time To Change?

The chemicals and pollutants listed above are just a fraction of those to be found in common household cleaning products – and all are extremely harmful to our health. Perhaps now is the time for you to swap to chemical-free alternatives for a healthier home.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
We have the same problem Vivi. Our neighbours always start the day with what seems like a fully greasy fry up, then lunch is also a cooked meal followed by dinner which always seems to involve what smells like chips! That's when they're not barbequeing outside. Sadly, I do not think there are any laws about cooking smells from residential properties :-(
Nina ballerina - 8-Jul-14 @ 10:33 AM
for the past month I have a new neighbours who is renting the house attached to mine property,the cooking smell its unbearable and I cannot even open my widows .I cannot go to my lovely garden to enjoy the summer as the smell is so strong.I really do not wish to offend this family as we are a very multicultural neighbourhood.I am putting together a very polite letter to them which will be signed by us and the neighbour from the other side who is also suffering with the smell.Please can you let me know if there is anything we can do if the letter does not work?
Vivi - 7-Jul-14 @ 8:48 PM
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