Cleaning product labels

Reading labels is important for living a toxin free lifestyle. I would like to discuss cleaning product labels today so that we can hopefully have a better idea of what is actually in a cleaning product. I thought it would be a good topic as I find it confusing and difficult to understand at times.

Reading cleaning product labels

When reading labels the ingredients go from the highest concentration and the top of the label or the beginning of the label to the lowest concentration found the end of label.

Active ingredient

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines an active ingredient as any component of a product that has an effect on the diagnosis, cure, treatment. An active ingredient could be a pharmaceutical drug or pesticide that is biologically active. In medicine, you may hear about the API or active pharmaceutical ingredients.

When we talk about active ingredients in cleaning products we are usually referring to  antimicrobial which was designed to kill bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately, many of these active ingredients or harmful to our health. For example the pesticide triclosan aan increase antibiotic resistance. There  is also  environmental concerns.


Anti-means against so antibacterial would means fights bacteria. This may sound like good thing but as mentioned above, these ingredients are harmful to our health. Anti-Bacterial hand sanitizers containing triclosan have been banned, unfortunately this ingredient can be found in our personal care products.

essential oils for sensitive skin


Biodegradable ingredients break down in the environment. This could be in a landfill or water treatment facility. Some products contain nonylphenol ethoxylates.

According to Safer Chemicals,

“NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) break down in the environment into nonylphenol (NP), one of the most notorious examples of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (PBTs). Widely recognized for extreme aquatic toxicity to fish and wildlife, NPEs and NP may also threaten the health of the developing fetus and young children. Despite being phased out of laundry detergents, widespread use in other consumer products routinely releases NPEs into our homes and the environment.” Unfortunately, NPEs are rarely listed as an ingredient on a product label.

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Bleach can be irritating to both the lung and the eyes.

Never mix cleaners containing chlorine bleach with products containing vinegar, acidic chemicals, ammonia or oxygen bleach. They can generate dangerous chlorine and chloramine fumes.

Is a product that can be  ignited and burns quickly.

Corrosive can cause chemical burns  and irritate the skin, eyes or lungs.

Enzymes are proteins that help break down and remove soils and stains. Most consumer laundry detergents contain enzymes to help remove stains, increase whiteness, eliminate fabric pills, and prevent resoiling.

According to Science Direct these enzymes can cause respiratory irritation. The article does mention that most if these enzymes are considered safe.

According to EWG,

“boric acid, a chemical toxic to the reproductive system, is often added to stabilize enzymes in cleaning supplies.”

Essential oils
Essential oils are plant extracts. Is you are making your own products start at a lower concentration. Any ingredient can cause allergic reactions.


Many cleaning products contain synthetic fragrances. They have both short and long term health effects.

According to Scientific American,

“Among them are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety. ”

According to EWG,

“This term often refers to the non-pesticide ingredients in antibacterial cleaning supplies. There is no requirement to list them on the product label,  only pesticides must be listed.”


“In some cases these ingredients are irritating to the skin and respiratory system or can cause long-term adverse health effects such as neurological damage”.

Irritant is exactly that, it may irritate the skin and ot lungs. Test new products in small amounts, use gloves and keep windows open to limit exposure whenever possible.

On a cleaning product, the word “natural” can mean anything or nothing at all – there is no regulation of the word’s use. Some manufacturers use the term to mean that some or all of the ingredients come from plants or minerals rather than petroleum, but they rarely disclose how much or little of those ingredients is present. The term “natural” can mislead consumers to think that a product is safer or more environmentally friendly than it actually is. Take this claim with a grain of salt, and look for a full ingredient list on EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. “Natural” is not the same as “organic.”


Non toxic would imply that the ingredient is safe but there is no regulation of this term and just about any ingredient can cause an allergic reaction o some side effect. We try to choose those ingredients that are safer.

Optical brightener
We talked about optical brightener in this post.  They make the clothes look brighter. Opical brighteners stay on the clothes and can be irritating to the skin. They are also harmful to the environment.


According to EWG,

“Organic implies that ingredients are from plants grown without use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but only products bearing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Certified Organic” logo are legally bound to comply with that claim.” Some manufacturers mislead consumers as petroleum-based ingredients can fall in this category, so organic is not necessarily safe.

A pesticide are added to cleaners to kill bacteria, viruses or fungi.

Phosphate ingredient can trigger harmful algae blooms when wastewater is discharged into rivers, lakes and the ocean. Many states have banned phosphate but they can still be found.

A sensitizing ingredient can cause an allergic reaction such as hives and or an asthma attack.

cleaning product labelsSolvent

 A solvent helps keep other ingredients mixed in a solution. They are dangerous because they may emit VOC’s and some are flammable.

According to OSHA,

 Health hazards associated with solvent exposure include toxicity to the nervous system, reproductive damage, liver and kidney damage, respiratory impairment, cancer, and dermatitis. “

Solvents are used in degreasing, in dry cleaning and in the manufacture of many items including paints, varnishes, paint removers, plastics, adhesives, textiles, impregnation agents, floor polishes, and waxes. Solvents can be organic, meaning the solvent contains carbon as part of its makeup, or inorganic, meaning the solvent does not contain carbon.  There are different types of solvents. Oxygenated solvents include alcohols, glycol ethers, and ketones. Hydrocarbon solvents include  benzene, petroleum ether, and turpentine. Lastly, halogenated solvents include chlorobenzene, dichloromethane, and trichloroethylene.

Surfactants is a substance that tends to reduce the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved. They help loosen dirt from surfaces so that they can be washed away. I did a post on laundry detergent here.

Volatile organic compounds

Theses ingredients may be used to help scent a product. They can cause headaches and organ damage. I did a post on synthetic fragrances which contain volatile organic compounds.

Poison control  

I hope these terms help you read cleaning product labels.

Summary of cleaning product labels

Use gloves, masks and open windows if you feel the need to use these products.

Cleaning. Consider cleaning with basic kitchen supplies such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon.

Young Living has a cleaning line which I love. These products are effective, safe and smell nice.

Do you have any thoughts on cleaning product labels?

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