Are toxic cleaning products causing your allergies?
Anyone who suffers from allergies will know how miserable they can make you feel. Whether you suffer from respiratory problems or skin inflammation (or both), allergies can be brought on by a variety of triggers, from pollen and dust mites to certain foods and even fragrances and preservatives in cosmetics and cleaning products. You might have read our post about natural skincare – today we're looking at cleaning products you use around the home; how many of us actually know what's in that bottle of anti-bacterial spray or bathroom cleaner? We buy big-name brands such as 'Flash' and 'Cif' without a second thought, but the toxic ingredients these cleaning products contain could actually act as a trigger for your allergies.
What are the dangers?
A quick scan through the ingredients list of any cleaning product isn't very revealing for the average consumer; most of us don't have a clue what any of these chemicals are, far less what effect they can actually have on our bodies. In most cases, we don't have direct contact with cleaning chemicals such as toilet cleaner or kitchen multi-purpose spray. We're usually wearing household gloves and cleaning using a sponge or cloth, but that doesn't mean the ingredients in cleaning products can't still act as irritants.
Toxic ingredients can trigger or irritate existing respiratory problems but they can also cause allergic contact dermatitis. This is caused by contact with a substance to which you've become sensitised. Common sensitisers include plants such as Poison Ivy, nickel and lanolin, but ingredients found in cleaning products can also be 'contact allergens', so contact with the skin is not recommended.
Did you know that many popular household cleaners actually contain dangerous toxicity levels? Most are marked as hazardous to humans and animals. In fact, ingredients in many household cleaners have been linked to cancer, asthma, hormone disruption and reproductive disorders. Some products may cause an immediate reaction, such as headaches from fumes created by an oven cleaner, but chronic exposure on a daily or weekly basis could cause serious disease.
So what's in the bottle?
Found in: Air fresheners, toilet paper and washing up liquid
In fact, many fragranced household products contain phthalates. These are known to disrupt the endocrine system; in men they can significantly reduce sperm count. Exposure occurs mainly through inhalation, but phthalates can also be absorbed through the skin – for example, when washing dishes. Try using essential oils to freshen your home and give plug-in diffusers and air-fresheners a miss.
Found in: Most antibacterial soaps, detergents and sprays
Triclosan can actually promote the growth of bacteria which are resistant to drugs. It's also thought to be carcinogenic and may disrupt hormones. Try to use hand sanitisers with alcohol that are triclosan free and stick to simple, natural soaps and detergents. Tea tree oil is a natural oil with antibacterial properties.
Found in: Multi-purpose cleaners and window cleaning products
If inhaled, 2-butoxyethanol can cause a sore throat. High levels of exposure, such as cleaning in an unventilated room, can lead to severe kidney and liver damage – it can also contribute to pulmonary oedema. Skip the window cleaner and use diluted vinegar and newspapers to clean windows and mirrors. You can make your own DIY cleaner using natural ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda and essential oils for fragrance.
Found in: Glass cleaners, window cleaners and many jewellery cleaners
Ammonia is a powerful irritant and anyone with asthma or other breathing problems will be affected by it. Those who are regularly exposed to it, such as cleaners, can develop asthma and bronchitis. It may sound strange but why not try cleaning metal and mirrored surfaces with vodka for a reflective shine? Toothpaste is a great way to polish silver without need for ammonia.
Found in: Toilet cleaners, scouring agents, laundry whiteners and many mildew removers (as well as tap water)
We are exposed to chlorine whenever we take a bath or shower and at high levels it can be a respiratory irritant. Over time it can disrupt the function of the thyroid so it's best to avoid household products containing it. Baking soda and vinegar are great cleaning substitutes.
Multiple chemical sensitivity
Sensitivity to chemicals isn't as rare as you might think. Toxic chemicals in household cleaning products can cause red, swollen eyes, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and skin rashes. Those affected are described as suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity and may be unable to work or be exposed to conventional products such as cleaning sprays, air-fresheners and even deodorant and mouthwash.
If you've recently been affected by skin rashes or respiratory problems, did you ever stop to think that what's in your household products could be to blame? Cutting out chemicals from your personal care and household cleaning routine could help prevent allergies from occurring.