If you look in your cabinets, you’re going to find a variety of different cleaning products, each with different uses. Along the sides are lists of ingredients, usually abbreviated, so it’s difficult to tell what they are. Some of the ingredients you find may be shocking.

While there are many surprising chemicals in home cleaning products, here are five that can affect you.

1. 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE)


This ingredient can be found in window, kitchen, and multipurpose household cleaners like glass cleaners, laundry stain removers, carpet cleaners, and degreasers, and it is a colorless and flammable liquid. It is commonly used as a solvent; solvents in cleaning products work to remove dirt without requiring much scrubbing.

In Canada, this ingredient has been classified as a toxic substance, and it can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. It also has the potential to harm the kidneys. It can be listed amongst the ingredients as 2-BE, Ethylene Glycol, and Butyl Cellosolve.

2. Coal Tar Dyes

Coal tar dyes are derived from petrochemicals, and they can contain small amounts of heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic, and lead. It is present in laundry detergents, soaps, and all-purpose cleaning products.

Dyes can be absorbed from the skin or consumed from the residue left on dishes. Coal tar is a known carcinogen, and it has the potential to cause cancer. They can also build up in the environment and damage ecosystems. On cleaning supplies, it can appear in the ingredients list as P-phenylenediamine, coal tar solutions, and naphtha, to name a few.

3. Masking Agents


The smell from chemicals can be very unpleasant, which is why the cleaning industry adds pleasant fragrances to their products to cover up the smell. Unfortunately, the fragrances used to disguise the smell of cleaning products contain phthalates, which is an industrial chemical that is often used to soften PVC plastics. It is also used as a solvent in cosmetics and other products.

Phthalates can severely damage the liver, kidney, lungs, and reproductive system, as well as throw off the balance of your hormones and damage your thyroid. It can show up as parfum, DEP, DBP, Fragrance, and Phthalate on ingredients lists.

4. Sodium Hydroxide

Also known as lye and caustic soda, sodium hydroxide dissolves in water to produce a strongly alkaline solution. It is present in disinfectants, oven cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and other bathroom cleaners.

Humans exposed to this ingredient can suffer from burned eyes, skin, and lungs, as sodium hydroxide is highly corrosive. In large quantities, it can change the PH balance of water. It’s listed on cleaning products as caustic soda, lye, and sodium hydroxide.

5. Chlorine


Chlorine is found in many different cleaning products, especially bleach. It can even be found in our tap water.

While it is a well-known chemical for disinfecting, chlorine has been associated with short-term health effects like skin, eye, and airway irritation. There have also been studies that linked chlorine to long-term damage to the lungs and liver.

Chlorine also produces byproducts when combined with other chemicals. A potential effect of cleaning with products that have chlorine is it can react with other materials to produce byproducts that are known carcinogens, like chloroform and chloramines, and their presence can trigger chronic health ailments like asthma and allergies. Some of the byproducts created, like chlorine gas, can also be harmful to breathe in and damage the airways and the lungs. Chlorine is usually listed by name.

While it is disturbing that these ingredients are present in our cleaning products, there are natural cleaning products available that are safer.