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Household cleaning products are a big issue for cancer patients because there are known or suspected carcinogens in so many things, including anything antibacterial (they contain pesticides); air fresheners; all-purpose cleaners; cleaning products for the bathroom, kitchen, floors, dishes, laundry, furniture; pet stain and odor eliminators; wood and tile cleaners; stainless steel cleaners; oven and BBQ cleaners; jewelry cleaners; tarnish removers; and much more.

Unlike foods, beverages, and personal care products, cleaning products have not been required by federal law to list their ingredients on the package.  Labels usually contain instructions for use and some advertising hype, but nothing about what is in the product. Lack of a labeling requirement lowers manufacturers’ motivation to avoid risky chemicals, even those linked to cancer, since consumers do not have the information they need to choose safer products. As a result, hundreds of potentially hazardous cleaning products are for sale.  Because there has been no law against bogus claims, some of the most toxic are labeled “safe,” “non-toxic” and “green.” EWG has a Hall of Shame for toxic cleaning product that make bogus cleaims.. Some known brands in the Hall of Shame include Simple Green, Spic and Span, Mop & Glo, and Easy-Off.

Because the federal government has not adequately regulated cleaning supplies, some states have enacted their own legislation.  California’s Proposition 65 requires all products to display warning labels if they contain ingredients known to be carcinogens or reproductive or developmental toxicants at levels considered risky. Some companies that failed to comply have been required by legal settlements to remove the hazardous ingredients.

New York State has announced plans to enforce a 1976 law that requires companies selling cleaning supplies in the state to disclose their products’ chemical ingredients as well any research the company has that addresses health or environmental concerns.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have imposed restrictions or bans on cleaning supplies, including laundry and dishwasher detergents that contain phosphates. Phosphates pollute wastewater and trigger algal blooms that can be toxic to people and aquatic life, and they are expensive to remove from drinking water sources.

California has air quality laws and regulations that limit the release of smog-forming volatile organic compounds from cleaners and that ban certain polluting ingredients.

Several states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and New York, require that certified green cleaning supplies be used in state buildings or schools, and that certification be done by independent organizations according to stringent health and environmental criteria and industry performance tests.

Sometimes state regulations have motivated manufacturers to improve products they distribute nationwide. For example, after several states limited phosphorus content in dishwasher detergents in 2010, the industry changed the products they sold across the country. However, changing regulations state-by-state is not the most efficient or comprehensive way to protect American consumers’ right to know what’s in the products they buy or to make sure that the products don’t contain potentially harmful ingredients.

In order to protect ourselves from hazardous cleaning products, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends that consumers support state and federal efforts to require manufacturers to disclose all ingredients on the label. We should encourage schools, child care centers, and workplaces to use safer, certified green cleaning products.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the power to regulate household cleaning products, it began a Safer Choice labeling program in 2015 that screens cleaning products for known carcinogens and other toxins. Products must also meet standards for performance, packaging, and disclosure of ingredients.  About 2,500 products currently qualify for the Safer Choice mark.. Unfortunately, the label allows the use of fragrances, which contain toxins, but there is an optional certification for products that are fragrance free.

Eventually, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) plans to expand the EWG VERIFIED program to include household cleaners, food and other things. Meanwhile, EWG’s website has a Guide to Healthy Cleaning  that evaluates more than 2500 products..

The highest-rated products have few known or suspected hazards for health or the environment, and they have good disclosure of their ingredients. The lowest-rated products have potentially significant hazards to health or the environment, or they have poor disclosure of ingredients. EWG cautions that its ratings do not account for some factors that determine actual health risk, such as the amount of the product used or individual differences in susceptibility. If you give a small donation, EWG will send you a wallet guide that you can take with you when you go shopping.

In addition to the EPA Safer Choice program and EWG, companies generally considered trustworthy include Green Seal, UL’s Green Guard, and ECOLOGO®.  You can look for those marks when you shop, and you can search their websites for recommendations for safe products.  It’s important to understand that third-party certifications can be developed by anyone, so you should stick to well-respected and recognized third parties using standards that were created by an environmental authority.

Consumers can also try homemade recipes for cleaning products that use common ingredients like white vinegar, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, olive oil, lemon juice, and ammonia. Using recipes that you can easily find online, you can make your own nontoxic glass cleaner, furniture polish, scouring powder, drain cleaner, dish soap, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, toilet cleaner, and many more.

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