A clean house is something we can all take pride in—especially when company’s coming over later. However, in our zeal to keep the floors, walls, counters, and sinks spotless, we often overlook a potential hazard—the chemicals we use to clean up.
By their very nature, many household cleaners are caustic, but there are a few cleaning products that pose a greater hazard to your health, your home, and the environment than their marketing and labels might suggest.
Organizations such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) maintain lists of some of the worst offenders:
1: Drano Professional Strength Kitchen Crystals
Most plumbers will probably tell you to avoid using products like Drano because of the potential damage they could do to your home’s pipes.
These chemicals are inherently dangerous, as they’re typically formulated to dissolve organic matter, hair, oil, and other clog materials—contact with flesh usually results in a nasty chemical burn.
What makes Drano’s kitchen crystals product especially worrisome is their tendency to remain in the drain well after use and to react violently with water. The can has a specific warning to keep water out of it to prevent the chemicals inside from erupting or boiling out.
The potential danger of water reacting with leftover crystals in the drain was severe enough for the product to make EWG’s “Hall of Shame.”
2: Comet Disinfectant
This staple cleaner has been in American households for a long time. However, tests by EWG showed that Comet powder released chemicals that have been linked to cancer and asthmatic disorders.
Some of these chemicals, such as “formaldehyde, benzene, chloroform and toluene – are not listed on the label,” according to EWG research. Plus, the bleach in the powder can cause problems for certain kinds of plumbing pipe.
3: Ajax Liquid Laundry Detergent
Formaldehyde, or formalin, is most commonly known for its use in funeral homes; where it is used to preserve bodies. However, it is also a carcinogen known to cause asthma and allergies in humans.
The problem is that Ajax liquid laundry detergent contains formaldehyde. When you wash clothes with this product, some formaldehyde residue might transfer from the clothing to your skin. This can cause irritation and allergic reactions.
Bleach (sodium hydroxide) is a common household cleaning product and ingredient in many other products. A well-documented irritant, bleach is an alkaline (or base) with a pH over 12.
If mixed with acids, a chemical reaction known as neutralization occurs, which has byproducts of water and salt. The problem here is that salt can be highly corrosive to many different pipe materials, causing corrosion.
The use of bleach can be even more problematic for homes that have septic systems, as enough concentrated bleach can upset the pH balance in the tank—killing the bacteria the septic tank relies on to perform its function.
5: Floor Cleaners with Nonylphenol Ethoxylate
Nonylphenol Ethoxylate, commonly found in floor cleaners such as Spic and Span, is a substance that can become toxic as it breaks down. When broken down into nonylphenol, this chemical can harm the human hormone system, and is highly toxic to aquatic life.
California already has a ban on the manufacture of products with this chemical compound. So, you probably won’t find it on Sacramento store shelves.
6: Ammonia-Based Cleaners
A common ingredient of many window cleaner products, ammonia is not only a powerful irritant, it has been linked to “chronic bronchitis and asthma” in studies from ChemConscious, Inc. cited by Experience Life Magazine.
If mixed with bleach, ammonia can create poisonous fumes with immediate harmful effects.
Alternatives to Toxic Cleaners
Rather than relying on potentially harmful toxic cleaners that can cause problems for your health, home, and the environment, consider using some safer alternative cleaners:
- Baking Soda Mixtures. Baking soda can be combined with vinegar to create a safe alternative to many surface cleaners. A mixture of 2 parts baking soda to 1 part vinegar is the typical dilution for sink cleaning. Pastes using equal amounts of vinegar and baking soda are more common for cleaning ovens and other non-drain surfaces.
- Vinegar. Aside from mixing with baking soda, vinegar can be diluted in plain water or mixed with Borax and water to create a safer floor cleaner. White vinegar, mixed with water, can be used as an alternative glass/window cleaner.
- Borax. Borax, when mixed with baking soda, can be used as a mildew cleaner in the bathroom. It can also be mixed with mild liquid soap, lemon juice, and warm water to act as a cleaner for carpets and upholstery.
These and other alternative mixtures can help you get your home clean with less risk of harm to yourself, your plumbing, and the environment than many common household cleaners.
When working with any cleaners, toxic or otherwise, please be sure to wear proper protection, including gloves, goggles, or safety masks as necessary to protect your hands, eyes, and lungs from irritants.
We here at Express Sewer & Drain hope that this content helps you get your home cleaner while being safe. If you have a plumbing problem that you suspect was caused by damage to your pipes from household cleaners, please contact us right away!