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13 Most Toxic Spring Cleaning Products—and What to Buy Instead

When it comes to the products you use to clean your home daily, it's best to steer away from toxic chemicals that could pose harm to you and your family.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.

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Truce All Purpose Cleaner, Peppermint (16 Ounce - 1 Bottle)via amazon.com

Conventional all-purpose cleaners

Cleaners that are tasked with the job of cutting through sticky, stuck-on messes and grease usually contain glycol ethers, a type of petrochemicals that can enter our bloodstream by penetrating our skin (even through cleaning gloves) or through inhalation, warns Ashleigh Frager, founder of Back to Basics, a website that supports green living. “Glycol ethers have been known to cause fatigue, lethargy, nausea, and possible liver and kidney damage—and other chemicals in cleaners have been known to cause immediate acute symptoms like headaches, sneezing, eye redness, stomach pain or nausea, and skin irritation.” The Environmental Protection Agency backs Frager up, though notes that health problems result from chronic and/or exposure to high levels. To protect yourself, Frager recommends using a cleaner that’s free of glycol ethers but still works well to get rid of any stubborn messes. Try these homemade cleaners that really work.

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Arm & Hammer Baking Soda-4LB (01170) via amazon.com

Bleach

Chlorine, the main component of bleach, is a chemical in the halogen family, which also includes iodine, explains Courtney Sperlazza, MPH, epidemiologist, biostatistician, and experiential content editor at Bulletproof. “Excessive exposure to chlorine can interfere with iodine absorption in the thyroid gland, which over time can cause thyroid disease,” she says. (This was borne out in some animal studies.) For this reason, she recommends that people with known thyroid disorders and iodine deficiency be especially careful to avoid bleach. For household cleaning, she suggests using a paste of baking soda and water to handle tough jobs and adding vinegar to your laundry as a whitener. Try these 14 uses for baking soda too.

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rareEarth Peace Aromatherapy Room Mistvia amazon.com

Air fresheners

Hiding behind the ingredient name “fragrance” are a pack of toxic chemicals, including phthalates, polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds, and formaldehyde, many of which have been shown to have a potential link to cancer, birth defects, hormonal imbalances and allergies in children, suggests some research. Instead, Frager recommends a safe alternative that’s formulated with aromatherapeutic-grade essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance.

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Twist Scrub Sponges- 6 Countvia amazon.com

Magic Erasers

Anything this good at cleaning has to have some potent chemicals behind it, and in fact, may contain formaldehyde, which the National Cancer Institute considers to be a carcinogen. “The finished formula does not, but the melamine sponge is made from formaldehyde, which is not something we should encourage humans to work with or manufacture,” said Christine Dimmick, public advocate for health and wellness, author of Detox Your Home and founder of The Good Home Co. A natural solution she recommends is a natural scrubber and some baking soda. And if you do want to stick with your Magic Eraser, be sure to always wear gloves.

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Biobag, Food Waste Bags, 3 Gallon, 25 Count (Pack of 4)via amazon.com

Garbage bags

Traditional garbage bags, while not toxic to your body, can be bad for the environment. “Our garbage sits in plastic bags, decomposing in a hot landfill creating methane gas,” explains Dimmick. “Because the bag never decomposes, it acts as a perfect balloon to create the gas while our food and other trash rots.” On the other hand, Biobag Waste Bags, which are intended for food scraps, decompose in weeks, rather than decades.

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Plant Therapy Cinnamon Cassia Essential Oil. 100% Pure, Undiluted, Therapeutic Grade. 10 ml (1/3 oz).via amazon.com

Insecticides

While they might seem like an easy and hands-free approach to ridding your home of insects, most modern-day insecticides leave behind a toxic mess that’s harmful to us humans too. Even though they cannot be smelled, they can give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals which the EPA has linked to everything from eye, nose, and throat irritation and headaches to organ damage, and even cancer. Dimmick also points out that pets can eat the poisoned bug and get ill themselves. Instead, she suggests using all-natural essential oils, such as cedarwood and cinnamon, to keep bugs away. Here are 14 more natural ways to keep bugs at bay and nice ways to keep pests away.

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Therapy Premium Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish - Includes Large Microfiber Cloth, 16 fl ozvia amazon.com

Oven cleaner

When you consider a cleaner that’s meant to tackle the grease, grime, and other build-up left over from your cooked foods, the last word you’d think to describe it is toxic, however, oven cleaners are loaded with toxic chemicals so much so that the EWG warns against using many conventional brands. The highest concern of exposure to the chemicals used in most oven cleaners is cancer followed by asthma and respiratory conditions, skin irritation, and harm to the environment. You’re better off using a plant-based cleaner on your grills and appliances instead. Learn this trick to steam clean your oven instead.

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Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap - Peppermint 32oz.via amazon.com

Spray shower cleaners

Any type of shower cleaner that requires you to exit the room for the purpose of letting the spray “ventilate” is likely harmful for you as well as the environment. “They give off unhealthy fumes to anyone and can cause skin rashes,” says Dimmick. The American Lung Association backs her up, noting that a wide array of aerosol spray products, bleach, and air fresheners, pose a risk for health problems, even cancer. Instead, Dimmick suggests using vinegar and water mixed with a little Dr. Bronners All-Purpose Soap to prevent mildew, mold, and soap build up.

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AmazonBasics Microfiber Cleaning Cloth - 24-Packvia amazon.com

Cleaning wipes

Though they’re undeniably convenient, any kind of wipe that we throw into the trash after using is terrible for our environment. “They do not decompose or biodegrade and regularly block pipes and unfortunately our water treatment system,” says Dimmick. “It is actually much healthier to use a paper towel made from recycled paper or better yet—rags that you regularly wash.” Here are 22 more bathroom mistakes you never knew you were making.

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Better Life Dish Soap, Unscented, 22 Ouncesvia amazon.com

Conventional dish soap

Most dish soaps are formulated with SLS or SLES, which help create suds but may also irritate your skin. “Dish soap can also contain synthetic fragrance, artificial dyes, and biocides used as preservatives which emit toxic fumes when heated.” Since this cleaning product actually makes direct contact with skin, she warns that it can cause skin irritations like dermatitis, rashes, and dry skin. Instead of conventional dish soaps, she suggests an all-natural, hypoallergenic dish soap like Better Life Dish Soap, which still gets nice and sudsy, cuts grease and has a fresh scent without the toxic chemicals.

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Molly's Suds Wool Dryer Balls (set of 3) - Natural Fabric Softener, Reduce Drying Time, Reusable, Chemical Free, Unscentedvia amazon.com

Dryer sheets

“Dryer sheets are designed to coat your laundry with a layer of chemicals that help soften fabrics, however, these very same chemicals are not water-soluble and stick to the fabric for a long time,” says Frager. “Benzyl acetate, for example, one common chemical found in dryer sheets, is highly combustible and exposure to it can cause dizziness and drowsiness.” One study even linked the chemical to carcinogenic activity in rats. Instead, Frager suggests reusable dryer balls, which provide all of the benefits of dryer sheets without any of the drawbacks.

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Method Glass Cleaner + Surface Cleaner, Mint, 28 Ounce (Pack 8)via amazon.com

Window cleaner

The main ingredient in most conventional window or glass cleaners is ammonia hydroxide, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers a high health hazard. Instead, it’s best to use a glass cleaner that’s ammonia-free and ideally plant-based, such as Method Glass Cleaner + Surface Cleaner.

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Puracy Natural Liquid Hand Soap (4-Pack), Sulfate-Free Gel Hand Wash, Lavender & Vanilla, 12 Ouncevia amazon.com

Conventional hand soaps

If we look closely at the ingredients list in our everyday hand soaps, we’ll see a laundry list of chemicals, many of which may be harmful to our skin and body. Examples include sulfates, parabens, retinyl palmitate, and fragrance dmdm hydantoin (which is a formaldehyde releaser). “These chemicals have been shown to lead to developmental and reproductive toxicity, biochemical or cellular level changes, cancer, organ system toxicity, and more,” warns Elena Roadhouse, a wellness concierge and certified health coach from the Health Coach Institute. A better option is a natural hand soap formulated without harsh chemicals like Puracy Natural Liquid Hand Soap.

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THE HONEST COMPANY Hand Soap Foam Lavender, 8.5 FZvia amazon.com

Hand sanitizer

“Not only have sanitizers been shown to contribute to the increasing problem of antibacterial resistance, but they can weaken our immune systems as some exposure to germs is good because it allows our immune systems to build up its own resistance,” says Frager. Instead, she suggests using a non-toxic foaming wash or a pure soap. Want to cut back even more? Find out the many amazing ways you can use baking soda around your house.

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Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Jenn Sinrich
Jenn Sinrich is an experienced digital and social editor in New York City. She's written for several publications including SELF, Women's Health, Fitness, Parents, American Baby, Ladies' Home Journal and more.She covers various topics from health, fitness and food to pregnancy and parenting. In addition to writing, Jenn also volunteers with Ed2010, serving as the deputy director to Ed's Buddy System, a program that pairs recent graduates with young editors to give them a guide to the publishing industry and to navigating New York.When she's not busy writing, editing or reading, she's enjoying and discovering the city she's always dreamed of living in with her loving fiancé, Dan, and two feline friends, Janis and Jimi.