I usually end up with a headache if I’m in a home that uses conventional cleaning products. The chemicals and fragrances used in them trigger a migraine, and it’s not pleasant. I use a lot of vinegar and water to clean, as well as a few other natural cleaning products.


Even if you don’t get headaches from conventional cleaning products, the chemicals used in them aren’t good for the environment and they aren’t good for your health – especially if you have allergies. To help out people who want to use healthier cleaners when cleaning their homes, the Environmental Working Group has released their Online Guide to Healthy Cleaning.


Choosing healthy cleaners is not easy because most cleaning products don’t have a full list of ingredients on their packaging; it’s not required by law. In researching the guide, EWG found that only 7 percent of the cleaning products they looked at adequately disclosed their ingredients.


Here are some of the other key findings in the guide.


  • Some 53 percent of cleaning products assessed by EWG contain ingredients known to harm the lungs. About 22 percent contain chemicals reported to cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy individuals.
  • Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is sometimes used as a preservative or may be released by other preservatives in cleaning products. It may form when terpenes, found in citrus and pine oil cleaners and in some essential oils used as scents, react with ozone in the air.
  • The chemical 1,4-dioxane, a suspected human carcinogen, is a common contaminant of widely-used detergent chemicals.
  • Chloroform, a suspected human carcinogen, sometimes escapes in fumes released by products containing chlorine bleach.
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds (“quats”) like benzalkonium chloride, found in antibacterial spray cleaners and fabric softeners, can cause asthma.
  • Sodium borate, also known as borax, and boric acid are added to many products as cleaning agents, enzyme stabilizers or for other functions. They can disrupt the hormone system.
  • Many leading “green” brands sell superior products, among them Green Shield Organic and Whole Foods’ Green Mission brand. But not all cleaners marketed as environmentally conscious score high. Some “green” brands, including Earth Friendly Productsbiokleen and BabyGanics, do not disclose ingredients adequately.

They also mention some products that they recommend consumers never buy because they’ve found no safe alternatives.


  • Air fresheners contain secret fragrance mixtures that can trigger allergies and
  • asthma. Open windows or use fans.
  • Antibacterial products can spur development of drug-resistant superbugs.
  • Fabric softener and dryer sheet ingredients can cause allergies or asthma and can irritate the lungs. Try a little vinegar in the rinse cycle.
  • Caustic drain cleaners and oven cleaners can burn eyes and skin. Use a drain snake or plunger in drains. Try a do-it-yourself paste of baking soda and water in the oven.

From the online guide, you can look up over 2,000 cleaning products to see how they’re rated by EWG and find safer alternatives for the products deemed dangerous.


Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

EWG releases Online Guide to Healthy Cleaning
Many household cleaning products contain toxins, including some that claim to be ‘green.’ The Environmental Working Group has an online guide that helps con