Avoiding Undisclosed Chemicals in Cleaning Products

How to Avoid Undisclosed Chemicals in the Most Common Cleaning Products

Cleaning supplies often contain undisclosed chemicals that’ve been shown to emit hundreds of air contaminants not listed on the label. Here’s how to avoid them!

*These helpful tips are sponsored by Bon Ami

Even if you're an avid label-reader like us, you can't really depend on the labeled list of ingredients you see on your favorite cleaning product for accuracy. Why? Because labeling requirements are absurdly lacking. It's not far-fetched at all to say that we have no idea what we're actually getting when we pick up a product off the store shelf, even when we go through the trouble of reading and understanding the label.

Ordinary cleaning supplies contain undisclosed chemicals linked to asthma and cancer, and have been shown to emit hundreds of other air contaminants not listed on the label. Laboratory tests done for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that cleaning products common in most households released 457 distinct chemicals into the air. SAY WHAT?! All of these toxins have an overwhelmingly negative impact on the air quality inside our homes too, so it's important to bring this hidden information to light.

We say it's high time to demand better for our families. One of the most effective ways we can do that is by voting with our dollars to create change, so choose wisely brave warriors!

Top 5 Most Common Cleaning Products with Undisclosed Chemicals


Bleach can quickly become hazardous, especially when overused in enclosed areas or when mixed with other chemicals like ammonia. The negative effects of cleaning with bleach include breathing problems, reproductive and developmental effects, and even cancer — not to mention that people with asthma or other breathing problems are even more susceptible. And what's more, dioxin is a toxic chemical released into the environment during the bleach manufacturing process that's been linked to cancer, birth defects, and developmental disorders.

You can also read about our own favorite truly effective and non-toxic bleach alternatives like lemon juice, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide.


Most scouring powders and scrubbing cleaners contain various toxic chemicals including a handful of potentially bioaccumulative aluminum, petroleum-derived ingredients, and synthetic fragrance. At least one of the ingredients we researched is classified on PesticideInfo.org as highly acutely toxic, a probable carcinogen, potential groundwater pollutant or known reproductive or developmental toxicant.

Despite a mere 6 ingredients disclosed on the label, EWG found that a particular powder cleanser emitted 146 contaminants when used as directed, including formaldehyde, benzene, chloroform and four other chemicals identified by the state of California as causing cancer or reproductive harm.

Our favorite alternative to these toxic scrubbing cleaners is Bon Ami scouring powder, and we've been recommending it for years since we discovered its non-toxic ingredients. Bon Ami powder cleanser is biodegradable and free of bleach, fragrance, and dyes. With only 5 ingredients, it contains feldspar and limestone for gentle, effective abrasiveness, and can be used in place of all scrubbing cleaners. We even use it on our glass stove tops!

Clean Made Simple with Bon Ami


As much as we love the soft clothes and pleasant smell that dryer sheets provide, this is definitely a toxic and unnecessary addition to your laundry cycle. Conventional dryer sheets contain quaternary ammonium compounds (quats) which are formaldahyde-releasing chemicals known to cause asthma. Quats coat clothing to make them feel soft, and that means the toxic substances cling to the clothing and transfer to your skin. Quats work the same on the lungs when breathed in, coating and clinging inside. And if that weren't enough, most conventional dryer sheets contain the byproduct 1,4 dioxane, a known carcinogen.

Care to go down the rabbit hole a little more? Fragrance-free dryer sheets often contain additional chemicals that mask the smell of the product by tricking your nose into thinking there isn't any. The terms fragrance-free and unscented have no legal definition, which means they're not regulated so companies that add masking ingredients to their products are not required to include them on the label. For real.


All purpose cleaners often have long ingredients lists with names you can't possibly decipher without heavy research. Greenwashing is also a huge problem in this category of products. Brands that use words like green or natural in their names implies a certain level of safety, however, during EWG's laboratory testing of a popular multi-purpose ‘green' cleaner, it was discovered that it released 93 distinct chemicals into the air, including three known carcinogens, 2-butoxyethanol, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde.


I know air fresheners don't really qualify as a cleaning product per se, but we all know the urgency to have a fresh smelling house, right? Just think about it – some air fresheners claim to actually “clean” or “scrub” the air itself!

Fragrance is the main cause of concern in this situation, and here's why: fragrance is an umbrella term that legally encompasses over 3,000 ingredients. And guess what – the combination of ingredients used to create unique fragrances is protected by the law because of propriety! Effectively, this means manufacturers could use hundreds of different fragrance ingredients in a single product if they wanted to while labeling it with one little word.

A study by NRDC found phthalates (carcinogens, endocrine disruptors), 1,4 dichlorobenzene (volatile organic compound) and formaldehyde (known carcinogen) in many conventional air fresheneners. During testing conducted by EWG, one well-known brand gave off 89 airborne contaminants including acetaldehyde, a chemical linked to cancer.

What are your favorite non-toxic household cleaning products?

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