Green Cleaning Guide: Top 7 Toxic Cleaners and Safer Alternatives

You may have asked yourself, “What in the world is green cleaning, and is it *really* that important?” Well, we think it really is that important, and we’re explaining the why’s and how’s for you.

You may have asked yourself, “What in the world is green cleaning, and is it *really* that important?” Well, we think it really is that important, and we're explaining the why's and how's for you.

First of all, did you know that there are no regulations governing the companies making these products? That means they aren't required to disclose all product ingredients on their labels.

As if the journey to a clean home wasn't treacherous enough, right?

One of the obstacles we face in finding safer cleaning products is the fact that many companies have resorted to greenwashing. What's greenwashing? It's really just a deceitful sales tactic used by companies who aren't at all concerned with the safety of your family or the environment whereby they craft the labeling and marketing of their toxic products so that they appear safer or greener when they're really not. Greenwashers often use words like natural, pure, and eco to create the illusion of safety to convince you to buy their products, all the while omitting the particularly toxic ingredients from the label.

Top 7 Toxic Cleaners and Safer Alternatives

Here's a high-priority list of cleaners to avoid along with the reasons to avoid them, as well our recommendations for safer alternatives that accomplish the same cleaning goals.

1) Oven cleaning solutions like Easy-Off Oven Cleaner

Oven cleaners are known for their magical ability to clean your food-caked oven, but they're some of the most toxic cleaning products on the shelf. They often contain highly corrosive ingredients such as lye and ammonia which are effective at dissolving burnt food, but what happens when they touch your skin or when you breathe them into your lungs? Imagine that same corrosion happening inside your body. Residues from the toxic chemicals cling to the oven surfaces and can actually bake into your food too. Not good.

Here are some easy and effective, toxin free oven cleaning tips from Organic Authority. Water, vinegar, salt and a slightly warm oven. That's it! And for a little more oven cleaning power, try using baking soda and vinegar in combination. Together they pack a whollup on the most stubbornly dirty, food-covered ovens.

We also love this super simple, toxin free DIY oven cleaning paste from YumUniverse too.

2) Bleach

Bleach can quickly become hazardous, especially when overused in enclosed areas or when mixed with other chemicals like ammonia. It causes eye, mouth, lung and skin irritation – not to mention that people with asthma or other breathing problems are even more susceptible. The toxic concerns of bleach include breathing problems, reproductive and developmental effects, and even cancer. Also, the toxic dioxin that is released into the environment during the bleach manufacturing process has been linked to cancer, birth defects, and developmental disorders.

Nellie's All-Natural Oxygen Brightener is a great option if you love keeping those white clothes crispy white, and Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes are the perfect alternative to their chlorine bleach counterparts.

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

3) Mildew removers like Damp Rid and Tilex

Mold and mildew removers contain bleach along with a host of toxic chemicals and very often contain fragrance – a term that manufacturers can use to legally hide over 3,000 different chemicals. Really?!

During our search for safer ways to remove mildew, we found tons of great tips from Mother Nature Network. They recommend a few drops of tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract added to water in a spray bottle. Truly natural, totally effective, and found in any health food store.

Hydrogen peroxide has a wide variety of uses in household cleaning including mold and mildew removal, and it's a great disinfectant that “breaks down rapidly in the environment to oxygen and water, and is not expected to cause adverse effects to humans or the environment when users follow label directions,” according to the EPA. Pour hydrogen peroxide on the area to be treated and scrub with a brush. It's great mold and mildew preventive as well.

4) Scrubbing cleaners like Comet and Soft Scrub

Comet is a member of the Environmental Working Group's Hall of Shame due to its 146 chemical ingredient list with a probable 100+ of those ingredients undisclosed on the label. Hmmm, that seems a little suspicious. Agreed?

Most powdered scrubbing cleaners contain tons of ingredients as mentioned above including formaldehyde, benzene, and chloroform that can cause negative health effects such as cancer, asthma, and reproductive disorders. Perhaps even more disturbing, as noted by EWG, is that the health risks of many of the ingredients and contaminants in these scrubbing cleansers is virtually unknown.

In order to avoid such dangerous concoctions, Earth Mama Angel Baby has an amazingly versatile soft scrub recipe that we use in our own homes. We also found Bon Ami products to be very acceptable and affordable, and they can be found at your local grocery stores.

5) Soap scum removers and general bathroom cleaners like Scrubbing Bubbles

There are many ingredients in bathroom cleaners that should be avoided in light of their infamous record of creating a range of serious health problems like cancer and asthma, and several of the ingredients break down into endocrine disrupting chemicals. And if you add in the synthetically antibacterial feature, you're really in a hot mess.

This is also another area of products that contain the far-reaching, dangerous term ‘fragrance,' and there's no way to know how many or what combination of the 3,000 possible chemicals are hiding in these products.

An excellent way to clean shower doors is to sprinkle Kosher salt on the open half a of a cut lemon and scrub, scrub, scrub that soap scum away. Baking soda mixed with a little water to form a paste works wonders in the bathtub, and it can also be used on your toilet brush to completely clean and disinfect the toilet bowl.

This simple DIY orange cleaner is a fantastic multi-purpose cleaner as well.

6) Dryer sheets like Bounce Free & Sensitive (fragrance free) sheets

As much as we love the soft clothes and pleasant smell that dryer sheets provide, this is definitely a toxic and unneeded addition to your laundry cycle. Conventional dryer sheets contain quaternary ammonium compounds (quats) which are chemicals known to cause asthma. Quats coat clothing to make them feel soft, and that means the toxic substances cling and stay on the clothing transferring to your skin. Quats work the same on the lungs when breathed in, coating and clinging inside.

Products like Bounce Free & Sensitive dryer sheets are listed as fragrance free, but likely contain additional chemicals that cover up the smell that would normally be present, even if there were none of the 3,000 fragrance ingredients added. These chemicals simply mask any smell of the product by tricking your nose into thinking there isn't any. Something tells me you don't want more chemicals stacked on top of already toxic chemicals, right? And if that weren't enough, most conventional dryer sheets contain 1,4 dioxane which is a known carcinogen.

Women's Voices for the Earth recommends the simple solution of adding vinegar to the rinse cycle to naturally soften clothes. Using wool balls also works to soften clothes in the dryer.

7) Floor cleaners like Spic and Span

Yet another highly toxic line of products. Most, if not all of them list fragrance as an ingredient. Again, 3,000+ chemicals can be hidden under that term. Many floor cleaners such as Spic and Span contain ingredients like Nonoxynol-9 which is known for its negative health effects that include cancer and reproductive disorders. It can even damage the very code that defines us, our DNA.

An easy alternative is to use a mix of vinegar and water. One of our favorite brands of floor cleaners is Better Life Simply Floored. It works so well, and it's safe for your family and the environment.

P.S.  We've found the Environmental Working Group's Guide to Healthy Cleaning very helpful along the way. EWG conducts independent testing on various products to expose toxic chemicals hidden in well-know brands, and offers safer alternatives in their searchable database.  You can also find GreenGuard certified cleaners here.

*More information on the most dangerous cleaning chemicals can be found here.


Green Cleaning Guide

  1. Good list 🙂
    I had forgotten about Bon Ami years ago when it seemed to disappear from grocery stores for a time.

    1. Thanks Drew! My grandmother always used Bon Ami, but I had forgotten about it too until we started looking for safer options. It’s amazing how the “new fangled” products overshadow the good old stand-by’s sometimes! ~Alicia

  2. Thank you so much for this list. I didn’t know about Bon Ami and am replacing bar keepers friend right away. Your article says that baking soda can be used to completely clean and disinfect a toilet. Baking soda is not a disinfectant. It cannot kill important things that are in abundance in our bathrooms like e coli. Vinegar can and mixing it with baking soda packs a cleaner punch. You can also mix baking soda with vodka to disinfect. Yes, really!

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