Beyond the Products

Cleaning product ingredients: Considerations for health and safety

Many commercial and household cleaning products contain chemicals that can have surprising and potentially deadly side effects. The ingredient disclosure of most generic cleaners will showcase a list of toxic chemicals. If someone accidentally inhales or ingests these cleaning product ingredients, they can cause significant damage.

In recent years, cleaning product manufacturers have made an effort to educate buyers about how to safely use cleaners that contain toxic chemicals. Spruce Industries, in the interest of keeping you and your facility healthy and safe, would like to address any ingredient concerns that you might have and help you make the best choices for your work space.

Why do many cleaning products have harmful ingredients?

When you look at the ingredient list on many cleaners, such as laundry detergent, toilet bowl cleaners, and air fresheners, you will find potentially toxic chemicals. While these chemicals can be dangerous, they can also be very effective at accomplishing cleaning tasks.

When you handle these chemicals properly, they should not cause any harm to the human body. Improper handling, however, can lead to permanent injury and even fatality. This is why Spruce Industries believes it is so important to make sure that everyone has all of the information that they need for the proper handling and use of our products.

What are the essential ingredients needed in a cleaning product?

All quality cleaning products require four basic components:

  • solvent
  • preservative
  • surfactant
  • disinfectant

The job of solvents is to break down grime that is physically visible on surfaces. While solvents dissolve grime so that you can wash it away, preservatives allow for shelf stability in a product. They keep the chemicals inside the product active so they work as intended.

Surfactants act as emulsifiers and foaming agents. Their job is to lower the surface tension between the liquid components of cleaning products. Lastly, disinfectants work to break down bacteria and contaminants. These bacteria and contaminants are not visible to the naked eye but may be on surfaces such as toilets and countertops.

These components allow cleaning products to be effective and successfully accomplish their task. They are also typically inexpensive. This helps reduce the cost of manufacturing being passed on to the consumer. By using proper precaution and understanding how to handle these chemicals, your custodial staff, your facility, and your clientele will continue to remain clean and healthy.

What is the cost difference between harmful and safe ingredients used in cleaning products?

A study that the San Francisco Department of the Environment conducted in 2010 explored the cost difference between conventional cleaning products and practices and their “green” or natural cleaning alternatives.

Researchers studied the prices of more than three hundred and fifty products offered by twenty-six different cleaning product manufacturers. What did they find? Somewhat surprisingly, they found that the cost of most conventional cleaning products and their more environmentally friendly alternatives were not very different.

The researchers also examined existing studies on natural cleaning practices and found that these practices can be very cost effective. This is because natural cleaning practices typically require less water and less chemical use as well as less heavy lifting.

Ultimately, this research suggests that businesses can benefit financially from assessing their cleaning products and practices. Spruce Industries can help provide you the support that you need to figure out how to maximize the health and safety of your facilities and employees while also considering costs.

Why do manufacturers choose to use harmful ingredients in cleaning products?

Effectiveness and cost are understandably the primary concerns of many cleaning product manufacturers. In order to maximize effectiveness while minimizing costs, manufacturers often rely on ingredients that can be harmful if they are not handled properly.

For example, manufacturers often rely on sodium hypochlorite, more commonly known as bleach, as a disinfecting agent in certain commercial and household cleaning products. When handled improperly, sodium hypochlorite can cause burns to the skin and to internal organs. However, this chemical has proven itself as an effective disinfectant. It is a great tool to use in the fight against viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

Less toxic ingredients such as baking soda and white vinegar can be very effective in certain cleaning settings—particularly for household cleaning. But they are not the best tools for all cleaning jobs.

Harmful ingredients in commercial cleaning products

As suggested above, many commercial and household cleaners contain potentially toxic chemicals. However, when you take protective measures, you can avoid the risks of these chemicals. Because of this, it is important that you understand the chemical ingredients of the cleaners that you and your employees are using. This will help keep you and those who enter your facilities safe.

What ingredients in cleaning products should you avoid using in heavily trafficked public buildings and schools?

You should avoid certain chemicals when using cleaning products in public buildings and schools. This is because these chemicals pose significant health risks if people are around them in high quantities or for long periods of time.

It is important, for example, to avoid chemicals that cause cancers. As the Environmental Working Group reports, some cleaning products contain preservatives that release cancer-causing formaldehyde in low quantities. Others contain 1,4-dioxane, which is also carcinogenic.

You may also want to avoid phthalates when possible. Air fresheners often include phthalates alongside fragrance ingredients. Existing research has not been conclusive on the health risks of phthalates in low quantities. But these chemicals carry some health risks, especially for young children. (In comparison to adults, young children are much more likely to unknowingly ingest phthalates by putting their hands in their mouths.) Because of this, you should be cautious in using phthalates in settings such as schools.

In general, it is best to be as cautious as possible when using chemicals in heavily trafficked areas. Chemicals like ammonia and sodium hydroxide, which manufacturers often include in industrial cleaning products, can trigger asthma. Through frequent, long-term exposure in low concentrations, they can irritate the lungs. Even chlorine bleach—a product that you likely use to disinfect and whiten laundry in your own home—can irritate your lungs.

While you likely can’t avoid all potentially harmful ingredients, you can make sure that you are using all cleaning products as safely as possible. With multiple generations of cleaning and customer service experience, Spruce Industries can help provide you with the guidance that you need on best practices for health and safety.

How can you mitigate the effects of harmful ingredients in commercial cleaning products?

The following steps are the best solutions to mitigating health impacts while using commercial cleaning products with dangerous ingredients:

  • Wear a mask designed to protect the wearer from fumes
  • Wear protective eyewear also designed to protect the wearer from fumes
  • Wear thick, elbow-length cleaning gloves that will not dissolve in harsh cleaning solutions to protect the skin
  • Maintain proper ventilation in cleaning areas to lessen the impact of fumes

It is also important that you and your cleaning staff understand that you should leave the work of mixing cleaning chemicals to cleaning product manufacturers. Custodians and other cleaning professionals should never mix chemicals on their own.

Some cleaning professionals may believe that mixing cleaners on their own makes them more effective. They also may think that stronger is always better. However, this is not always true, and in fact, this line of thinking can be dangerous.

There are many dangerous concoctions that can result from mixing your own chemicals. For example, the combination of ammonia products and bleach as well as hydrogen peroxide and chlorine bleach can produce deadly chlorine gas.

What are the most common harmful ingredients in commercial cleaning products?

A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health looked at the most common harmful ingredients and chemicals in cleaning products. The study found that glycol ethers and ethanolamine are especially common in cleaning products and can cause adverse health effects.

It is important that you check the ingredient disclosure printed on products to know what you are using in your facilities. While cleaning chemicals work to assist in keeping your facility healthy and safe, improper handling of these chemicals can lead to injury. By reading the ingredient labels, using proper protective gear, and maintaining safety guidelines, you can help make sure that your employees, facilities, and clientele will be safe and healthy.

How cleaning product ingredients affect health

Cleaning products are vital to maintaining health and safety. They help make sure that your home, work, and educational spaces are clean so that you don’t get sick. However, cleaning products can negatively impact your health if you do not take necessary precautions when using them.

How can inhaling cleaning products harm you?

Chemicals in commercial and household cleaners, such as chlorine bleach, toilet bowl cleaners, and detergents, can be fatal if you inhale them. Also, as noted above, sodium hypochlorite and the phthalates used in air fresheners and other products can cause lung irritation and damage if inhaled extensively or in high concentrations.

Additionally, quaternary ammonium compounds, a common type of chemical that is used in disinfectant items such as wipes and aerosols, can be toxic if they enter the body through inhalation or other means.

It is important to reiterate that under no circumstances should you or your staff mix chemicals. Mixing chemicals can result in the creation of deadly gas that you do not want to inhale.

What cleaning chemicals can harm your skin if you come into contact with them?

Chlorine bleach causes harm when it comes into contact with skin. Lesser known culprits of skin damage are sodium hypochlorite and quaternary ammonium compounds. Though most personal care products can address the symptoms of chemical damage to skin, few can repair this damage. Because of this, it is best to avoid contact that causes skin damage in the first place.

Which cleaning product ingredients are fatal if swallowed?

The toxic chemicals mentioned above are, or can be, fatal if swallowed. Chlorine bleach, toilet bowl cleaners, detergents, air fresheners, and most disinfectants that include quaternary ammonium compounds can be damaging to the human body.

Some, such as air fresheners, require a greater volume to be fatal. But they can still cause irreparable damage to the digestive tract and other internal organs.

Ingredients in sustainable green cleaning products

Sustainable green cleaning products avoid toxic chemicals in favor of more natural ingredients. If you look at these products, you might find that you are familiar with many of their ingredients.

What ingredients make a cleaning product sustainable?          

To be natural and environmentally sustainable, a cleaning product must

  • not cause adverse effects to humans, animals, or plants;
  • not cause heightened levels of toxicity in the air, soil, or water; and
  • naturally disintegrate when exposed to large amounts of water.

While simple, these are the key components of natural cleaning products. These natural cleaning products create little to no environmental impact. They should be able to dissolve with no traceable effects on their surroundings.

When you rely on these types of cleaning products, your facilities as well as the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the ground you walk and build on will remain healthy and clean.

What are the most environmentally friendly cleaning product ingredients?

Baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide are three key ingredients in sustainable, natural cleaning products. Some products like laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaners can have high performance outcomes even without toxic chemicals. However, natural cleaning products will not always clean like standard cleaning products. They may require more labor to work like their counterparts. It is important that you and your cleaning staff discuss this before deciding on your best course of action.

What are the best nontoxic cleaning product ingredients?

As environmentally friendly ingredients, baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide are all also nontoxic.

These nontoxic ingredients are very versatile and likely have a place in your home. Baking soda and vinegar are two common household items that people can use while cooking and cleaning. Additionally, hydrogen peroxide is a mild antiseptic found in many first-aid kits.

What is my part in all of this?

Owners and managers of facilities have the capacity to enact great change within their sphere of influence. When you are assessing your cleaning products and practices, you want to make the best decisions for your health and safety as well as the health and safety of your employees and clientele.

Whether or not you choose to update your current cleaning procedures or switch to natural cleaning products, we hope you lean on Spruce Industries to help you make the difference you are looking to achieve.

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