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I am always looking for tips on how to create a more healthful home, so I Googled the subject as it pertains to cleaning products and old ladies. (That’s me.)

I was shocked to find that the majority of the advice is so out of date! And so potentially dangerous! The emphasis seemed to be on killing things with various types of chemical biocides. I was reminded of the British show, Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners.  Bleach! Fumigate! Antibacterial thises and thats. Throw biocides at it!

I don’t know about you but I’m interested in preserving my major organs. I really prefer to challenge my body at the gym rather than in my home. So, I am taking a look at what I do to make my home safe for me- a bio (The Greek root word bio means ‘life.’) -entity that prefers not to be -cided (from Latin, meaning “killer,” “act of killing,” used in the formation of compound words such as pesticide.) This look will include tightening further this already tight ship which I know has a few has a few holes in it.

I take the minimalist approach to cleaning. If it’s not dirty, leave it alone. If it is, what’s the least that can be done to get the dirt gone? Blow on it? Swiffer it? Rub it with a little spit on a piece of t.p.?  I am not enthusiastic about using harsh chemicals and I do not want to support the industry that manufactures them.

Today all I’m going to do is enlighten (read, “scare!”) you on the toxic chemicals that are found in common household products and how they affect your body. Their effects on the environment are often hideous, but today I’m going to address only personal health concerns.


Toxic load or burden refers to the accumulation of toxins and chemicals in our bodies through eating, breathing and absorption by our skin which enter our bodies from a variety of sources, including the environment, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the personal care and household products we use.

This burden becomes more a significant issue for us because of the fact that as we get older, the body’s organs already face increasing challenges. The biggest changes in organ function are in the lungs, kidneys and often the liver. Notice that what these organs do is to move the wastes created by metabolic processes and environmental stressors such as toxins in the environment. These organ changes appear slowly and over a long period, with the result being that toxins that the young body can handle can no longer be eliminated by the older body because of aging and because of an increasing toxic burden. It’s a downward spiral. The greater the amount of toxins in the body, the less the organs are capable of handling the incoming attack. You might as well stop adding to that toxic load now! It is not too late!

There is no governmental regulation in the U.S. regarding these substances, or even mandates to label products so that you know what they contain. Unfortunately, many products that call themselves “natural” or “green” contain some of these ingredients.

I’m going to write in some detail about each one of these chemicals found in common household products. I’ll follow up (soon, I promise) with an article on substitutes so that you’ll be able to maintain a clean, fresh home that will be safe for you. I’m starting with ones that we have all been using for decades because their familiarity makes them seem benign.


  1. Ammonia

How many windows and mirrors have you cleaned with ammonia? For me, it’s probably hundreds. My vintage clothing store had a glass door that I cleaned 2 to 4 times a day to keep it fingerprint free. My large display window took about half an hour to clean, inside and out, on and off the ladder. By the end the inside of my nose and my throat would feel a bit raw but I was young and foolish and thought nothing of it. I pay more attention now.

“Ammonia is a powerful irritant,” says Donna Kasuska, chemical engineer and president of ChemConscious, Inc., a risk-management consulting company. “It’s going to affect you right away. The people who will be really affected are those who have asthma, and elderly people with lung issues and breathing problems. It’s almost always inhaled. People who get a lot of ammonia exposure, like housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma.”

COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a common malady in the elderly. It is very debilitating in addition to being frightening. My mother was often hospitalized for pneumonia, a by-product of COPD. After her fall and hip surgery at 94, she had episodes of coughing thick phlegm which was difficult to get up and out of her throat, choking her. I feared that this was going to be the way that she would die. This coughing was so terrible that her death from a fall, as painful as it was, instead of choking was a blessing.

When bleach is mixed with ammonia, a toxic gas can be formed. Contact with the skin can cause burns or irritation and will cause permanent eye damage or even blindness if it gets into the eyes..

This nasty chemical, masquerading as a beneficial household cleaner is found in polishing products for bathroom fixtures, sinks and jewelry and in glass cleaners.

  1. Bleach

You have probably experienced the toxic effects of bleach and disregarded it as I did with my ammonia-stinging eyes and burning nose. It is equally likely that yu have dissolved at least one garment by washing it with bleach. It is a heavy corrosive (Definition: Substance that causes visible discoloration, destruction, or irreversible changes, in living tissue at the point of contact) It is a harsh irritant to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract.
The more you use it, the more you harm your body. Some people like the ”clean” smell of bleach and feel that using it keeps them safe from germs. Well, that smell is damaging to your nose and your lungs so how safe is it, Really?

Bleach is used in many cleaning products and you can buy it full strength for a really good burn!

  1. 2-Butoxyethanol

2-Butoxyethanol, classified as an glycol (best as I can figure out, it’s a chemical related to alcohol) ethers (colorless liquids that evaporate at a rapid rate) can cause sore throats when inhaled, at high levels and can also contribute to narcosis, (a state of stupor, drowsiness, or unconsciousness produced by drugs) pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs), and severe liver and kidney damage,more dangerous to usolder folks who may have these organs already compromised to one degree or another. Chronic (long-term) exposure to the glycol ethers may result in neurological and blood effects, including fatigue, nausea, tremor, and anemia.  Animal studies have reported reproductive and developmental effects from inhalation and oral exposure to the glycol ethers.

Although the EPA sets a standard on 2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, If you’re cleaning at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards. Although there are laws in place for workers, there’s nothing in place to protect you! Even worse,there are no laws requiring 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label.

2-butoxyethanol is the main component of many window cleaners and multi-purpose cleaners, and gives them their characteristic sweet smell.

4, Triclosan

Hand washing is the proven choice for removing germs. As we get older, we can develop digestive disorders resulting in elimination challenges and we need to make sure that our hands and our environments stay germ free. I use a riser to help my knees when I get up, and a Squatty Potty to make it easier for me to poop.  I clean them often in addition to making sure that my paws are pristine.

For decades Triclosan, an antibacterial and antimicrobial chemical, has been used in personal care products and as a pesticide.  Personal care/pesticides. Should they even be in the same sentence? Even more contradictory is the fact that in 2016, the FDA banned this chemical from antibacterial soap, but not from toothpaste, which they don’t regulate, though it has been shown to cause bacterial resistance, disrupt the beneficial microbes that help our body perform most of its functions, particularly in our gut and brains and immune system. A recent study found that 2,000 or more products are thought to contain triclosan. If you want to see what these are, visit Beyond Pesticides at

I realize that I am delivering a great deal alarming information. For the sake of ourselves and your children and grandchildren, I think alarm is the right response. I do have solutions and they will be forthcoming. My nest post will be about what I use now and the results of my investigation into these. I’ll give you some general alternatives. Then I will be working on researching commercially made products and experimenting with some homemade products too.

  1. Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemical compounds which are known endocrine disruptors. A 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health showed that men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts. On the short term, when inhaled, they can be migraine and asthma triggers.

Exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, and through skin contact with scented substances, such as those used for cleaning your home. The skin has no barriers against toxins and chemicals go straight to organs which may not be functioning at an optimum level due to advanced age.

I have not used scented products for many years because I think that they smell disgusting. I was right. They are disgusting- and dangerous! And once again, there are no laws which stop their usage nor even make it mandatory to label products that contain them.

  1. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Perc is a neurotoxin, according to the chief scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney General’s office. The EPA classifies perc as a “possible carcinogen.” It is used in dry cleaning and you can smell it on clothes that have been dry cleaned. The route of exposure is most often inhalation: that telltale smell on clothes when they return from the dry cleaner, or the fumes that linger after cleaning carpets or upholstery.

  1. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”

This is my favorite to hate. I take  walks daily in my neighborhood and, I have gagged when walking past homes spewing fabric softener and scented detergent fumes. I have noticed that they are often homes with children, well-meaning parents wanting to ensure that their offspring are exposed to the latest and greatest in modern chemistry.

Like triclosan, they are antimibicrobials, contributing to the breed of super-bugs. They are a skin irritant and also suspected to be responsible for causing respiratory diseases.

My next step is to take a look at the products in my own cabinet. Then, I’ll find some clever solutions that will not further tax our elderly bodies.