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Report Reveals Hidden Chemicals in Common Household Cleaners

Women's Voices for the Earth

New independent lab testing on 20 top household cleaning products reveals that top-selling cleaning products and detergents, including Tide Free & Gentle, Pine-Sol and Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner, contain toxic chemicals not revealed to the consumer. The results show that cleaning products commonly contain hidden chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and pregnancy complications. The tests were commissioned by the national nonprofit Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE).

This report, Dirty Secrets: What’s Hiding in Your Cleaning Products?, came the same day Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced the Cleaning Product Right-to-Know Act—national legislation to change the lax regulations around the disclosure of cleaning product chemical ingredients. Currently, cleaning products are not required to list ingredients on the label, so unlike personal care products and food, there is no way for consumers to know the full list of ingredients in cleaners.

“Our cabinets are full of soaps and cleaners that we assume improve our homes and health. However, new research shines a light on the secret chemicals that might be doing more harm than good. You have a right to know what’s hiding in your household products. That’s why I’m introducing legislation to require full disclosure of the ingredients in everyday cleaning products,” said Rep. Israel.

WVE commissioned tests of 20 cleaning products including laundry detergents, dryer sheets, air fresheners, disinfectant sprays and furniture polishes manufactured by Clorox, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, SC Johnson and Son and Sunshine Makers (Simple Green), at an independent laboratory. The test results revealed:

  • Tide Free & Gentle detergent, a fragrance and dye-free product marketed to people with sensitive skin and mothers of infants, was found to contain 1,4-dioxane, a probable human carcinogen
  • Simple Green Naturals was found to contain phthalates, a chemical associated with reproductive disorders and birth defects
  • Allergens were found in products marketed as “fragrance-free”
  • Hidden reproductive toxins and carcinogens such as phthalates, toluene, 1,4-dioxane and chloroform
  • None of these chemicals were listed on the product label

“We’d like to see consumers have the freedom to make informed choices in the store, to protect their families from toxic chemicals,” said WVE director of science and research and report author Alexandra Scranton. “The system we have now is broken—it’s unnecessary for these risky chemicals to be used in products we use every day. Companies need to phase out these harmful chemicals, and we need a policy that standardizes labeling guidelines for cleaning products, so companies can’t keep these toxic chemicals a secret.”

More than 80,000 chemicals are on the market today, but nearly 20 percent of them are kept secret, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Consumers have been uncertain about the safety of chemicals in cleaners, even in products marketed as “green.” There has been a decline in the sale of cleaning products nationally, environmental and health concerns being one of the contributing factors. Some consumers are favoring homemade cleaners using vinegar and baking soda, for safety and cost reasons.

“I’ve heard complaints from hundreds of people who said that air fresheners and other fragranced household products made them sick—causing headaches, breathing difficulties, seizures, asthma attacks and other health problems,” says Dr. Anne Steinemann, professor of civil and environmental engineering and public affairs at the University of Washington. “This report does a tremendous service by revealing the hazardous chemicals that can be hidden in cleaning products, so that consumers can know to avoid fragrances and other chemicals that are linked to serious health problems.”

WVE’s 2007 report Household Hazards found that Latina women are particularly at risk for overexposure to toxic chemicals through cleaners. Nationally, more than one-third of domestic cleaners are Latina women. “Latino families want to protect their families from toxic chemicals, but that’s really difficult when ingredients are kept secret, and companies like P&G are aggressively marketing to Latino consumers,” says Lorena Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). “We will be working to educate Latina women specifically about the hazards and risks associated with using these kinds of products.”

WVE has engaged the five major companies investigated in this report in an effort to encourage full disclosure of chemical ingredients and removal of toxic chemicals in cleaning products. WVE has been one of the lead advocacy groups calling on Congress to strengthen ingredient disclosure requirements for cleaning products. The Cleaning Product Right-to-Know Act of 2011 will require companies to list all of the product ingredients directly on the label and will create a uniform system for labeling.

To download the report, click here.


For the fact sheet with the table of products tested and results, click here.

For more information, click here.

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Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national organization that works to eliminate toxic chemicals that impact women’s health by changing consumer behaviors, corporate practices and government policies. www.womensvoices.org

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