Risks and Hazards of Traditional Cleaners

The cleaning industry uses an estimated 6 billion pounds of chemicals each year, and many of these cleaning products have significant adverse impacts on indoor air quality, human health, and the environment. For example:

  • Acids from toilet bowl cleaners may cause burns to the skin and blindness to the eye.
  • Traditional glass cleaners contain a form of glycol ethers known to be a poison absorbed through the skin.
  • Some industrial and household cleaning products can create a respiratory hazard when used in poorly ventilated areas.
  • Some cleaning agents contain chemical substances that can harm the earth’s protective ozone layer, or toxic chemicals that do not degrade easily and persist in the environment.

A. Impacts on People

  • Those who spend much of their time indoors, like students, patients, and office workers, are particularly susceptible to health problems caused by cleaning products.
  • Children and younger students are especially vulnerable to the chemicals found in cleaning agents because they have the most contact with their surroundings and are most susceptible to the long term impact of chemicals on their developing bodies.
  • Four million janitors in North America experience unnecessarily high injury rates with some experts estimating that 6 out of every 100 are injured by the chemicals they use.
  • The chemicals most frequently involved in poisonings reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers are cleaning products.

B. Impacts on the Environment

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
    VOCs contribute to poor indoor and outdoor air quality and are found in many cleaning products. General purpose cleaners are responsible for approximately eight percent of total non-vehicular emissions of VOCs.
  • Energy and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
    The chemical industry uses fossil fuels for energy in the production of cleaners. Fossil fuels are non-renewable resources that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a major cause of global warming. Production of cleaners requires energy from these fuels during raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal. Petroleum and natural gas are the major sources of hydrocarbons from which the chemicals are made. Energy is also used to mine phosphates, carbonates and silicates that are used in cleaners to remove grease and oil from surfaces.