Your Health

Why A Hardcore “Clean” Smell Doesn’t Actually Mean Your House is Cleaner

When stronger actually isn't better

Procrast-cleaning, spring-cleaning or regular ole-cleaning. Whatever it is, you’re determined to clean every nook and cranny and you might just do so by scouring the grocery aisle for the strongest cleaners you can find. If you’re on a roll, you might not stop until your house smells spick and span. And safe…right? When it comes to household cleaners, this is a case of stronger isn’t necessarily better. The “clean” smell often associated with traditional cleaners are the result of A LOT chemicals that haven’t been proven to actually clean any better. Plus, they come with their own set of health risks.

Let’s break it down

Traditional cleaners that give you that strong chemically clean smell use extremely toxic chemicals to get your kitchen or bathroom clean. In fact, long-term use of traditional cleaners is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for ten to twenty years (6). Some of these chemicals include:

  • Acetaldehyde – according to the Environmental Protection Agency, this chemical is a possible human carcinogen (4). Data from animal studies suggest that acetaldehyde may also be a potential developmental toxin (4). Chronic exposure to acetaldehyde leads to symptoms similar to alcoholism (4).
  • Oxybenzone – in humans, oxybenzone results in skin irritation and sensitivity to sunlight (5). Studies also suggest that it is a possible endocrine disruptor and has been linked to Hirschsprung’s disease (a.k.a. A lifetime of constipation) (5).
  • Triethanolamine – this chemical is magical, but in a bad way. It causes asthma to develop in healthy individuals (1).
  • Fragrances – many of these traditional cleaners are scented with chemicals that are labeled in the ingredients list as “fragrance”. Yes, we’re talking about you “fresh laundry” and “sunshine” scent! Not only are these scents completely unnecessary, but they also likely contain phthalates, an endocrine disrupting chemical (7). Watch out for this ingredient as it basically means that none of the fresh smelling scents are actually derived from natural source and are synthetically made (3).
  • Bleach – mixing bleach with ammonia, rust cleaners or even toilet cleaners can cause chronic lung problems or even death (1). Avoid cleaners with bleach and you can check this worry off your list!
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – If you’ve read our paints or candles article, then you know allllll about VOCs and their negative health effects. The same goes for traditional cleaners. VOCs are released from the chemicals used in traditional cleaners and can cause both short-term (like ear, eyes and throat irritation) and long-term (like cancer) health effects (8).

It’s easy to quickly get caught up into thinking that the stronger smelling your cleaner is, the better job it does cleaning. However, you can rest assured that this is definitely not the case. If you’re scratching your head and wondering what exactly you can use, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s what you should use to clean instead!

Cleaning can be simple and safe. If you’re looking to purchase cleaners from the store, we’ve got 8 non-toxic all purpose cleaners as well as 12 non-toxic bathroom cleaners rounded up for you here! However, if you’re looking for a DIY solution, we recommend these recipes that are great for just multipurpose cleaning:

  1. Vinegar and water- Mixing equal parts white vinegar and water is an easy cleaner that is really good at cutting grease.
  2. Liquid soap and water- Add 2 tbsp of soap to a 16 oz bottle then fill with water. Or, if you are making in bulk, add 1 cup of soap to 1 gallon of water. A safe and effective liquid soap is Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap.

If you’re looking to clean specific areas of your house, check out some additional tips on creating DIY cleaners for the bathroom (yes, we’ve got a solution to a clean toilet!) and floor here.