Is your house toxic?

Photo: iStockphoto.com/Floortje
6 household cleaning chemicals you should avoid

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning about early exposure to chemicals during childhood and one of the main sources is household cleaning products.
Toxic Nation, an offshoot of Environmental Defence, has some helpful suggestions on how to clean out your house and find non-toxic alternatives. You can also learn more from the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment (CPCHE).

Here's a list of six household cleaners to avoid and alternatives to detox your home.

1. Antibacterial cleaners
It may be safer to take your chances with the germs. These cleaners contain triclosan, a form of dioxin, linked with weakened immune systems, decreased fertility, hormone disruption and birth defects. There is also a danger of triclosan mixing with the chlorine in tap water to form the deadly chlorinated dioxins.
Alternative: Regular soap, which kills 99.4 percent of germs. Antibacterial soap kills 99.6 percent.

2. Air fresheners
Air fresheners actually stop you from smelling by coating nasal passages with an oil film or by releasing nerve deadening agents. One main ingredient, formaldehyde, is a carcinogen, causing allergic reactions, dermatitis, headaches, mucous membrane irritations, joint and chest pain, depression, fatigue, dizziness and immune dysfunction. Another main component, phenol, causes skin eruptions, cold sweats, convulsions, circulatory collapse and in extreme cases, coma.
Alternative: Open the window or use an exhaust fan.

3. Dishwasher detergent
Dishwasher detergents are the number one cause of accidental child poisoning. They contain a dry form of highly concentrated chlorine that is poisonous and have been known to produce skin irritations or burns, and cause eye injuries and damage to other mucous membranes. Residue built up on dishes can transfer into your hot meal.
Alternatives: Buy phosphate and chlorine free detergent.

4. Oven cleaners
Among the most dangerous chemicals in households, these cleaners contain sodium hydroxide (a derivative of lye) so corrosive it can eat through the top layer of skin and cause severe tissue damage. It's also caustic for eyes and lungs. Also contains benzene, toluene, xylene, methanol and ethylbenzene, which are all known carcinogens, damaging to the nervous system and unborn children. Residue can be released as toxic fumes into the air when the oven is heated.
Alternative: Make a scrub of baking soda, salt and water paste.

5. Carpet and upholstery shampoo
Designed to knock the stain out, they may also take you out as well. The main ingredient, perchlorethylene (the same one used in dry cleaning), is a known carcinogen, damaging to the liver, kidney and the nervous system. Ammonium hydroxide, another ingredient, is corrosive, extremely irritable to eyes, skin and respiratory passages. Fumes are carcinogenic and known to cause dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, loss of appetite and disorientation.
Alternative: Use a mix of baking soda and water. Salt will take out wine or fruit stains. Club soda will remove lighter stains. Baking soda and cornstarch will deodorize.

6. Toilet, tub and tile bowl cleaners
Highly toxic, bathroom cleaners are a source of many poisonings, particularly since they are used in small, often windowless spaces. Most contain hydrochloric acid (corrosive to skin and eyes, and damages kidneys and liver) or hypochlorite bleach (corrosive to eyes, skin and respiratory tract, and known to cause vomiting and pulmonary edema if inhaled). These cleaners also contain benzene, toluene, xylene, methanol and ethylbenzene, which are all known carcinogens that damage the nervous system and cause birth defects.)
Alternative: Remove toilet bowl stains with pure vinegar. Dilute with water to remove soap scum. Washing soda or borax is also effective on tiles.