EPA's advice and practical information on household cleaning products

Published: Friday, Sept. 21 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Source: Environmental Protection Agency


Cleaning products are necessary for maintaining attractive and healthful conditions in the home and workplace. In addition to the obvious aesthetic benefits of cleaning, the removal of dust, allergens and infectious agents is crucial to maintaining a healthful indoor environment.

But cleaning products can present several health and environmental concerns. They may contain chemicals associated with eye, skin or respiratory irritation, or other human health issues. Additionally, the concentrated forms of some commercial cleaning products are classified as hazardous, creating potential handling, storage and disposal issues for users.

Reducing the human health and environmental concerns is an important incentive for implementing an environmentally preferable purchasing program for cleaning products. Many of the recommendations in the guide are based on the fundamental pollution prevention principles of reducing the quantity and hazards of materials used.

The purpose of the guide is to provide practical information that will assist federal purchasers in making purchasing decisions. The guide is not a risk assessment document nor is it intended to substitute for material safety data sheets, labels or similar documents that provide information on proper storage, handling, use and disposal.

More comprehensive information on cleaning processes and practices is available from a variety of sources, a number of which are listed in the "Contacts and Resources" section of the guide.

Why green your cleaning products?

NOTE: The following discussion primarily addresses hazards associated with cleaning product ingredients. The actual risks from these chemicals at typical exposure levels are often uncertain and, in many cases, probably low. Regardless of the expected risk levels, however, reducing the intrinsic hazard of a product is a desirable pollution prevention objective as part of decisions that also take into account other important product attributes.

Cleaning products are released to the environment during normal use through evaporation of volatile components and rinsing down the drain of residual product from cleaned surfaces, sponges, etc. Janitorial staff and others who perform cleaning can be exposed to concentrated cleaning products. However, proper training and use of a chemical management system (a set of formal procedures to ensure proper storage, handling and use) can greatly minimize or prevent exposure to concentrated cleaning product during handling and use.

Certain ingredients in cleaning products can present hazard concerns to exposed populations (such as skin and eye irritation in workers) or toxicity to aquatic species in waters receiving inadequately treated wastes. (Standard sewage treatment effectively reduces or removes most cleaning product constituents). For example, alkylphenol ethoxylates, a common surfactant ingredient in cleaners, have been shown in laboratory studies to function as an "endocrine disrupter," causing adverse reproductive effects of the types seen in wildlife exposed to polluted waters.

Ingredients containing phosphorus or nitrogen can contribute to nutrient-loading in water bodies, leading to adverse effects on water quality. These contributions, however, are typically small compared with other point and nonpoint sources.

Volatile organic compounds in cleaning products can affect indoor air quality and also contribute to smog formation in outdoor air.

Magnitude of potential exposure

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