There’s nothing like the ease and convenience of an all-purpose or multi-purpose cleaner to make dreaded house-cleaning chores a breeze. But there’s a price to pay for that convenience when it comes to the ingredients you use and the hormonal health of your family. Mamavation took a peek inside the ingredients in the most popular brands of these cleaners and discovered a host of toxic substances that you might not want around your family. Even several typically “safer” brands contained some unpleasant elements. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best laundry products, cookware items and baby care, today we investigate what’s in your favorite all-purpose cleaners.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and was fact-checked by Rebecca Elizabeth Sherrick Harks, Registered Nurse.
Most All-Purpose Cleaners Have Incredibly Toxic Ingredients. It’s a $1.2 BILLION Dollar Polluting Industry.
In 2018, the United States spent over $1.2 BILLION dollars on all-purpose cleaners and disinfectants. Most of those products contained chemicals that are toxic to both humans and the environment. Evidence is mounting suggesting that some of these chemical exposures are contributing to the rising levels of chronic health problems in the United States, but we already know they are polluting the environment.
When these toxic ingredients are washed down the drain, they get into waste water treatment plants and surface water. But products containing phosphorus or nitrogen contribute to nutrient-loading in the water bodies, leading to adverse effects on water quality. Many of these contaminants survive water treatment and are then released in streams. In 2002, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) revealed that 66% of streams contained disinfectants from cleaning solutions.
According to the Latest Science, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Coming from Inside Your Home are Worse For the Environment Than Car Fumes.
The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitting from common cleaning products in your home evaporate into the air. Then they either attach themselves to dust particles or they escape outside and find their way into the outdoor air. Outside they interact with sunlight and other substances and undergo chemical reactions that contribute to poor air quality. Compared to the amount of pollution coming from automobiles, common household products are worse for the environment.
New research cites “pesticides, coatings, printing inks, adhesives, cleaning agents, and personal care products” as key sources of VOCs inside the home. Cutting down on toxic cleaning products will help clean up the air inside your home and cut down on your own personal pollution.
When It Comes To Children & Chemicals, Small Amounts Matter
It’s important to understand that some of these chemicals can disrupt hormones in trace amounts. The trace amounts are so small, they are similar to a drop in an Olympic sized pool. And for pregnant women, some smaller doses can be more dangerous than larger ones to the baby. Which begs the question, if these chemicals are so dangerous to the hormones of humans, why aren’t they banned? And if that’s the case, perhaps some of these chemicals should be banned.
Children, in general, are more vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals in cleaning products. Their organs and immune systems are not yet fully developed, and they breathe more often and more deeply than adults, and consume more food & water per pound of body weight than adults. They also crawl on the floor transferring what is on the ground, like residue from cleaning products, on to their hands and then into their mouth.
Your Indoor Air is Typically Between 2-5x More Polluted Than the Outside Air. Swapping to Natural & Non-Toxic Cleaning Products Will Help Alleviate This Inside Your Home.
90% of your time is likely spent indoors. So even though you can’t control the air you breathe outside, you CAN control the type of air you breathe indoors. It’s estimated that indoor air quality can be anywhere from 2-5x more polluted than outside, so focusing on indoor air is in your best interest. Cleaning up VOCs inside your home is as simple as switching to safer cleaning products, avoiding anything with synthetic fragrance, opening a window, getting some NASA approved plants, cleaning up dust, and getting a powerful air purifier. The most powerful air purifier on the market is an Intellipure. I have this machine in my own home and it’s incredible for anyone suffering from allergies to pet dander or pollen. You can read more about how the Intellipure has helped us in our impossible situation. (Use “MAMAVATION10” for 10% off)
Mamavation has got your back! Below you can sign up for our FREE eBook, “The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Up Your Indoor Air Inside Your Home” as our gift to you.
These Ingredients Should Be Avoided As Much as Possible Inside All-Purpose Cleaners & Disinfectants
Here is a simple list of chemicals to avoid when purchasing all-purpose cleaning products. They range in toxicity from very toxic to just an irritant. Later there are descriptions to help you with each one.
- Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone
- SLS/SLES: Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
- Undisclosed Fragrance/Perfume
- Ethylene Glycol
- Ethoxylated Compounds
- Sodium Dodecylbenzenesulfonate
- Methyl Alcohol
- Butylphenyl Methylpropional
- Benzyl Salicylate
- Alkyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chlorides
- Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate
- Artificial Dyes
Avoid These 21 Ingredients Inside All-Purpose Cleaners & Disinfectants
These 21 ingredients range in toxicity from very toxic to just an irritant, so please pay close attention to what we are recommending. Health effects range from inducing asthma to neurological development, reproductive and developmental effects, birth defects, irritants, and cancer.
Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone
These chemicals are preservatives and we found them in a surprising number of all-purpose cleaners. Some of the hazards they pose include:
- Irritant to skin and if inhaled
- Skin allergies, especially when both found in same product
- Possible neurotoxicity and organ toxicity shown in lab studies
Since most people don’t know if they or their children are allergic to these chemicals, this is one you’d want to avoid in your home.
SLS/SLES: Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
SLS and SLES are surfactants helping products to clean. Even when naturally derived, they can be harmful. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology has shown that they can be an eye or skin irritant. There is also debate on whether or not SLS is a human carcinogen; other research indicates it may damage the environment. Both can be harmful to the environment.
The EPA classifies this chemical as a human carcinogen but that’s not the only health hazard it causes. It can also cause irritation to eyes, skin, and nose, as well as GI and respiratory effects. Over time, it can pose more serious health problems to the central nervous system and kidneys. It can cause depression, headaches, fatigue, weakness, and balance or concentration issues.
Undisclosed Fragrance/Perfume Contains Irritants, Allergens & Phthalates Like Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)
Fragrances are a problem because they can be formulated from thousands of available chemicals, many of which can be irritants, allergens or phthalates. Companies can legally hide ingredients in “fragrance” or “perfume” on the bottle because of laws protecting them from revealing their formulations. (Ironically, these things can be reverse engineered in a lab, so there is no such thing as a “secret” formula anymore, but I digress.) Today, hiding ingredients in “fragrance” means they are just not being transparent. Most companies won’t list ingredients of their proprietary blends.
These hidden ingredients can contain irritants, allergens or phthalates. Phthalates, in particular, can disrupt hormones, especially in young boys degrading sperm quality and giving them more problems when they are older. Studies have also found a correlation between levels of phthalates in house dust and allergic symptoms and/or asthma in children in those homes.
More commonly found in sunscreen products, this chemical is likely a carcinogen and may also contribute to endocrine disruption. It’s toxic to aquatic wildlife as well.
These chemicals are formed by condensing water and ethylene oxide. They can be contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals such as 1,4-dioxane. These are concerning because they can easily penetrate the skin. Look for “PEG-“ followed by a number, or polysorbates.
Ethylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether (EGBE) or 2-butoxyethanol & Other Glycols
This is a chemical used to make antifreeze. It’s a volatile chemical that evaporates into the air as cleaning. The CDC lists it as relatively low harm unless ingested, but it can be absorbed through the skin during cleaning. Animals studies suggest there may be a link to reducing fertility among females. Ingestion can also lead to poisoning. Exposure also can impair the development of organs in fetuses and impair the kidneys.
Ethylene oxide, a chemical that has been linked to different kinds of cancer, is added to these ingredients. (PEGs and SLS are also ethoxylated.) They may also be contaminated with other hazardous ingredients, such as 1,4-dioxane.
Highly toxic to aquatic life, this particular substance is harmful if swallowed can be harmful in contact with skin. EWG lists it may also cause skin irritation and serious eye damage according to the European Chemicals Agency.
Likely allergen or skin toxicant. Likely immune and respiratory toxicant or allergen. Classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” by Environment Canada Domestic Substance List.
This chemical, also known as lilial, may impact the immune system or be an allergen. It’s also been associated with endocrine disruption.
This immune system toxicant is also associated with endocrine disruption. It could also be an environmental toxin.
Alkyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chlorides
The EPA listed this “quat” as having a high risk for human health. It’s also linked to asthma, allergies, and more.
Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate
According to The Chemical Company, this is a “highly toxic” powder that can cause skin burns.
Also known as methanol, this chemical can cause eye damage, respiratory irritation, and skin allergy or irritation. It’s also possibly toxic to marine life.
Many dyes are known to be toxic. In fact, like Red Dye #40, have been linked to ADHD. Most manufacturers are now using a dye brand called Liquitint. SkinSafe doesn’t list any known problems with these dyes, however, EWG gives all Liquitint colors a grade of only “C” in their Guide to Healthy Cleaning since more information is needed about these “polymeric colorants.”
This silicone product may cause eye or skin irritation, and respiratory tract irritation. It’s more of a concern as a cosmetic ingredient since it can be toxic if inhaled. It’s also toxic if swallowed, so you want to keep this one away from the kids. Dimethicone may be harmful to aquatic organisms as well.
A chemical of lesser concern, this preservative can be irritating at high doses and there is no evidence of high toxicity. We consider it allowable in cleaning fluids but you might want to avoid it if you have infants at home.
May be a skin irritant or allergen.
This is a type of synthetic biology ingredient that we sometimes call “GMO2.0.” We just don’t have a lot of information on whether they are harmful or not, but that mostly pertains to food. In cleaners, it can be a skin irritant.
EWG reports this as a known “human immune system toxicant or allergen.” The International Agency Research on Cancer is uncertain if it is also a carcinogen although some limited evidence points to the possibility.
Mamavation Investigates All Purpose Cleaners
Because most brands are fairly transparent with their ingredients, we were able to get a good idea of what brands you should avoid, use with caution, or run right out and buy today. That’s good news. The bad news is there are lots of them.
Brands With Worst Ingredients
The worst category represents brands that contain 4 or more problematic ingredients, or they contain bleach.
- Ajax All-In-One (Only comes scented): Fragrance, SLS, styrene, ethoxylated alcohol, sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate
- Amway Home™ L.O.C.™ Multi-Purpose Cleaner: Methylisothiazolinone, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, SLS & fragrance
- Brandless Multi-Surface Cleaner, Summer Breeze: benzyl salicylate, alcohol ethoxylate, undisclosed fragrance, butylphenyl methylpropional
- Chlorox All Purpose Disinfecting Cleaner: Alkyl C12-16 dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, fragrance, ethanolamine
- Chlorox Fragranzia: Eye, fragrance, Methylisothiazolinone, SLS, butylphenyl methylpropional, octylisothiazolinone, benzyl salicylate
- Chlorox Scentiva: Alkyl C12-16 dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, ethanolamine, Fragrance, Coumarin
- Chlorox Free & Clear Multi-Purpose Cleaner: Methylisothiazolinone, ethanol
- Fantastik All-Purpose Cleaner (Lemon, Fresh Scent, With Bleach): fragrance, propylene glycol, benzophenone, Dimethicone
- Formula 409 Multi-Surface Cleaner: Ethanolamine, fragrance, dye, Dimethicone, PEG
- Greenworks Multi-Surface Cleaner AND Multi-Surface Cleaner-Lemon Scent: Fragrance, Methylisothiazolinone, dye, ethanol
- H20 At Home: Unfortunately, this cleaner has an extremely vague ingredient list, with things like “surfactants of plant origin” and “natural detergents made with organic certified by ECOCERT,” an organization we are not familiar with. Without further disclosure, we have no way to gauge if these ingredients meet our standards for inclusion in our Better or Best lists.
- Lemishine Multi-Surface Antibacterial Spray: undisclosed fragrance and proprietary undisclosed surfactant blend. Without more detail, I cannot put it on the “Better” list.
- Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner, Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner Advanced Deep/Scented, Lysol Multi-Purpose Cleaner w/Bleach, Lysol Hydrogen Peroxide Multi-Purpose Cleaner: Ethanolamine, fragrance, dye, dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides, bleach
- Lysol Daily Cleanser: contains bleach
- Mr. Clean With Febreze (all scents) Multi-Surface: Dye, fragrance, alcohol ethoxylate
- Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Multi-Surface Cleaner (all scented): Polysorbate 20, PEG, Methylisothiazolinone, essential oil-derived and synthetic fragrance
- Simple Green® All-Purpose Cleaner: Ethoxylated alcohol, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, fragrance, dye
- Windex® Multi-Surface Rainshower: Ethylene glycol, fragrance, dye, propylene glycol
- Windex Multi-Surface Disinfectant, Multi-Surface Vinegar, Multi-Surface Lavender & Peach: Fragrance, dye, propylene glycol
Better All-Purpose Cleaners
These better brands contain 3 or less of these troubling ingredients from more trusted companies. Some of these companies I would be perfectly fine using in my own home, so just note what they have inside. Obviously, the companies with 1 or 2 bad ingredients top a company with 3 ingredients.
- 365 Everyday: Alkyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride and undisclosed fragrance
- Aspen Clean All-Natural All Purpose Cleaner with Organic Grapefruit and Lavender Essential Oils: contains corn-derived propanediol. Avoid if allergic.
- Attitude Natural All-Purpose Cleaner Fragrance-Free: Contains propanediol
- Babyganics Multi-Surface Cleaner, Multi-Surface Cleaner, Citrus and Fragrance-Free: methylisothiazolinone
- Better Life All-Purpose Cleaner: Contains methylisothiazolinone but at less than 1%, a safer level
- Biokleen All Purpose Cleaner: SLS
- Boulder All-Purpose Cleaner, Valencia Orange: Red Dye 40 and 5
- Cleanwell Botanical All-Purpose Disinfectant: Contains SLS, fragrance from essential oils, copper sulfate pentahydrate
- Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds All-Purpose Cleaner: Contains SLS
- doTERRA OnGuard Cleaner Concentrate: Contains Polysorbate 20 (PEG). Scented with essential oils so be aware if allergic.
- Grab Green All-Purpose Cleaner, Fragrance-Free and scented formulas: Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone
- Grove Collective All Purpose Cleaner: Alcohol ethoxylate nonionic, methylisothiazol (I believe this is methylisothiazolinone), fragrance.
- Lemishine Everyday Cleaner: Undisclosed fragrance, and list “MIT BIT” as a preservative, which is the abbreviation for methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone respectively so I suspect that’s what it is.
- Love Home & Planet: Methylisothiazolinone, fragrance
- Method All-Purpose Cleaners: Fragrance, ethoxylated coconut oil
- Modere Multi-Purpose Cleaner: Ethoxylated alcohol and methylisothiazolinone
- Puracy Natural Multi-Surface Cleaner: Contains alcohol ethoxylate and natural fragrance.
- R. Watkins All Purpose Cleaner (all scented): Methylisothiazolinone, fragrance
- Seventh Generation All-Purpose Cleaner, Free & Clear: Methylisothiazolinone
- Sprouts Citrus All Purpose Cleaner: Contains a type of alcohol ethoxylate. Also contains essential oils blend (undisclosed) and corn-derived ethanol, so avoid if allergic.
Best All-Purpose Cleaners
These products are, by far, the cleanest. They are made with few ingredients and when scented, disclosed essential oils or herbal / plant extracts. Another easy way to clean is to use
- Aunt Fannie’s Cleaning Vinegars
- Attitude All Purpose Cleaner Citrus Zest
- Biokleen Spray & Wipe All Purpose Cleaner
- Branch Basics Mini All-Purpose Spray & Concentrate
- Counter Culture Probiotic All Purpose Cleaner, Lemongrass and Geranium
- Eco-Me All Purpose Cleaner
- ECOS™ All Purpose Cleaner, Orange Plus
- Ecover All-Purpose Cleaner
- Force of Nature
- Gaia Natural Cleaners Castile All-Purpose Cleaner with Lavender & Lime Essential Oil
- Honest Company Multi-Surface Cleaner and Baby Multi-Surface (both USDA certified biobased products)
- MamaSuds All-Purpose Cleaner Concentrate
- Mama Suds All-Purpose Spray: derived from corn, avoid if you have an allergy.
- Max & Madeleine All Purpose Cleaner
- Meliora All-Purpose Home Cleaner: MADE SAFE certified
- P2 Clean Everything All In One Surface Cleaner
- Poofy Organic Medieval Blend and Spirited Mint All Purpose Cleaners
- Public Goods Surface Cleaner
- Pure Haven Surface Cleaner and Scrubbing Cleanser: Both contain essential oils, avoid if allergic.
- Squeak ALL PERP: Contains organic essential oils, be cautious if allergic.
- Truce All-Purpose Cleaner
- Young Living Thieves Cleaner Concentrate: Therapeutic grade essential oils (clove, lemon, cinnamon, rosemary), be cautious if allergic.
Selecting a cleaner that your family can tolerate shouldn’t have to be difficult. Allergens and toxins abound in big name all-purpose cleaners, but there are choices you can make to keep your family safe and your home clean.