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A while back, a friend mentioned that she had swapped out all of her mainstream cleaning products for ones without hazardous chemicals or toxins. I had invested in an organic mattress and plant-based disposable diapers for my son, so why wasn’t I using safer products in my home where my entire family spends most of our time? I started doing some research.

The scary truth? The federal government has not passed a law to regulate the personal care industry since 1938. Gregg Renfrew is the founder of Beautycounter, a line of beauty products formulated without any threatening chemicals. The inspiration for her company occurred when she learned that the European Union has banned close to 1,400 ingredients while the U.S. has only banned 11. You read that right – 11!

On the Beautycounter website, Renfrew explains further: “Companies are allowed to use known toxins – ingredients that have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, hormone disruption – without telling us. As I learned more – 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer; that our children’s generation is the first that is sicker and may die younger than their parents – I had to do something.”

In her most recent book, “Do It Gorgeously,” New York Times bestselling author Sophie Uliano discusses the correlation between many commercial cleaning products and illness.

“It’s staggering how many toxic chemicals are actually used in household cleaners,” she writes. “The Cancer Prevention Coalition lists hundreds of chemicals in cleaners that seriously affect your health.”

Chicago wellness educator Annemarie Sampson is on the same page as Renfrew and Uliano. “I firmly believe going green is not only the responsible choice to make to protect our Earth, but also the responsible choice to protect our health,” says Sampson. “In my 30 years in the health and wellness industry, I have noticed a material increase in a variety of health issues. The incidence of cancer, birth defects and asthma, among others, are all on the rise. The diagnosis of ADD, dementia and depression are also increasing.”

When Sampson was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease, she began to take a deeper look at environmental toxins and the effect they have on one’s health and wellbeing.

“During my research, I found that doctors and scientists have made a connection between our health and the use of common household chemicals,” explains Sampson. “Knowing there is a link between the household chemicals and the impact on wellness, I wanted to find a healthy alternative to eliminate these hazards from my home.”

Many of the products and brands you think are “healthier” may just be culprits of good marketing. Descriptors such as “pure” or “natural” are often anything but. For example, some of the most common household products from popular brands like Method or Mrs. Meyers score an “F” on Environmental Working Group’s Health Guide.

Where to Begin

Set aside some time to go through the cleaning and personal care products in your home. It may be tedious but it’s a couple of hours well spent.

“If you’re brand-loyal, make sure you do your homework on that company,” Sampson says. “I’ve been surprised to learn that many companies have changed their ingredients for the worse over time. Read the labels of the products you’re using and know what’s in them.”

Learn how to use the products that you already own. For instance, the EPA recommends that if you’re using cleaners with toxic ingredients, you should wear gloves, a mask, be in a well-ventilated area, and go over the toxic residue with soapy water afterwards.

“It seems much easier to replace the toxic products you have with safer alternatives,” Sampson says. “If doing it all at once is too costly, make the switch over time and replace items once you run out.”

Uliano suggests making your own household cleaners for a fraction of the cost. These products work and best of all, you know exactly what’s going into each bottle. If you have the time, baking soda, vinegar and essential oils are good alternatives to many of the toxic products out there.

Eliminate Products That Contain These Harmful Ingredients

  • Chlorine Bleach (a pesticide and fungacide, look for it in everything)
  • Ammonia (has been linked to breathing issues, look for it in household cleaners)
  • Phosphates (wreaking havoc on our ecological system, look for it in dishwasher detergent)
  • Formaldehyde (a VOC, linked to cancer, look for it in many personal care products)
  • Parabens (a preservative, look for it in makeup and bath/body products)
  • Triclosan (a petrochemical that’s terrible for the environment)
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (likely contaminated with 1,4- dioxane and a known carcinogen)
  • Methylisothiazolinone (a preservative, known to cause allergies)

Stock Up on These Safer Brands 

Take this list with you on your next grocery trip. These cleaning products score top marks on EWGs Health Guide:

Dishwashing Detergent

  • Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Powder, Free & Clear
  • Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Automatic Dishwasher Detergent
  • Green Shield Organic Squeez Automatic Dishwasher Liquid Detergent, Lemongrass
  • The Honest Co. Honest Auto Dishwasher Gel, Free & Clear

Dish Soap

  • Babyganics Foaming Dish & Bottle Soap, Fragrance Free
  • Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, Hypo-Allergenic
  • Sun & Earth Liquid Dishwashing

Multi-Purpose Cleaner

  • Whole Foods Market All-Purpose Cleaner
  • Planet All Purpose Spray Cleaner
  • Bon Ami Powder Cleaner
  • AspenClean All Purpose Cleaner

Hand Soap

  • Dr. Bonner’s Organic Fair Trade Shikakai Hand Soap in Spearmint Peppermint
  • Seventh Generation Natural Hand Wash in Fresh Citrus

Laundry Detergent

  • The Honest Co. Honest 4-in-1 Laundry Pods, Free & Clear
  • Seventh Generation Natural Laundry Detergent Powder
  • Green Shield Organic Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear
  • Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder

Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

  • Seventh Generation Natural Fabric Softener Sheets
  • Green Shield Organic Fabric Softener, Lavender Mint

Bathroom Cleaner

  • AspenClean Bathroom Cleaner
  • BuggyLOVE Organic Multi-Surface Bathroom Cleaner, Clementine Scent
  • Green Shield Organic Bathroom Cleaner, Fresh

Toilet Cleaner

  • Seventh Generation Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Emerald Cypress & Fir
  • Earth Friendly Products Toilet Cleaner, Natural Cedar Scent
  • Green Shield Organic Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Air Freshener

  • Aura Cacia Aromatherapy Mist, Eucalyptus Harvest
  • Aussan Natural Room Odor Eliminator
  • GrabGreen Room & Fabric Freshener

For a complete list of ingredients and products to avoid in both cleaning and skincare products, check out the following:


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