At a Glance
Are the products we use to clean our homes and workplaces—dish soaps, laundry detergents, disinfectants, glass cleaners, carpet cleaners, stain removers, air fresheners, all-purpose cleaners, and more—truly safe? When we breathe in a fresh scent, most of us don’t realize, and the labels won’t tell us, that chemicals found in some ordinary cleaning products are known or suspected to cause serious health effects including cancer.
A glance at the back of most cleaning product labels reveals a surprising fact: very few cleaning products include a complete list of ingredients. Federal and state laws don’t require companies to list the ingredients in cleaning products. This means we often have no idea whether a given product contains chemicals linked to breast cancer or other chronic health concerns.
While the absence of state or federally mandated ingredient disclosure makes it difficult to know what’s in a specific cleaning product, some companies voluntarily reveal product ingredients on their product labels and websites. This has offered some insight into the kinds of ingredients used in cleaning products. Surprisingly, many cleaning products contain some of the same industrial chemicals used in personal care products.
Some of these ingredients are linked to breast cancer. These include: triclosan; bisphenol A; phthalates; parabens; alkylphenols; and UV filters like benzophenones that may mimic estrogen. In addition, several ingredients used in cleaning products may include, or be contaminated with, chemicals linked to breast cancer. For instance, polystyrene may contain residual styrene, ingredients like nonoxynols and those with the suffix “–eth” may contain residual ethylene oxide which is used to make the chemicals less irritating, and fragrance can indicate the presence of dozens, to potentially over 100, undisclosed ingredients.
Labeling and disclosure
Many cleaning products take away dirt and grime, but leave behind harmful chemicals.
Federal law requires ingredients must be disclosed on food, cosmetics, and drug labels, but not cleaning products. Lack of mandatory ingredient disclosure leaves consumers in the dark when it comes to buying safe cleaning products.
Under the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, companies are required to list ingredients on cosmetic, personal care and food products marketed to consumers, with the exception of flavorants, colorants and fragrances.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act requires that the active ingredients in disinfectants must be labeled, however inactive ingredients are not required on product labels.
Safety data sheets may include ingredient and hazard information, but again they are not required to include a full list of ingredients nor safety verification of ingredients in the products. Some of these chemicals are linked to breast cancer and other adverse health effects.
The EU requires that 26 fragrance components known to be allergenic be disclosed on cleaning product labels if they exceed a certain level, 100 ppm for rinse-off products and 10 ppm for leave-on products. The US does not have any similar regulation in place.
Many companies also hide toxic chemicals behind the terms “fragrance” or “surfactants” on cleaning product labels. The term “fragrance” may refer to a mixture of any of the nearly 3,000 chemicals listed by the fragrance industry, including potential carcinogens, allergens, and reproductive toxins.
The lack of state or federally mandated ingredient disclosure leaves consumers and workers guessing when it comes to ingredients in their cleaning products. Even institutions like schools and hospitals, which serve vulnerable populations, are denied access to this important information.
Our corporate allies in the cleaning product industry tell us that the dirty secret of the cleaning industry is that manufacturers know what’s in each other’s products through reverse engineering. Only the public and the government are left in the dark.
Leading companies like Seventh Generation, Honest Company, and Earth Friendly Products demonstrate that full ingredient transparency is not only possible, but it’s also good for business. Unfortunately, most cleaning products on the market today are still a black box of chemicals, some of which are known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, asthma and other serious health effects.
We normally equate a clean and healthy home with the smell of our favorite products—it’s time to redefine clean.
We are redefining clean to mean full disclosure of ingredients and the elimination of toxic chemicals from cleaning products.
We have a right to know what is in the products that we buy and use so that we can protect our families from potentially harmful chemical ingredients.
That’s why BCPP supports federal and state legislation that would promote consumer and worker right-to-know by requiring full disclosure of the ingredients in cleaning products. Disclosure provides incentive for companies to phase out the use of toxic chemicals. It also levels the playing field for companies that already fully disclose ingredients.
Complete ingredient labeling helps consumers recognize unsafe chemicals and choose products without chemicals of concern like carcinogens, allergens, and asthmagens.