Spring Cleaning: 5 Surprising Household Items That Can Make You Sick

Cropped SingleCare logo By | May 13, 2016

Now that we’re through Daylight Savings Time, there’s only one more step left before we’re ready for the warmer weather: spring cleaning! But not all cleaning products are created equal, and some can even make you sick.

Hate it or love it, spring cleaning is just one of those things that everyone ought to do. Besides being good for your home, it boasts a diverse range of additional perks, as StyleCaster and Good Housekeeping both point out. On the practical side, those perks include getting rid of harmful dust mites — and on the sillier side, it offers the perfect opportunity to listen to your favorite music, put on your comfiest clothes, and spend a day with just your thoughts.

Now that we’ve convinced you to pick up the rubber gloves and the cleaning supplies, there’s something else you should know: some of the heavy-duty products you tend to break out this time of the year contain dangerous chemicals, and if you’re not careful, they can wreak havoc on both your clothes (the old bleach-on-the-jeans look) and your health. Here are seven in particular to consider avoiding — as well as some safer alternatives — so you can usher in a healthy, worry-free spring!

  1. Window Cleaner

soapy detergent on window glass during washing
You probably remember scenes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Michael Constantine uses Windex to solve virtually every kind of health problem, “from psoriasis to poison ivy.” Let us confirm what you probably already knew: Windex is not to be used for home remedies. As NYU professor of dermatology Darrell Rigel says, ammonia (found in many window cleaners) is “extremely caustic” and can lead to nausea, headaches, and an elevated heart rate.

Alternative: Wellness Mama has a recipe for a chemical-free window cleaner, or you could opt for an Ammonia-free formula like Mrs. Meyers or Seventh Generation products.

  1. Oven Cleaners

Close-up of a woman cleaning the oven
Along with ammonia, many oven cleaners contain lye, a caustic chemical also used in soap (but don’t worry about that — the lye will become harmless glycerin by the time the saponification process is finished). Lye is an obvious choice for cleaning ovens because it converts the grease into soap, which is then easily wiped off; however, it can be quite dangerous when it comes into contact with your skin or eyes, or if its fumes become too strong.

Alternative: Working in a well-ventilated area with gloves and protective eyewear is strongly suggested when using a product containing lye, but you can also follow Yum Universe’s recipe for homemade oven cleaner with easy-to-find household ingredients.

  1. Laundry Detergent

Housework: young woman doing laundry
For some of us, there’s something that’s just irresistible about the scent of laundry fresh from the dryer. It’s warm and comforting — and potentially dangerous. Why? It’s actually a mix of several things: added stabilizers (which help the product last longer), brighteners and phosphates (used to help keep the dirt from settling back into clothes during the wash cycle). This blend can negatively affect eye and lung functions and harm both developmental and reproductive systems, according to a 2011 study conducted at the University of Washington.

Alternative: We’re not suggesting that you steer clear of washing your clothes altogether, but DIYing your detergent and treating stains naturally is healthier and cheaper!

  1. Toilet Bowl Cleaners

Woman cleaning toilet with sponge and cleaner
While the biggest threat posed by toilet bowl cleaners only crops up when you swallow it, the product doesn’t have to be ingested to be harmful. Often containing hydrochloric acid and a mix of other harmful chemicals, toilet bowl cleaners can be corrosive when left on your skin, and cause serious damage if they get in your eyes.

Alternative: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a list featuring most of the products that are known to contain hydrochloric acid. If you want to avoid them altogether, Grist.com lists their favorite green cleaners.

  1. Spray Disinfectants

Cleaning the induction hob with special liquid
It may seem counterintuitive that spray disinfectants would make the list of dangerous household cleaning items, but here they are! Their dangers are twofold: first, not letting your body fight bacteria on its own makes it less effective when it actually comes into contact with it. Secondly, low levels of disinfectant can actually make certain bacteria so strong that they become resistant to antibiotics!

If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: along with the bacteria-killing chemicals, many brands sneak in other chemicals like Triclosan, which has been shown to kill human cells as well as bacterial ones.

Alternative: When you need to disinfect, a vinegar and water solution (using a 1:1 ratio) will do the trick.

Cleaning Up Your Cleaning Products

By now you might consider skipping out on spring cleaning altogether, just because of all the chemicals found in many household products. Instead, choose natural alternatives or make your own products to guarantee you’ll start your spring off clean and healthy.

But if you do find yourself feeling a bit ill after scrubbing those stains away, SingleCare can connect you with the doctor that’s best for you and your budget. By charging only for the care you need, SingleCare members pay, on average, 48% less than those with insurance. Now without further ado, it’s time to get ready for those easy, breezy spring days.