Reduce Chemical Exposure from Household Cleaning Products

children cleaning Jan 05, 2018

by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée


The cleaning products we use affect not just those who clean, but also those who occupy the space of the cleaned areas. In our homes, that includes adults, children, and unborn children.

Adults who clean are exposed to chemicals in household cleaning products more directly every few days. Areas such as toilets and floors might be cleaned once a week, with kitchen prep surfaces like counters and cutting boards being cleaned more often. Parents of young children could very well be cleaning toilets and floors almost daily. Especially during potty training time.

Common household cleaning products can be a potential health hazard for adults and children alike. Household cleaning substances accounted for the second largest source of chemical exposure for children younger than 6 years old, and the sixth largest source of chemical exposure for adults ages 20 years and older, according to Poison Control(1).  

How are adults and children exposed to chemicals in household cleaning products?

Our bodies adopt ingredients in cleaning products by inhaling their fumes, or absorbing them through skin that touches the cleaned surfaces or contaminated dust. Residue from cleaners can be left on counters and floors, exposing people of all ages to ingredients in cleaning products that could pose health hazards.

People and pets can inhale fumes from household cleaning products during cleaning, or ingest residue that attaches to food from a contaminated surface, like a cutting board.

Children put their hands in their mouths starting at 3 months of age as a natural step in the development process(2). As children start to crawl on the floor, eat with their hands and put toys (and nearly everything else!) into their mouths, they swipe chemicals along the way.

Reduce your family’s exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals by choosing natural cleaning solutions.

What are natural alternatives?

While many "green" cleaning products exist and new ones enter the market often, I prefer a cleaning approach that's time-tested. They involve four key ingredients that have avoided controversy over decades, are found on any standard grocery store shelf, are largely affordable, and are multipurpose. 

1. Baking soda

Need to scrub the tub or kitchen sink? Baking soda is a great abrasive that can cut through grime but doesn’t scratch surfaces or leave a chemical residue. It can also be used to lift stains on counters, absorb odors (not just in the fridge!), and enhance soap’s effectiveness.

2. White vinegar

White vinegar is well known for removing odors from laundry, but did you also know that it kills mold and bacteria, dissolves soap scum and mineral buildup?(3) Use it as a laundry rinsing agent, and whole house cleaning agent.

3. Castile soap

Add castile soap to other natural ingredients to help cut through oil and pick up dirt and dust(4).  Just a little squirt goes a long way.

4. Hydrogen peroxide

Trade bleach for hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide kills disease-causing microbes (some microbes are germs)(5) and is a natural whitener. Use it to clean kitchen and bathroom areas where microbes or stains can be found. I also add it to the washing machine when laundering whites.

In Summary

These effective natural cleaners have worked wonders for decades, and stood the test of time. With household cleaning products being a major source of chemical exposures for people of all ages, it’s worth considering switching to natural cleaner solutions. The approach above is flexible for a variety of home materials, simplifies my shopping list, decreases my spending on cleaning products, and nurtures the inner scientist in me.

For more tips on natural cleaners, enroll in the D-Tox Academy.

The D-Tox Academy gives subscribers access to specific brands of products, and tips for how to use and maintain products.  The academy includes short videos and check lists that are helpful when making healthier changes.


(1) National Capital Poison Center

(2) Healthy Children 

(3) (4) A to Z of D-Toxing Works Cited Parts 3 and 4 

(5) Center of Diseases Control and Prevention

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About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.  

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