San Francisco Department of the Environment

Cleaning Products

Household cleaning products often contain harsh chemicals that are not necessary to kill germs or keep homes clean. These chemicals can cause immediate health harm and may contribute to long-term health consequences.
 
Fortunately, safer alternatives are readily available.

Choose the right product.

Read product labels.

Since cleaning products contain ingredients that are hazardous and potentially fatal, it is important to read and understand product labels.

Thoroughly review the product label for warnings and directions for any cleaning product, even for products that are considered safer alternatives. Follow instructions closely. Heed the special warning labels found on disinfectant and sanitizer products: 

Caution - lowest hazard, indicates the product could hurt you and cause skin or eye irritation
Warning - stronger hazard, indicates a higher potential for harm
Danger -  strongest hazard, indicates the risk of fatality or permanent damage to the body

Avoid harmful cleaning chemicals.

Plain soap/detergent and water are surprisingly effective at removing germs - over 99%. Microfiber cloths or mops make cleaning more effective.

There are thousands of hazardous chemicals, and the easiest way to find safer products is to look for certifications like Safer Choice (see above). If certified products are not available, here are some common ingredients to avoid:

Ammonia - can cause asthma, liver and kidney toxicity
Chlorine bleach - can cause asthma, can damage skin, eye and other membranes
"Quats” - known as quaternary ammonium disinfectants, can cause asthma and contact dermatitis. Look for "..monium chloride" in the ingredient name, for example, "alkyldimethylbenzylammonium chloride."
2-butoxyethanol - linked to liver and kidney toxicity, skin and eye irritation
Monoethanolamine - can trigger asthma and cause tissue damage and shortness of breath

Use disinfectants only when necessary.

Most disinfectants contain ingredients that can cause asthma. 99% of germs can be removed by a good cleaning with general purpose cleaners.

When to use: Only use disinfectants for high skin contact areas such as doorknobs, counters, faucets and bathroom sinks.
How to use: Don’t just spray and wipe. To kill germs as designed, most products must remain on surfaces for 10 minutes.


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