Friday, 12 August 2022

Harmful Chemicals: The Scourge Of Today’s Household

Mention allergies and the thoughts that instantly flash in the minds of many are normally pollution, food, pollen, medication and insects. It’s understandable since these factors are usually the most obvious and rather rapid causes of allergies for most.

Air pollution for example is everywhere and is arguably the most prominent culprit when it comes to skin, eyes and lung irritation. In a news release in May 2018, the World Health Organization said that nine out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

It also added that that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections.

Nevertheless, overlooked or in some instance, taken lightly amidst the more prominent allergy triggers are the products that we rely on to maintain good home and self-hygiene – chemical household cleaning and personal care products.


Global studies show that harmful chemicals in cleaning products can either spark instant allergic reactions or cause long term health issues especially for children. In April, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted increased calls to poison control centers for exposure to cleaners and disinfectants particularly among children below the age of 5.

The CHILD Cohort Study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal in February associates early childhood wheezing and asthma to frequent exposure to household cleaning products .

A research in 2019 – led by Dr. Anne Steinemann, a professor at the University of Melbourne – on International prevalence of chemical sensitivity found many adults to have experienced respiratory issues and migraine caused by fragrances in products such as household cleaning products, air fresheners, disinfectants, soap and laundry detergents.

In March, the Clinical Pediatrics journal published a new study from The Ohio State University that found young children from low-income homes whose mothers reported frequent use of toxic chemicals such as household cleaners were more likely to show delays in language development by age two.


Generally, there are many chemical ingredients that make up conventional household cleaning and personal care products with some more harmful than others. The underlying point here is harm is a constant and the question remains to what extent will these chemicals do damage to your health.  

To give you an idea of what you are unknowingly bringing into your home when you buy conventional cleaning products and what you are up against after using them, here are five harmful chemicals that you should scan the labels for and keep away from your homes to enable a healthier household environment.

Synthetic or Chemical Fragrances

It might sound surprising but smelling nice does come with a cost to your health. According to the International Fragrance Association, from its list of 3,059 materials used as fragrance compounds, many have been linked to health issues such as cancer and allergies. A quick search in the CDC’s website will illustrate how chemicals from fragrances are just as toxic as other harmful chemicals and can be absorbed through skin with prolonged exposure.

Synthetic or Chemical Preservatives

Preservatives are used to prevent decay of products or contamination and help increase shelf-life. However, many cleaning products include artificial or chemical preservatives and this is where health problems arise. Harmful preservatives are known to trigger allergies and asthma and the effects can be worst on children. Highly toxic preservatives such as Methylisothiazolinone and Parabens are known to trigger skin allergies and irritation. The latter is even linked to cancer.

Alcohol Ethoxylate

Alcohol Ethoxylate is a set of chemical compounds of non-ionic surfactants, commonly found in laundry and cleaning detergents. It functions as a cleaning agent. However, the ethoxylation process can form by-products such as ethylene oxide a known carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane, a probable human carcinogen, and is suspected to cause cancer or birth defects. Pregnant women and infants become vulnerable with prolonged exposure.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Sodium Laureth Ether Sulfate, better known as SLES, is a popular surfactant in cleaning and personal care products because of its purpose as a highly effective surfactant and foaming agent and it’s cheap. But, cheap doesn’t always mean cheerful. SLES is petrochemical-based and constant contact can lead to irritation of the skin, eyes and possibly lungs.

Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate (LAS)

While this is one of the most important petrochemical anionic surfactants in laundry and cleaning products, Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate or LAS also poses health risks. Just like SLES, LAS too can lead to skin and eye irritation with frequent exposure. Worst still, it is extremely hard for LAS to biodegrade without oxygen which is not good for the environment.


We are surrounded by a myriad of environmental threats that has consequences to our health. We can’t control external factors that trigger allergies and asthma but we can mitigate the situation by controlling what we bring into our homes.

If there is one thing that studies affirmatively show is that, compared to adults, the risk is higher for children to develop allergies and asthma triggered by persistent exposure to harmful chemicals.

For those sitting on the fence, either by choice or lack of awareness, this should convince you to jump onto the side of nature and confine chemicals to the proverbial bin. While a healthy environment starts at home, a healthy future starts with our children.