Too Clean To Be Green: One Disinfectant To Avoid

It’s not news that relying too heavily upon anti-bacterial wash and wipes isn’t a wise idea, but the chemicals in many anti-bacterial hand sanitizers are often found in common household cleaning supplies, as well.

Avoiding harmful chemicals may seem virtually impossible these days, but simple changes made can make a big impact.  Watching out for a few key ingredients can go a long way to help you and your family to live as healthily as possible.  The chemicals below may be especially useful to avoid for those with compromised respiratory health.

Quats, or quaternary ammonium compounds, are a group of synthetic germicides used as antiseptic, disinfectant and detergent ingredients in a variety of products.  Most notably, benzalkonium chloride and benzethonium chloride are key ingredients to watch for and avoid when possible.  Found in common cleaning products like disinfectants, drain cleaners, fabric softeners and dryer sheets, these compounds can be compromising to the immune system over a long period of time.

As a known respiratory irritant, benzalkonium chloride can cause greater sensitivity for those who suffer from asthma.  Benzalkonium chloride has even been related to rare cases of occupational asthma for those handling these types of cleaning products on a regular basis.  With certain products, toxicity is a no-brainer: the fumes send you rushing to open a window and can make you feel light-headed, but not all products give such obvious cues.  It’s important to read labels.  Certain health organizations recommend that anyone with COPD, or any other form of pulmonary disease, avoid the use of these chemicals. Those with skin conditions such as eczema should pay close attention to their household cleaning products as well, as they can heighten sensitivity and cause irritation.

Helpful tips:

  • When possible, use plain old soap and water to wash up with and save the antibacterial washes for rare occasions.
  • Read labels like a hawk:  watch for these two ingredients, especially if someone in your home suffers from the above conditions.
  • Buy plain white vinegar and baking soda to replace some of your commercial cleaners – they are multi-use and clean a variety of surfaces surprisingly well!


Photo courtesy:  Erik Herrera

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