The Chemical Directory / Toxic Household Chemicals Safety Guide

On this page you will find a list of the chemicals that you may be using in home cleaning or used by some professional cleaners.

Acetone – Flammable volatile liquid with distinctive odor. Reacts explosively with hydrogen peroxide. Irritating to eyes, respiratory tract and skin. May be absorbed by inhalation. Can cause changes in liver’s ability to metabolize chemicals, kidney damage, dizziness, sedation and coma.

Acids – Solutions with a pH range between 0 to 6.9. They are corrosive between pH 0 and 2.0 and produce severe burns on contact. See also pH. Uses: Many cleaning products (e.g., delimers, bathroom cleaners, bowl cleaners) are acidic.

Acute health effects – Effects which occur rapidly as a result of short-term (usually less than 24 hours) exposures. Acute effects are usually of short duration, but long term effects can occur after one exposure. Examples include irritation, corrosivity, chemicallyinduced unconsciousness (narcosis), or death.

Aerosol propellants – Gases used to pressurize spray products. Chloroflouorocarbons, which deplete the ozone layer, may be found in old cleaning products. Today other chemicals, such as isobutane, a petroleum product may be used. Hydrocarbon propellants like isobutane contribute to smog problems because of their contribution to tropospheric (ground level) ozone formation .

Alkalies (bases) – Solutions with a pH range between 7.1 to 14.0. An alkali is corrosive when pH is higher than 11.5. See also pH.

Uses: Many cleaning products (e.g., bleach, detergents, dishwashing soaps, drain openers and oven cleaners) are alkalies.

Ammonium chloride – Colorless crystals which are soluble in water and ammonia. Dust is mildly irritating to eyes, nose and throat. See also Ammonia compounds, Quaternary ammonium chloride. Ammonium chloride is harmful to aquatic life in very low concentrations. Ammonia compounds (Includes ammonium chloride , ammonium hydroxide, benzalkonium chloride – Usually liquids with a pungent odor. Corrosive in concentrations found in commercial products (over 10%). Forms irritating cloramine gas when combined with chlorine-containing products. Fumes can cause irritation of the eyes, respiratory tract. Liquid can cause skin burns. Toxic to fish, and reduces oxygen in surface water.

Uses: In many cleaning products, depending on concentration, as antiseptic, bactericide, fungicide, sanitizer, deodorant. Used in detergents as a surfactant. Also found in floor polish, glass window cleaners, household hard surface cleaners, rug and upholstery cleaners.

Benzene – Flammable liquid with a sweet odor. Toxic to bone marrow, and a cause of leukemia in humans. In 1978, the Consumer Product Safety Commission outlawed its use in many cleaning products, although it may still be found in old stocks. Degrades slowly.

Uses: Spot remover, carpet spotter, laundry starch preparations. Biodegradable – Capable of being converted to simpler chemicals by microorganisms.

2-Butoxy ethanol – (Also known as Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether; Monobutyl ethylene glycol) – Incompatible with bleach. May damage eyes and respiratory tract. Absorbed through the skin. May cause liver and kidney damage; causes birth defects in lab animals. With chronic exposure, causes central nervous system toxicity, testicular atrophy.

Uses: In many cleaning products, including glass, window and allpurpose cleaners.

Carbolic Acid – see Phenol

Carcinogen – Chemical capable of causing cancer.

Cardiac sensitizer – Chemical which, upon repeated exposure, can in some persons cause the heart to become sensitive to the stimulant properties of epinephrine (which is produced by the body’s adrenal glands). Subsequent exposure to the sensitizer may cause fatal cardiac arrhythmias. Some chlorinated solvents are sensitizers.

Caustic soda – see Lye

Central nervous system depressant – Chemical toxic to neurons in the brain. With increasing acute exposure, CNS depressants cause headache, dizziness, confusion, euphoria, drowsiness, loss of consciousness and death through inhibition of breathing. Chronic exposure may cause tremors, personality changes, visual impairment, and loss of hearing, memory, or intellectual capacity. Many organic solvents are CNS depressants.

Chlorine (including sodium hypochlorite,Clorox) – Strong oxidizer. Produces toxic chloramine gas when mixed with ammoniated cleaning products. Corrosive to eyes and skin. Fumes are irritating or corrosive to the respiratory tract. Can kill microscopic life in waterways, septic tanks and sewage treatment plants. Toxic to aquatic life

Uses: Bleach, disinfectants, all-purpose cleaners, mildew remover, bathroom cleaners, spot removers, or in scouring powders. Chlorine dioxide (chlorine oxide) – Strong oxidizing gas which can be dissolved in cold water. It may react with hot water or steam to produce toxic and corrosive fumes of hydrochloric acid. Severe respiratory and eye irritant.

Chronic health effects – Effects which generally occur as a result of long-term exposure, and are of long duration. Examples include cancer, liver damage and chronic bronchitis.

Combustible – A substance having a flash point at or above 100 Fahrenheit up to and including 150 Fahrenheit, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines a combustible liquid as having a flashpoint at or above 100 Fahrenheit but below 200 Fahrenheit.

Corrosive – Chemical which, upon contact can cause deep tissue damage, such as burns to eyes or skin.

Dicholoromethane – see Methylene chloride

Dimethylbenzene – see Xylene

Dyes – (Includes azo, basic, disperse, fiber-reactive, vat dyes and fluorescent agents) May cause allergic reactions.

Uses: As colorants or whitening agents in many products, including all-purpose cleaners, disinfectants, fabric softeners.

Ethanol (alcohol) – Clear liquid which can be absorbed by inhalation and across skin. Central nervous system depressant. Vapors can produce some eye and upper respiratory tract irritation.

Uses: Detergents, disinfectants, carpet cleaners, tub and tile cleaners, air fresheners.

Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether – See 2-Butoxy ethanol Flammable – a substance having a flash point above 20 and below100 Fahrenheit, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. An extremely flammable substance has a flashpoint at or below 20 Fahrenheit.

Fragrances – Any of 4,000 chemicals. May cause skin irritation discoloration, rashes or allergic reactions. May be irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract.

Uses: Many cleaning products, either to simulate the scent of “fresh air”, flowers, etc., or to mask odors of other chemicals in the product.

Incompatible – Chemicals which are incompatible react violently or produce toxic byproducts.

Irritation – Redness, swelling or tissue damage caused by chemicals. The degree of irritation is dependent on dose. Chemical irritation may result in mild skin itching, or fatal damage to the lungs.

Limonene (d-Limonene, 4-isopropenyl-1-methylcyclohexene – A flammable, colorless liquid found in some plants. Skin irritant, sensitizer. If ingested in sufficient quantity, may be toxic to kidneys. When heated to decomposition, emits acrid smoke, fumes.

Uses: aerosol, non-aerosol deodorants/air fresheners, bathroom tub and tile cleaners, hard surface cleaners, liquid laundry detergents, dry cleaning pre-spotter, polishing preparations, mechanics soap, oven cleaners, rug/upholstery cleaners, other specialty cleaning and sanitation products Lye (caustic soda, sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide – Corrosive white crystals or colorless liquid. Liquid may cause severe eye burns or blindness, or skin burns with subsequent tissue scarring. Vapors are irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract. Aerosol formulations present an inhalation hazard.

Uses: Drain opener, oven cleaner, detergents.

Methylbenzene – see Toluene

Methylene Chloride – (methylene dichloride; dichloromethane). Colorless liquid. Incompatible with strong oxidizers and caustics. Central nervous system depressant. Probable human carcinogen.

Uses: Disinfectant, all-purpose cleaner, degreaser, septic tank cleaner, laundry starch preparations, rug and upholstery cleaners.

Monobutyl ethylene glycol – see 2-Butoxy ethanol

Naphtha – see Petroleum distillates

Naphthalene – White crystalline solid with the odor of mothballs. Skin exposure may cause severe dermatitis. Irritating to eyes and respiratory tract. Inhalation may cause headache, nausea, confusion, damage to red blood cells. Possible human carcinogen.

Uses: Detergents, air fresheners, spotters.

Nitrobenzene – A yellow oily liquid with an odor like shoe polish. May be absorbed via inhalation and through the skin. Chronic inhalation may cause liver damage. May bind with blood to reduce oxygen availability. Central nervous system depressant.

Uses: Furniture polish, floor polish.

Organic chemical – A chemical which contains carbon. Chemicals which do not contain carbon are termed “inorganic.”

Oxidizer (oxidizing agent) – A chemical capable of reacting with other chemicals in an “oxidation” reaction. Chemical reactions involving strong oxidizers may release heat or be explosive.

pH – A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. A pH of 7 is considered neutral. A pH greater than 7 indicates alkalinity. A pH less than 7 indicates acidity. In the absence of specific test data on irritation, pH provides some insight into whether a product will be corrosive or cause irritation. Products with very high or very low pH (11.5 or 2) should be assumed to be corrosive. High or low pH values (e.g., between 9 and 11, or between 4 and 2) indicate the product would be more irritating than neutral pH products where the pH is closer to 7.

Perchloroethylene (tetrachloroethylene; ethylene tetrachloride; (PERC) – Colorless volatile liquid about 1 ½ times heavier than water. Central nervous system depressant, liver and kidney toxicant. Inhalation may cause respiratory tract irritation or cardiac arrhythmias. Irritating to the skin and eyes on direct contact. When released in water, can smother small aquatic life. Can be toxic to sewage treatment bacteria.

Uses: Graffiti remover, carpet spotter, metal cleaner, degreaser, dry cleaning solvent, furniture polish, household hard surface cleaners, laundry starch preparations, oven cleaner.

Petroleum distillates – The lighter liquid hydrocarbons refined from crude oil by distillation, including petroleum ether, naphtha, mineral oil, mineral spirits, Stoddard solvent and kerosene. (Heavier distillates include lubricating oil, grease, paraffin wax and asphalt; gaseous distillates include propane, butane). Liquid petroleum distillates contain varying, but usually small amounts of aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene, xylene, cycloparaffins, naphthenes). Liquid petroleum distillates are flammable. They are skin, eye and respiratory tract irritants. See also VOC.

Uses: Found in many janitorial cleaning products.

Phenol (carbolic acid) – Colorless crystals, which can be dissolved in water or some organic solvents. Liquids have sweetish, sickening odor and can burn skin and eyes. In aqueous solution, phenol is not highly volatile, but it is readily absorbed through the skin. Abnormal pigmentation commonly occurs following dermal contact with phenolic compounds. Vapors are strongly irritating to eyes, nose and throat. Exposure by inhalation to a low concentration of phenol six times for five minutes produced increased sensitivity to light.

Uses: In detergents, disinfectants, deodorants, furniture polish, air fresheners, mold and mildew removers.

Phosphates – Environmental hazard. Phosphate-containing compounds increase biological oxygen demand in surface water.

Uses: In detergents, bathroom cleaners, floor strippers.

Phosphoric acid – Colorless, odorless liquid.Corrosive to ferrous metals and alloys. Should not be mixed with bleach or ammonia. An irritant to the eyes, upper respiratory tract, and skin. Phosphorus-containing compounds increase biological oxygen demand in surface water. When used as an agent for metal cleaning, phosphoric acid may react with impurities in the metal and release phosphine gas.
Compounds (VOC) that contribute to smog problems because of their contribution to tropospheric (ground level) ozone formation.

Sulfur compounds (including potassium metabisulfite and sodium bisulfite – Corrosive irritant to skin, eyes, and mucous membranes; sulfur-containing compounds may be allergenic and may produce skin rashes or difficulty breathing in persons with asthma. When used in rust removers, may produce fumes of sulfur dioxide, a respiratory irritant.

Uses: Antioxidant and preservative in a variety of cleaning products.

Tetrachloroethylene – see Perchloroethylene

Toluene (methylbenzene) – Volatile, flammableliquid with strong chemical odor. Eye, skin and respiratory irritant. Central nervous system depressant. Cardiac sensitizer. Prolonged or repeated exposure may cause liver, kidney damage or anemia. Exposure during pregnancy may result in birth defects.

Uses: Solvent in a variety of products such as graffiti remover, floor polish, furniture polish, laundry starch preparations, household hard surface cleaners.

Trichloroethane (1,1,1-trichloroethane ; 1,1,2-trichloroethane) – colorless liquid with mild chloroform-like odor. Because it is four times heavier than air, vapors tend to collect in low spaces. Corrosive to aluminum. Repeated dermal exposure may result in skin irritation. Central nervous system depressant. Cardiac sensitizer. The 1,1,1- isomer is also a Class 1 ozone depleter (like CFCs) being phased out under the Clean Air Act.

Uses: Solvent, degreaser, spotting fluid, drain cleaner; formerly used as an aerosol propellant.

Trichloroethylene – Colorless liquid with mild chloroform-like odor. Because it is four times heavier than air, vapors tend to collect in low spaces. Suspected human carcinogen. Central nervous system depressant. Cardiac sensitizer. Associated with birth defects of the heart, and in animals, decreased fetal weight and abnormal sperm.

Uses: Degreaser, solvents, graffiti remover.

Xylene (dimethylbenzene) – Colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor. May attack some forms of plastic and rubber. Incompatible with strong oxidizers. Vapor may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Central nervous system depressant. Chronic exposure to xylene may cause dry irritated skin, reversible eye damage, difficulty breathing, changes in liver function, kidney damage, anemia, and toxicity to white and red blood cells. Uses: Solvent, air fresheners, stainless steel cleaner, floor polish.
Uses: Metal brighteners, cleaners, detergents, sanitizers. Pine oil – Flammable liquid. An irritant to the eyes, upper respiratory tract, and skin. May cause mild respiratory and central nervous system depression, and kidney toxicity.

Potassium metabisulfite – Colorless crystals which are soluble in water and ammonia. Dust is mildly irritating to eyes, nose and throat. See also Sulfur compounds.

Uses: Washing powders.

Quaternary ammonium chloride (didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride) – A flammable liquid. Corrosive. An irritant to the eyes, skin, upper respiratory tract. May cause central nervous system depression. Ingestion may cause pain, swelling, breathing difficulty, convulsions. Ammonium chloride is harmful to aquatic life in very low concentrations.

Uses: Disinfectant, sanitizer.

Sensitizer – a chemical that causes a substantial proportion of exposed people or animals to develop an allergic reaction after repeated exposure to the chemical.

Sodium bisulfite – see Sulfur compounds

Sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate -Environmental hazard. Increases biological oxygen demand in surface water. See also Biological oxygen demand.

Uses: As a wetting agent (surfactant) in heavy duty laundry products; metal cleaners, specialty cleaners and sanitation products.

Sodium hydroxide – see Lye

Sodium hypochlorite – see Chlorine

Solvent – Liquid used to dissolve other substances. Aqueous solvents consist primarily of water, while organic solvents can include a variety of organic chemicals such as acetone, benzene, toluene, ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, xylene, and turpentine. Most organic solvents are Volatile Organic

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