RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Cleaning-product manufacturers have long benefited from government protections that exempt them from publishing ingredients lists on their labels, under the logic that their formulations are "trade secrets," which is why many of those labels list innocuous-sounding components like "odor eliminator" or "fragrance." As a result, it's hard to know what's really in the cleansers you use—and what those secret ingredients could be doing to the air you breathe in your home.
The nonprofit advocacy Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 21 cleaners used in schools, including a few that are also sold for household use. They sent products used in 13 California school districts to an air-quality lab, where levels of air pollutants were checked after the products were used according to instructions. Among the 21 tested cleaners were four household cleaning products that you may have underneath your kitchen sink.
Here are the test results for those four cleaners, and some alternative cleaning strategies that will leave you with clean indoor air instead of a hazy fog of pollutants:
#1: Febreze Air Effects (Hawaiian Aloha)
Ingredients listed on the bottle: Odor eliminator, water, fragrance, nonflammable natural propellant, quality-control ingredients.
What EWG found: 89 air contaminants, including ethyl acetate (toxic to the brain and nervous system), acetaldehyde (a known respiratory irritant and possible human carcinogen), and butylated hydroxytoluene (a preservative that's toxic to the immune system and suspected of interfering with hormones). "We were very concerned about this, given the large number of air contaminants detected, many of which haven't been tested and we don't know what they do to us," says Rebecca Sutton, PhD, an environmental chemist and senior scientist at EWG, who authored the report.
What to do about it: Fix the source of the odor, rather than masking it with a cloud of hormone-disrupting chemicals that may or may not bear any resemblance to a Hawaiian aloha. Household air could be musty because of a leaky pipe, and that stench in the closet could be sweaty gym shoes. To get rid of tough kitchen odors, boil a pot of water with some orange peels, cloves, and cinnamon sticks and leave it simmering on the stove for a while (it could freshen up your whole ground floor). Or try one of these autumn air-freshener ideas from Care2.com.