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Chlorine in Household Cleaners

Chlorine in Household Cleaners

Should I worry about chlorine in household cleaners? In a word: Yes. Whether found alone or in a mixture of other chemicals, household products that contain chlorine pose a number of serious health risks. Products of special concern include: automatic dishwashing detergents, chlorine bleach, chlorinated disinfectant cleaners, mildew removers, and toilet bowl cleaners.

Many household cleaners contain chlorine, though it often masquerades behind aliases such as “sodium hypochlorite” or “hypochlorite.”

Breathing in the fumes of cleaners containing a high concentration of chlorine can irritate the lungs. This is particularly dangerous for people suffering from heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema. And the risks are compounded when the cleaners are used in small, poorly ventilated rooms, such as the bathroom. Chlorine is also a highly corrosive substance, capable of damaging skin, eyes, and other membranes. Chlorine was listed as a hazardous air pollutant in the 1990 Clean Air Act, and exposure to chlorine in the workplace is regulated by federal standards. What is Chlorine?

What Can I Do to Protect My Family from the Hazards of Chlorine? You can do plenty.


  • One of the most important things you can do is buy paper products that aren’t bleached with chlorine. That’s because chlorine bleached paper can contain dioxin and organochlorine residues that can transfer to any food or person they come in contact with. Choose instead unbleached paper towels, napkins, facial tissue, and bathroom tissue… . How Does Paper Bleaching Affect Me?
  • The EPA says that using bleached coffee filters alone can result in a lifetime exposure to dioxin that “exceeds acceptable levels”. Choose instead unbleached coffee filters.
  • Using detergents that contain chlorine in the dishwasher or clothes washer can pollute the air in your home. The water in the machines, which contains chlorine from the detergents, transfers the chlorine to the air through a process called “volatilization.” We then breathe the contaminated air. Choose instead cleaning products made without chlorine. Once These Chemicals Are Inside My Body, What Can Happen?
  • Dishwashers are the worst culprits, releasing chemicals in a steamy mist when the door is opened after washing. In a clothes washer, chlorine mixes with the dirt in clothes to generate airborne, toxic chlorinated organic chemicals. Chlorine-free dishwashing detergents are readily available.
    Click hereto read the rest of Seventh Generation’s Information Bulletin, “Facts about Chlorine.

Read more: Home, Green Home Decor, Health & Safety

Excerpted from Seventh Generation's Information Bulletin, "Facts about Chlorine." Copyright (c) Seventh Generation. Reprinted by permission of Seventh Generation.
Excerpted from Seventh Generation's Information Bulletin, "Facts about Chlorine."

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on anniebbond.com, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

Go to the Source

Seventh Generation

Link to the full article on chlorine, and learn about chlorine-free products, at Seventh Generation's web site.

Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy

by Joe Thornton, Joe Thorton (MIT Press, 2000). This extremely well written book makes a powerful argument for a fundamental but practical change in the way government and the chemical industry do business. It is amazingly well referenced and makes a powerful case that synthetic chemicals based on chlorine are harming everyone's health -- not just people who live in polluted areas but the general public, because hundreds of these chemicals can now be found all across the planet.buy now

86 comments

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4:57PM PST on Feb 22, 2011

Very worrisome.

6:40PM PST on Jan 22, 2011

Am I the only person reading this who has noticed that this is an excerpt of a publication by a company that is SELLING something? And that not of the assertions are backed up by any notes or links? For example, I just searched the EPA web site and could find nothing on dioxin and coffee filters. Please don't believe everything you read, especially on the internet.

4:18AM PDT on Jul 6, 2010

I had no idea bleach could be such a health hazard!!

12:20AM PDT on Apr 21, 2010

Thanks for post

2:06PM PST on Jan 7, 2010

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8:15AM PST on Dec 30, 2009

Is it just me or does the author not seem to know the difference between sodium hypochlorite and elemental chlorine?

I checked out the MSDS sheets for sodium hypochlorite, acetic acid (vinegar), and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) specifically the toxicity of both. Doing the math for mean lethal dose for a 75kg person, toxic doses of household cleaners are:

- 2.5L of vinegar (10% w/w)
- 320g of backing soda (less than a one pound box)
- 9L of bleach (4% w/w)

That means that bleach is less toxic than vinegar or baking soda.

Learn more here and draw your own conclusions.

http://msds.chem.ox.ac.uk/AC/acetic_acid.html
http://msds.chem.ox.ac.uk/SO/sodium_hypochlorite.html
http://msds.chem.ox.ac.uk/SO/sodium_bicarbonate.html

7:53AM PDT on May 28, 2009

This is so true! I wish I could convey the importance of non-toxic cleaners and household necessity products to my friends and family. I'm thankful for websites like this to help get the message out there. I use Melaleuca and am very happy with there products. If you are interested in using them I can help you. I have a website to contact me. www.switchingstores.com/IAm4Life

11:20AM PST on Feb 15, 2009

I loathe chlorinated bleach, but my husband thinks its not toxic and the only thing that can get things clean. I have been trying to ween him of his love for Clorox. I regret that I don't like the smell (or taste) of vinegar, so can't use it for cleaning; instead, I use a highly condensed citrus product I dilute to varying degrees for cleaning everything except my wood floors and furniture. I also use a mesh basket for coffee (& recycle the grounds!).

10:11PM PST on Feb 10, 2009

I had no idea bleach could be such a health hazard in so many different ways. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have forwarded this on as well.

3:44PM PST on Feb 3, 2009

I agree with Andrea and most of the people that have alternative solutions for the bleach, but I also use toothpaste for several things and it works, just like in our teeth. If it’s good for my teeth, it’s good for my everyday cleaning.

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