Fragile Earth

Ingredients to avoid in cleaning products

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Many of the ordinary cleaning products that are used around the home have been around for many years.  This can lure us into a false sense of security when it comes to health. More and more, people are suffering from illnesses like allergies, asthma, sinusitis or bronchitis. There is evidence that some of this could be reduced by also reducing the number of synthetic chemicals that are used in the home.

Many manufacturers claim that the amount of toxic substances in their products is too minute to cause any harm. However, it is the continued use over time and the build-up of the chemicals both in the surrounding environment and our bodies that have a harmful effect.

For anyone who is concerned about the potential risks of using chemical cleaners to their health or the environment, even if this is just based on the precautionary principle, here's a list of ingredients to avoid.

Ingredients to avoid in cleaning products

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Chlorine is most commonly found in household bleach. When chlorine enters the body as a result of breathing, swallowing, or skin contact, it reacts with water to produce acids. The acids are corrosive and damage cells in the body. One of the major health hazards for users is the liberation of toxic Chlorine gas when bleach is mixed with other cleaning products, acids and ammonia products being the principal causes.  Chlorine, when diluted in water and used as a disinfectant (a process called chlorination) can react with organic matter to produce potentially carcinogenic trihalomethanes.

Found in: bleach. toilet bowl cleaners.

Sodium Hypochlorite

There is no threshold value for sodium hypochlorite exposure. Various health effects occur after exposure to sodium hypochlorite. People are exposed to sodium hypochlorite by inhalation of aerosols. This causes coughing and a sore throat. After swallowing sodium hypochlorite the effects are a stomach ache, a burning sensation, coughing, diarrhoea, a sore throat and vomiting. Sodium hypochlorite on skin or eyes causes redness and pain. After prolonged exposure, the skin can become sensitive. Sodium hypochlorite is poisonous for water organisms. It is mutagenic and very toxic when it comes in contact with ammonium salts.

The dilution of sodium hypochlorite should always be water. The following should not ever be mixed with bleach: Acidic toilet bowl cleaners – this can result in deadly, toxic fumes as it creates acidic products and chlorine gas. This also includes vinegar. Ammonia – mixing sodium hypochlorite with ammonia will create chloramine vapours, which is a highly toxic and potentially deadly gas. Other cleaning products sodium hypochlorite can be unstable; mixing it with a variety of other chemicals can cause toxic vapours and mixtures.

Found in: bleach, toilet bowl cleaners, surface disinfectants, bathroom cleaners, laundry whiteners and disinfectants


Ammonia is a powerful irritant and the danger comes from inhalation.  Anyone with asthma or breathing problems can be affected.  People with high exposure to ammonia, like cleaners, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma.  Vapours may irritate the skin, eyes, throat, and lungs. Ammonia may also cause kidney and liver damage.  If ammonia is mixed with products containing chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite), highly poisonous chloramine gas is formed.

Found in: window cleaners, drain cleaners, toilet cleaners, bathroom cleaners, oven cleaners, stainless-steel cleaners, car polish, and all-purpose cleaners.

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats)

Irritant and sensitiser that can induce an allergic response following contact with the skin. Quats are also known to cause occupational asthma in cleaning workers and preliminary evidence indicates they may cause adverse genetic and reproductive effects.

Found in: bathroom cleaning products, all-purpose cleaners, fabric softeners, and degreasers.

Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate

Corrosive, severe eye, skin and respiratory irritant. It can also form chlorine gas, which will burn the eyes, nose and mouth. Studies have found that high doses of this chemical cause kidney damage.

Found in: toilet bowl cleaners, deodorizers, surface cleaners, and disinfectants

Sodium hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide is caustic and is one of several alkaline compounds referred to as "lye." It is highly corrosive. Exposure to sodium hydroxide solid or solution can cause skin and eye irritation. Direct contact with the solid or with concentrated solutions causes thermal and chemical burns leading to deep-tissue injuries. Very strong solutions of sodium hydroxide can hydrolyze proteins in the eyes, leading to severe burns and eye damage or, in extreme cases, blindness.

Children are more vulnerable to toxicants affecting the skin because of their relatively larger surface area: body weight ratio. Ingestion of sodium hydroxide can cause severe corrosive injury to the lips, tongue, oral mucosa, oesophagus, and stomach. Long-term exposure in the air may lead to ulceration of the nasal passages and chronic skin irritation.

Found in: oven cleaners, bathroom cleaners, disinfectants, drain openers, and toilet bowl cleaners


This chemical is in the category of glycol ethers. 2-Butoxyethanol is a clear colourless liquid that smells like ether. It has many names including ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylene glycol butyl ether, ethylene glycol n-butyl ether, Butyl Cellusolve, butyl glycol, and butyl Oxitol. Inhalation causes sore throats, but prolonged exposure can lead to serious health effects like liver and kidney damage.  If this product is used somewhere with poor ventilation the amount of the chemical in the air can be very high. A skin and eye irritant also associated with blood disorders. In laboratory experiments, exposure to high doses of 2-BE has been shown to cause reproductive problems.

Found in: Liquid soaps, general purpose household cleaners, glass cleaners, laundry stain removers, carpet cleaners, car cleaners, windscreen wiper fluid, degreasers, oven cleaners, and rust removers.

DEA (diethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine)

Skin, eye and respiratory irritants. DEA and TEA are used as emulsifying agents, fragrances and pH adjuster and as sudsing agents, both chemicals can react with nitrates, which are often undisclosed preservatives or contaminants present in cleaners. This reaction can form nitrosamines, which are carcinogens that readily penetrate the skin. Diethanolamine is a chemical that’s regarded as toxic enough in the European Union to be banned from personal products and cosmetics. Diethanolamine or DEA has been linked to the following health issues: hormone disruption, cancer, liver tumours, accumulation in the liver and kidney causing organ toxicity. both DEA and TEA have been linked to hormone imbalances and potential increased risk of breast cancer.

Found in: liquid laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, floor cleaners, car wash products, degreasers, dishes soap, oven cleaners, and glass and surface cleaners.

Fragrance chemicals (see also Phthalates)

Many fragrances are irritants and can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms. In particular, synthetic musk used in detergents build up in the environment and can be toxic to aquatic organisms. Certain synthetic musks are also suspected endocrine disrupters that mimic or interfere with the function of hormones.

Found in: laundry detergent, fabric softeners, all-purpose cleaners, air-fresheners, and most all types of cleaning products


A common fragrance ingredient in products. Phthalates are suspected endocrine disrupters associated with reproductive effects, including reduced sperm count in men. The risk of adverse effects is generally considered to be likely only over time as ‘aggregated’ exposure.

Found in: laundry detergents, fabric softeners, deodorizers, glass cleaner, floor polishes, air fresheners

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)

NP/NPEs, also known as nonylphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates, are nonionic surfactants, or detergent-like substances. Degrades into nonylphenols (NPs), which can mimic the hormone estrogen. In laboratory experiments, NP has been shown to stimulate the growth of human breast cancer cells. NP/NPEs are highly toxic to aquatic life and cause adverse reproductive effects in fish and other aquatic organisms. 

Found in: liquid laundry detergents, stain removers, all-purpose cleaners, air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, degreasers, and car wash products.


Environmental hazard causing excessive growth in aquatic plants which leads to the suffocation of fish & underwater life.

Found in: dishwasher detergents, laundry detergents, and bathroom cleaners.

Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES)

SLS and SLEA are detergents that pose a serious health threat. Young eyes may not develop properly if expose to SLS or SLES and may damage the skin’s immune system.

Found in: washing up liquid, liquid laundry detergents, cleaning towelettes, toilet bowl cleaners, garage floor cleaners, engine degreasers, body washes & shampoos

Triclosan and Triclocarban

Triclosan (and related antibacterial chemical, triclocarban) are synthetic antibacterial agents that are toxic and suspected endocrine disrupters that can mimic or interfere with the function of hormones, meaning it interferes with important hormone functions, which can directly affect the brain in addition to our immune and reproductive systems. Specifically, the chemical disturbs thyroid, testosterone, and estrogen regulation, which can create a host of issues including early puberty, poor sperm quality, infertility, obesity, and cancer. Studies have also shown it can lead to impaired learning and memory, exacerbate allergies, and weaken muscle function. The impacts of prolonged exposure during fetal development, infancy, and childhood can be particularly severe, resulting in permanent damage There is concern that its extensive use in consumer products is contributing to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Found in: washing up liquids, disinfectants, hand washes, wipes, dental care, toys, etc.


An extremely caustic chemical that burns the skin.  Absorption through the lungs or skin can cause central nervous system damage, pneumonia, respiratory problems, kidney and liver damage, numbness, vomiting and a be fatal.

Found in: air fresheners, solvents, detergents, furniture polish, all-purpose cleaners, and aerosol disinfectants


Fragile Earth Biologicals. The active biological ingredients (includes bacteria, enzymes, plant extracts) in all our cleaning products, drain treatments, deodourising, garden and pond products.

Fragile Earth biological digestants are composed of 100% naturally occurring, non-pathogenic microorganisms that have been specifically selected for their abilities to degrade target substances. Fragile Earth formulations contain specific, all-natural microorganisms to break down organic pollutants – without the use of chemicals and further damage to the environment. Fragile Earth bacteria are safe. None of the organisms found in our products are genetically engineered or pathogenic for animals, plants, or humans. No incidence of adverse health effects related to the use of our products or their by-products has ever been reported.

Useful links Advice and research on accidents involving cleaning products ROSPA Indoor air quality British Lung Foundation NHS guidance on cleaning products and cancer risk Breast Cancer UK information on safer use of household cleaning products.