Petrochemicals in The Home: Synthetic Chemical Products That Are Harmful to Your Household

Alternatives to chemical products that can improve your healthy lifestyle.

Wiping down your counters. Rinsing the dishes. You might not think twice when going through the motions, but did you know the average household contains 63 synthetic chemical products? All together, this amounts to approximately 10 gallons of hazardous petrochemicals. The majority of these petrochemicals are found where you may least expect it - your household cleaners.

Soaps and cleaning solutions used to be based in vegetable oils and minerals. However, once scientists discovered how to manipulate hydrocarbon molecules, they realized they could create cheaper chemicals from crude oil that would do the same job with less production efforts.


Since the “petroleum revolution” chemical products have taken over plant-based cleaners. Below you’ll find a list of chemicals you’re likely to encounter if you’re using common household cleaners, and their effects:


  • Chlorinated phenols: Found in toilet bowl cleaners, it’s toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems.
  • Diethylene glycol: Found in window cleaners, and depresses the nervous system
  • Phenols: Found in disinfectants, and are toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems.
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylate:  A common detergent found in laundry detergents and all purpose cleaners and slowly breaks down into even more toxic compounds.
  • Formaldehyde: found in spray and wick deodorizers is a respiratory irritant and suspected carcinogen.
  • Petroleum solvents: Found in floor cleaners, causes damage to mucous membranes.
  • Perchloroethylene: A spot remover, causes liver and kidney damage.
  • Butyl cellosolve: Common in all-purpose, window and other types of cleaners, and can cause damage to bone marrow, the nervous system, kidneys and the liver.


The list doesn’t end here, and some of the chemicals are so dangerous that they are listed in the toxics section of the Clean Air and Water Act.

Unfortunately it can be difficult to identify these ingredients in household products. While cleaners are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, they’re still not required to name their ingredients. A study by the New York Poison Control Center found that 85% of product warning labels are inadequate. The warnings you currently see on household cleaners only convey immediate health effects and not concerns that appear after consistently using these products over a long period of time. These dangerous substances are often absorbed through our skin, but can also linger in the air for hours or even days after the product has been used, leaving residues that end up on our skin and food.

A 15 year study in Oregon compared women who worked outside the home with with those who did not. The results showed that women who stayed at home had a 54% higher death rate from cancer, and suggested that chronic exposure to cleaning products contributed to the illness.

5-10 million household product poisoning are reported every year, mostly of children. It comes as no surprise that the EPA found the air quality in our homes to be on average 2-5 times more polluted that the air outside. It contains 20-150 different pollutants in concentrations anywhere from 10-40 times greater than in the outdoors. If you’ve guessed much of this was a result of petrochemical cleaners, you’d be right.

There are about 17,000 petrochemicals available to be used both in public and at home. The National Research Council estimates less than 30% have been tested for their effects on human and environmental health.

Luckily, there are alternatives available to help you create a cleaner, healthier home. Brands like Mrs. Meyer’s, Dr. Bronner’s, Citra Solv, and Biokleen all offer non-toxic cleaning products, so you can keep an organized home, stress-free.