Cancer Prevention Coalition Cancer Prevention Coalition  

Avoidable Exposures: Consumers

Fighting for a safer environment at home, in the community, and at work


Indoor Air Pollution: Cleaning Up Cleaning Habits

Most people spend more than half of their lives indoors. The significance of indoor air-quality, has become more important in recent years as a result of efforts to make our homes more energy efficient. As we tighten up our homes to prevent heat exchange, we also prevent air exchange and pollutants released into the home environment are trapped for long periods of time. Second-hand cigarette smoke, gas stoves, and wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are major sources of indoor air pollution. But home products like cleaning agents, aerosols, air fresheners, and disinfectants contribute to the problem. These products may also contain hidden cancer-causing ingredients.

Q. What kinds of chemical ingredients should I be wary of?

A. There are a large number of chemicals included in air fresheners and cleaning products that are suspected of causing human health problems. Cancer Prevention Alert No. 8, Hazardous Ingredients in Household Products, lists these in detail. The Safe Shoppers Bible, written by CPC Chairman Dr. Samuel Epstein and Board Member David Steinman, is also a good resource for choosing household products. Carry such a resource along when shopping for cleaning products because many products do not disclose all ingredients, claiming that ingredients are "trade secret."

Q. Are there specific brands of cleaners that are toxic or contain toxic ingredients?

A. Yes. The following household products are commonly used in many institutions or homes and should be avoided. The recommended products are good choices for replacing any questionable product.


  • Heavy Duty Institutional Formula WHISTLE All Purpose Cleaner with Ammonia (Drackett Products Company)
  • Dee All-Purpose (Aerosol) Cleaner (Dee Janitorial Supply)

Toxic Ingredient: Butyl Cellosolve, irritant, toxic to forming cells, neurotoxic, toxic to kidney and liver

Safe Alternative: Ajax All-Purpose Liquid Cleaner Ammonia Fresh

  • Super Extractor Cleaner (NYCO Products)

Toxic Ingredients: Butyl Cellosolve; Perchloroethylene, irritant, neurotoxic, carcinogenic

Safe Alternative: Bon Ami Cleaning Powder

  • Foamy Q & A (Spartan Chemical)

Toxic Ingredient: Butyl Cellosolve

Safe Alternative: Mr. Clean


  • Blue Glass Cleaner (NYCO PRODUCTS)
  • Professional Windex Concentrate Glass Cleaner (S.C. Johnson Wax)
  • Institutional Windex Powerized Formulation Glass Cleaner (Drackett Products Company)

Toxic Ingredient: Butyl Cellosolve
Safe Alternative: 409 Glass and Surface Cleaner


  • Ajax Oxygen Bleach Cleanser (Colgate-Palmolive Company)

Toxic Ingredient: Crystalline Silica - eye, skin and lung irritant, carcinogenic

Safe Alternatives: Comet Cleanser, Regular & Lemon Fresh; Bon Ami Cleaning Powder


  • UNREAL (Bullen Midwest, Inc.)

Toxic Ingredient: Butyl Cellosolve
Safe Alternative: Baking Soda


  • Big D Concentrated Aerosol Room Deodorant (Big D Industries)

Toxic Ingredient: Isopar (deodorized kerosene), manufacturer admits wide range of toxic effects

Safe Alternatives: Renuzit Adjustable Air Freshener; Airwick Stick Up

  • Fresh Para Blocks and Crystals (Fresh Products Inc.)

Toxic Ingredient: Paradichlorobenzene, toxic to liver and kidneys, carcinogenic

Safe Alternatives: Renuzit Adjustable Air Freshener; Airwick Stick Up

Q. What else can I do to protect my indoor air quality?

A. Several common house plants are known for their use in the removal of contaminants from indoor air. Spider plants and golden pothos are recommended for carbon monoxide and formaldehyde removal. Chinese evergreen, English ivy, peace lily, or Marginata remove benzene. Trichloroethylene is best removed by a potted mum, a peace lily or Warneckii (Dracaena deremeusis).

Make sure that rooms are well ventilated and that windows open. Good ventilation is crucial to maintaining low levels of indoor air pollution.

If you keep industrial solvents such as alcohol, toluene, degreasing materials, do not store them in the house or in an attached garage. An outside cabinet is the best location for such air pollutants.

For more information on indoor air quality and toxic household products contact:

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Cancer Prevention Coalition
c/o University of Illinois at Chicago
School of Public Health, M/C 922
2121 W. Taylor Street
Chicago, IL 60612


Losing the Cancer War
Avoidable Exposures
Work & Environment
Avoidable Cancers
Publications and Resources
Press Room
Take Action






    Copyright 2003 Cancer Prevention Coalition