Ridding your home of these potential pollutants or at least minimizing their use is key, green experts say.
LOS ANGELES — Even the most environmentally-friendly home falls short if it's cleaned with many of the most commonly used household products on the market today.
That's because many products contain chemicals that can be downright toxic for users, and harmful to the environment when they eventually make their way out through drains into the ground or waterways.
So ridding your home of these potential pollutants or at least minimizing their use is key, green experts say.
But sifting through what's harmful and even what's environmentally innocuous isn't always easy.
"Cleaners aren't simple ... only a fraction of the chemicals out there have actually been fully tested for safety and efficacy," notes Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
While many household products have labels with at least some ingredients, there is no requirement that manufacturers display ingredients on labels, unless there is a toxic chemical that has been flagged by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Generally, if the product carries a hefty warning, it's probably not good for the environment, experts say.
In addition, there is even less data on the potential harmful effects or environmental byproducts of combining some cleaning products.
Rangan suggests, at a minimum, only to use strong cleaners when it's absolutely necessary, and avoid them in day-to-day cleaning on most surfaces.
"Simple soap and water is going to do an over 99 percent effective job to clean most things," Rangan says.
One strategy is to either dilute your heavy cleaning products or replace them altogether with natural alternatives.
The combination of some common household items, including baking soda, soap, salt, lemon juice, white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide can clean just as well, without having to be exposed to chemicals, Rangan says.
The Children's Health Environmental Coalition (checnet.org), a nonprofit organization that tracks environmental toxins harmful to children, has recipes for mixing these and other safe ingredients to create effective alternative cleaners.
For example, to clean the microwave, the group prescribes scrubbing it with a blend of three to four tablespoons of baking soda and water. To make a good window cleaner, blend three tablespoons of vinegar for every one quart of water.
For some heavy duty problems, like mold on grout in your bathroom, it's better to clean more often to prevent it from taking root than to let it grow and then have to resort to a mold remover loaded with chemicals, experts say.
A natural option: A stiff brush, a non-ammonia detergent, baking soda, water and lots of elbow grease.
Cleansers made from natural ingredients are another alternative.
Among some of the better-known brands are Ecover, Earth Friendly, Mrs. Meyer's, Trader Joe's, Method and Seventh Generation, which boast safer, natural ingredients.
Still, when selecting a product labeled as natural or eco-friendly, one must be aware that there is no standard definition for a "natural" product.
Generally, the more information the manufacturer discloses, the better.
When in doubt about an ingredient in a household product, online sources can help.
The Pesticide Action Network at pesticideinfo.org, lets users look up products by name or by chemical. While Consumers Union's eco-labels.org can be used to check out labels for many products advertised as Earth-friendly.
"Green has no meaning. Organic has no meaning. Natural has no meaning. Nontoxic has no meaning," Rangan says. "You really should not rely on these (terms)."