Environmental impact of cleaning agents

Environmental impacts of cleaning agents are the consequences of chemical compounds in cleaning products. Cleaning agents can be bioactive with consequences ranging from mild to severe. Developmental and endocrine disruptors have been linked to cleaning agents.[1][2] Green cleaning is an approach to redress or address the problems associated with traditional cleaning agents.[3]

Alkylphenol ethoxylates and alkylphenols

Alkylphenol ethoxylates are widely used nonionic detergents for domestic and industrial use. They are susceptible to microbial or photochemical degradation into alkylphenols: lipophilic, hormone mimicking compounds.[2] Endocrine disruption of alkylphenols was evidenced by research affirming cell proliferation in cells treated with alkylphenols, a response usually generated by oestradiol binding. Further investigation revealed that hormone mimicking alkylphenols affiliate with the oestradiol receptor and averts the proper binding and function of oestradiol. Male trout in alkylphenol contaminated rivers showed reduced testicular growth and synthesized 570,000 times more vitellogenin than did control male trout. The astonishing quantity of vitellogenin, a precursor of lipo- and phosphoproteins that make up egg-yolk protein, in the male trout population from River Lea of England exceeded that of females just before ovulation.[2]

Government regulation

Since the discovery of its adverse effects on an organism’s endocrine system, the United Kingdom phased out the use of APEs as cleaning agents since 2000. To date, there are no regulations regarding the use or removal of APEs.[2]

Environmentally benign alternatives

Green cleaning uses are directly extracted from natural sources and biodegrade into innocuous compounds. Naturally occurring substances that may replace synthetic cleaning products include vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda. For example, lemon juice may be used as a degreaser.[3]

With the aim of decreasing net efficiency, some brands of laundry detergent have been reformulated for use with cold water. By allowing the consumer to use cold water rather than hot, each load cuts back significantly on energy costs.[4]

2-Butoxylethanol, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE)

2-Butoxyethanol is a common glycol ether used as a solvent in carpet, hard-surface, glass, and oven cleaners owing to its surfactant properties. It is a relatively cheap, volatile solvent of low toxicity.[5] It has the further advantage of not bioaccumulating.[6]

Chemical impact on the environment

The average human disposes of about 33 liters of cleaning products per year. Most of these products are leave-on rinse-off, which help with cosmetics and hygeine. There is little information as to how every cleaning agent reacts in an aquatic environment. The amount spent on cleaning agents per year varies between households and location. The use of cleaning agents goes up as income, age, and time.

See also


  1. Swan, S.H.; et al. (2005). "Decrease in Anogenital Distance Among Male Infants with Prenatal Phthalate Exposure". 113. Environmental Health Perspectives: 1056–1061. PMC 1280349. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. Warhurst, A. Michael (January 1995). "An Environmental Assessment of Alkylphenol Ethoxylates and Alkylphenols". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. Aguirre, Sarah. "Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Lemons". Housekeeping and Organization - Simple Tips and Tutorials to Clean and Organize Your Home.
  4. Martin, Andrew; et al. (2011). "For a Few, Focus on Green Products Pays Off". The New York Times.
  5. Siegfried Rebsdat, Dieter Mayer "Ethylene Glycol" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2000. doi:10.1002/14356007.a10_101.
  6. "Public Health Statement for 2-Butoxyethanol and 2-Butoxyethanol Acetate". Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
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