Many people buy cleaning products like they buy everything else –whatever seems most effective and affordable off to the shopping cart goes. While this may be a practical strategy for most things, it is not for cleaning products if you own a dog.
If your pup rolls around on the floors and carpets, sleeps on the furniture, or bathes in the bathtub, you need to be careful with the cleaning products you use. A number of popular cleaners contain ingredients that are unsafe at best and toxic at worst for dogs. Learn which ones you should avoid.
Cleaning Ingredients That Are Toxic for Dogs
While there are quite a few unsafe cleaning ingredients for dogs, we’ll start with the most important ones. Never use cleaners that contain these if you have an indoor dog or a pet that spends a lot of time inside the house.
Ammonia is a highly effective cleaning agent, so it’s not surprising it’s a common ingredient in many bathroom cleaning products. Many people also dilute pure ammonia to clean various hard-to-clean items, such as ovens, microwaves and tiles. While no one can deny the cleaning power of ammonia, there is also no denying it’s highly toxic to pets, especially dogs. This is because ammonia is an irritant, particularly for your pet’s respiratory system. If inhaled, it can irritate and burn the nose, throat and respiratory tract, which can naturally lead to serious breathing problems. Furthermore, ammonia can irritate the eyes, mouth and skin, so if your pup is exposed to this irritant for an extended period of time, they can suffer fur loss and skin irritation, get watery and itchy eyes as well as mouth and gum irritation. Worst case scenario? If your dog swallows ammonia, it can affect their stomach and even cause death with higher exposure/inhalation/consumption.
Ammonia is usually found in:
- Oven and microwave cleaners
- Floor cleaners and waxers
- Stainless steel cleaners
- Some windows and glass cleaners.
Bleach or chlorine is an excellent disinfectant, so it’s frequently used for cleaning, disinfecting, and of course, bleaching. It does a great job killing germs and bacteria and it easily removes even the toughest of stains on clothing, so it’s no wonder it’s a cleaning staple in many households. However, bleach can also be really dangerous, both for humans and animals. Depending on how much bleach your dog licks off and swallows, they can suffer from dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, burns inside the mouth, and even seizures and shock.
But why is bleach so toxic to dogs? Chlorine is a highly alkaline product that can burn the nose, throat, mouth, stomach and gastrointestinal tract, so swallowing it is very dangerous. The issue is, when used as a cleaning agent, it remains on surfaces (say, your floors) for a long time and continues to emit fumes. So, not only would your dog get a chance to swallow some bleach if you used it to clean floors by licking it, they would also inhale it, which can lead to a host of health problems, including eye and respiratory issues.
Bleach can be found in:
- Toilet cleaners
- Laundry detergents
- Tile residue removers
- Mildew removers
- Stain removers
- All-purpose cleaning products.
While formaldehyde is typically used as a preservative, it can also be found in many cleaning products as it has antibacterial properties. In tiny amounts, formaldehyde is supposed to be safe, however, it has been linked to various health problems, including cancer. On a less concerning but equally problematic note, formaldehyde can cause severe eye and skin irritation, especially if a person is exposed to it for a long period of time. When it comes to pets, the biggest concern is inhaling it – like bleach, formaldehyde tends to stay on the surface and emit fumes even after you’re done cleaning, so inhalation is a real problem for indoor pets.
While you won’t use formaldehyde on its own for cleaning, it’s more than likely your cleaning products contain it. To make matters worse, the ingredient is not always listed as formaldehyde, but also formalin, methanediol, methanol, formic aldehyde, methylene glycol, methyl aldehyde and methylene oxide.
Formaldehyde can be found in:
- Soaps and washes (including pet shampoos!)
- Laundry and dish detergents
- General cleaning products
- Plug-in fragrances.
Phthalates are commonly used for fragrance in cleaning and deodorizing products, as well as in cosmetics, food and toys (pet toys included). While not irritating per se, phthalates are dangerous because they’re hormone disruptors, plus there’s evidence suggesting they have carcinogenic effects on humans. When it comes to animals, they have been linked to developmental delays and liver, pancreatic and testicular cancer. Needless to say, it’s best to avoid them if you own a dog.
Because phthalates are used to make products smell good, they can come under a number of different names, not just phthalates. If a product contains synthetic fragrance, there’s a fair chance it also has phthalates.
These endocrine disrupting chemicals can be found in:
- General-purpose cleaners
- Household deodorizers
- Packaging, etc.
Glycol ethers are solvents commonly used in cleaners, liquid soaps, cosmetics and paints. While they have their practical purpose, they have been linked to various health problems both in humans and animals. For example, short-term exposure to high levels of glycol ethers in people results in narcosis, liver and kidney damage and pulmonary edema. Long-term exposure to lower levels can lead to neurological and blood effects, including nausea, fatigue, tremor and anemia. As for pets and dogs in particular, the effects are similar. The exposure to this large group of organic solvents can cause liver, nerve and digestive damage. Obviously, you want to avoid glycol ethers in household cleaners (and other products!) if you own an indoor dog.
Glycol ethers can be found in:
- Glass cleaners
- Oven cleaners
- Carpet cleaners
- Spot removers
- Liquid soaps
1,4 Dioxane, classified as ether, is a colorless liquid that is often added to other chemicals to make them less harsh (solvent). For example, sodium laurel sulfate, which is quite harsh on the skin, is often converted to its less harsh “sibling” chemical sodium laureth sulfate (the “eth” here is for ethoxylation) by using 1,4 dioxane. The problem with this by-product of the manufacturing process is that it’s a known irritant that has also been linked to organ toxicity. Studies in animals have shown that breathing fumes of this chemical can affect nasal cavity, liver and kidneys. Swallowing (or in dogs’ case, licking!) the 1,4 dioxane can also affect kidneys and liver. Worryingly, some studies have linked this chemical to cancer as well.
Because it’s a solvent, 1,4 dioxane can be found in a number of products, but is most commonly a part of:
- Laundry detergents
- Shampoos, liquid soaps and bubble bath products
- Paint and varnishes
- Dryer sheets.
Cleaning Products That Are Not Safe for Dogs
Now that we’ve covered the most important ingredients to avoid in your household cleaners, it’s time to talk about the cleaning products themselves.
- All-purpose cleaners: products that boast most of those toxic ingredients are the all-purpose cleaners, such as Mr. Clean Multi-Purpose Spray and Formula 409 (both are super-harsh).
- Floor cleaners: because most dogs spend their days laying on the floor (some even lick them!), it’s important to avoid using harsh floor cleaners. Mr. Clean and Pine-Sol are some of the floor cleaning products you want to cross off your list.
- Bathroom cleaners: because they have to be potent to work, many bathroom cleaning products contain dangerous chemicals. Clorox Bathroom Cleaner, Scrubbin Bubbles and similar products are the ones to avoid, as are the continuous toilet bowl cleaners like the Clorox Automatic Toilet Bowl Cleaner. The latter can be particularly dangerous if your pup is a toilet bowl drinker (and let’s face it, most of the pets are when they get a chance!).
- Laundry detergents: if you wash your pet’s clothes and blankets with your regular detergent, you should be mindful of the ingredients it contains. Avoid the powerful and overly harsh laundry detergents like Tide and Cheer and turn to something more green and gentle.
Safe Homemade Cleaning Alternatives
If you’d like something pet-safe and natural (also cheap!) to clean your house with, here are a few simple recipes.
- Floor Cleaner: mix 1 cup of white vinegar with 2 liters of water and mop as usual.
- Carpet stain cleaner: mix ½ cup white vinegar with 2 TBs of salt and soak a cloth or an old rag in the solution. Use it to scrub out the stain(s).
- Bathroom cleaner: for the tiles, tub, sink, toilet bowl and other bathroom necessities, mix equal parts of baking soda, warm water and salt. Make a paste out of the solution and use an abrasive sponge for heavy-duty cleaning. For general bathroom cleaning, mix equal parts of white vinegar and water.
- All-purpose cleaner: combine one part white vinegar with four parts of water in a spray bottle. Add half a lemon juice to the mix and shake well before use. This cleaner is great for disinfecting pretty much anything, from countertops and tiles to coffee tables and cutting boards.