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Household Cleaners' Health & Safety Lab

Safe Cleaning = Healthy Homes for Families and Workers

During the pandemic, the cleaning industry became even more powerful promoting the use of strong chemicals (like bleach) for protection from Covid-19. As a consequence, we have seen a drastic increase in the use of disinfectants that contain harsh chemicals. Through our research project we learned that exposure to these chemicals can have harmful side effects on our health. Household cleaners are the most at risk.

Did you know that household cleaners face many challenges to their health and well-being at work, including insecure employment, low wages, stressful working conditions and exposure to harmful chemicals from cleaning and disinfecting products? 

Based on research findings from the The Safe and Just Cleaners Study, a community-based participatory research partnership between Make the Road NY, Barry Commoner Center for Health and the Environment at Queens College, City University of New York, Mount Sinai Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Cancer Free Economy Network’s Household Cleaners’ Health & Safety Lab has developed the videos and resources below for safer cleaning approaches to protect the health of cleaners and the families they work for.

Below you’ll find helpful resources on cleaning vs. disinfecting, the harm of disinfectants, and how to find safer alternatives. CFE’s Household Cleaners Health & Safety Lab participants – Hand In Hand Domestic Employers Network, Make the Road NY, Women’s Voices for the Earth and Silent Spring Institute – have created this video series to speak to employers about how they can protect the health of the household cleaners they employ, as well as the health of people living in the home, including vulnerable children. 

Safe Cleaning & Healthy Homes for Families & Workers

Should I Disinfect? Cleaning vs. Disinfecting to Protect Health

Health Concerns Linked to Disinfectants: Tipes

6 Things to Be a Fair House Cleaner Employer: Safer Products...


Experts agree that cleaning, not disinfecting, should be prioritized. The CDC, FDA, and EPA all stress the effectiveness of cleaning with soap and water as an irreplaceable tool for cleaning, health and hygiene – including when it comes to reducing the risk of getting COVID-19.

5 Simple Things You Can Do Today for Safer Cleaning

When choosing cleaning products for the home or office, keep these five tips in mind:

  1. Avoid fragranced products which often hide harmful ingredients.
  2. Avoid using products marketed as disinfectants, like those sold as “antibacterial.”
  3. Use simple, effective ingredients like vinegar and baking soda when cleaning.
  4. Read labels to avoid quats: Commonly found quats in household products usually include “…onium chloride” in their names. Examples of commonly found quats are:
    • Benzalkonium chloride
    • Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (C14 60%, C16 30%, C12 5%, C18 5%)
    • Alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chloride(C12-14)
    • Didecyldimethylammonium chloride
  5. If you do need to disinfect, follow user instructions. For example, many disinfectants instruct you to wash your hands after use — and to also wash surfaces you sprayed the disinfectant on. Some disinfecting products also instruct you to wear protective eyewear and gloves while using. Provide for and request that your household cleaner wear these if disinfecting is truly necessary.

Resources to Find and Use Safer Cleaners and Disinfectants

Silent Spring Detox Me

Silent Spring Institute DetoxMe

Silent Spring Institute, Detox Me is a free app that walks you through simple, research-based tips on how to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals where you live, work, and play. (Available in English and Spanish)


Clearya Online Shopping App

Clearya is a free Chrome Extension and Mobile App that notifies you when there are unsafe ingredients in your makeup, baby care, cleaning and other products, and helps you find safe alternatives, all while shopping online!

WVE Meet Mia Video Series

WVE Meet Miah Video Series

Learn how to find safer disinfectants that are EPA Certified Disinfectants to be used against COVID-19 in the Women's Voices for the Earth Meet Miah Video Series: Introduction to Exposure to Toxic Chemicals from Household Products

Is your disinfectant using safer ingredients AND approved by the U.S. EPA to fight COVID-19?

Find Safer Disinfectants

Is your disinfectant using safer ingredients AND approved by the U.S. EPA to fight COVID-19? This Women's Voices for the Earth page will help you find out.

Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell

Dive Deeper into Safer Alternatives

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell has a Cleaning Laboratory with information on chemicals in cleaning products and safer alternatives.

Downloadable Factsheets and Other Resources for Safer Cleaning (In English and Spanish)

Find out more from members of the Household Cleaners’ Health and Safety Lab

Safe and Just Cleaners

Safe and Just Cleaners Website

Visit the Safe and Just Cleaners website to access the Safe and Just Cleaner Reports on Economic and Health Precarity of Immigrant Latinx Cleaners in New York and for data on the Covid-19 Impact.

Silent Spring Institute Website

Silent Spring Institute

Silent Spring Institute is a mission-driven scientific research organization dedicated to uncovering the environmental causes of breast cancer and whose independent research helps prevent cancers.

Women's Voices for the Earth

Women's Voices for the Earth

Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) has been leading advocacy work for cleaning products ingredient safety and transparency for nearly two decades. They work for gender justice towards a toxic-free future.

Hand in Hand

Hand In Hand

Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network is a national network of employers of nannies, housecleaners and home attendants working for dignified and respectful working conditions that benefit the employer and worker alike.

Make the Road NY Website

Make the Road New York

Learn more about Make the Road New York’s work and services available for latinx immigrant workers.

Additional Resources

If you believe that we can do more to prevent cancer by
replacing harmful chemicals

we invite you to Support out work.


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