Disinfecting Wipes and Children’s Health

moleculesYesterday I took a trip to Target to get some cleaning supplies. First I got some Bar Keepers Friend and Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent. Then I went to the aisle that has the disinfecting wipes. I wanted to get the Seventh Generation brand which uses thyme oil as its active ingredient. Unfortunately, Target didn’t have it. Instead, there was nearly an entire aisle devoted to the disinfecting wipes I see all over the place to clean tables in schools and offices.

The company that makes these popular disinfecting wipes is not transparent about the true hazards of the active ingredients. Below I’ve listed the active ingredients along with some potential hazards:

*alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (benzalkonium chloride)-rated as a class 3 toxin, meaning it is less toxic than a class 1 or a class 2. Through what I’ve been able to gather, it is not completely clear what the health effects of this chemical are, but it is used in pesticide formulations. It is also suspected to be a neurotoxin, immunotoxin, gastrointestinal/liver toxin, a skin/sense organ toxin, and a respiratory toxin, according to Scorecard. Also, look here for more information from the PAN Pesticide Datebase.

*alkyl dimethyl ethyl benzyl ammonium chloride-is also a class 3 toxin used in pesticides, though there is less information about this chemical. It is also a rodenticide, so it might be bad for mammals (i.e., humans), in general.

In addition to these two chemicals with barely pronounceable names, there is also fragrance, isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, a mild surfactant called alkyl polyglucoside, and propylene glycol propyl ether, a low-toxicity solvent.

This little bit of information took over an hour to find. It would be nice if we could be sure the things we buy at our local stores are safe, but they may not be. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 only protects the public from “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” This doesn’t mean products we can buy are safe in the long run. Some may be very unhealthy.

If alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride is suspected to be a neurotoxin, what kind of influence might it have on my son’s brain development? I am especially concerned due to the fact that my son has a diagnosis of ADHD. Using the popular disinfecting wipes would be gambling with my child’s health, so I’m not going to use them in my home. I will be using safer alternatives like Seventh Generation products, pure hydrogen peroxide (which breaks down into water and oxygen but may leave a film), or I will make my own.

For those who are interested, here is a recipe for a disinfecting cleaner I’ve used in the past:

2 cups water
3/4 cups hydrogen peroxide
1/2 cup distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon pure castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s)
20 drops tea tree essential oil (I used 25)
20 drops lavendar or lemongrass essential oil (I used 25)
The essential oils (EO) are open to experimentation. Since thyme EO is known for its disinfecting properties, I might try that next time. Depending on what essential oils are used, this mixture leaves a pleasant and clean, but not overwhelming, smell. Better still, unless you have sensitivities to them, all the ingredients are safe for you, your kids, your pets, and the planet.


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