Does Clean Really Have an Odor?

The Real Smell of Clean

The Real Smell of Clean

A recent television commercial has become a new pet peeve of mine. It’s the one that says “the smell of clean is the smell of Clorox”.


Do they mean that if it does not smell like Clorox, it can’t be clean?

Let’s take a closer look at what that smell really is and what it does to the human body.

The smell that we associate with Clorox is the odor of chlorine gas. The same chlorine gas that was used in gas warfare in World War One with dreadful effects – both physical and psychological. The choking, shortness of breath, gagging sensation aside, the eventual slow, miserable death was enough to cause knowledgeable soldiers to panic at that smell.

So how is it that over the last 100 years, we now have come to associate that same irritating odor with the “smell of clean”?

While it is true that chlorine kills germs, and it does so very effectively, it is also true that it still damages delicate tissues of the human body…most notably, the eyes, nose, throat, and airways including the lungs.

The Physical Effects

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists the following possible symptoms of exposure to dangers levels of chlorine gas or liquid:

  • Blurred vision
  • Burning pain, redness, and blisters on the skin if exposed to gas.
  • Skin injuries similar to frostbite can occur if it is exposed to liquid chlorine
  • Burning sensation in the nose, throat, and eyes
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. These may appear immediately if high concentrations of chlorine gas are inhaled, or they may be delayed if low concentrations of chlorine gas are inhaled.
  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) that may be delayed for a few hours
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Watery eyes
  • Wheezing

Many household and industrial cleaners contain chlorine and give off chlorine gas and contain many other toxins as well.

The Culprits

The greatest health risks are associated with common household products such as mold and mildew removers, air fresheners, detergents, fabric softeners, perfume, toilet bowl cleaners, household cleaners with pine, lemon or orange scents, mouthwash, spray and wick deodorizers, floor cleaners, all-purpose and window cleaners, and most antibacterial products.

What kinds of health risks are we talking about?

Here’s the list:

Synthetic musks: Are suspected endocrine disruptors and at least one, tonalide, prevented cells from blocking entry of toxins in an animal study. Widely used in detergents, fabric softeners and air fresheners (along with perfume).
Phthalates: The effects of phthalates on your endocrine system, particularly during pregnancy, breastfeeding and childhood, are very disturbing. For instance, animal studies on certain phthalates have shown these chemicals may cause: reproductive and developmental harm; organ damage; immune suppression; endocrine disruption; and cancer.
1,4-dichlorobenzene:  Along with being linked to lung damage, it is known to cause organ system toxicity. Found in air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners and other household cleaning products, 1,4-dichlorobenzene is present in the blood of nearly all Americans.
Terpenes: Interacts with ozone in the air to produce toxic substances similar to formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Commonly used in household cleaners with pine, lemon or orange scents
Benzene: A known human carcinogen and has been linked to increased risk of leukemia and other blood diseases, along with organ system toxicity. Is common in cleaning agents.
Styrene:  Linked to cancer, birth or developmental effects, organ system toxicity, and problems with reproduction and fertility, this is another chemical found in far too many household cleaning products.

Look Under Your Sink

Other very nasty chemicals likely to be lurking under your kitchen or bathroom sink include:

Phenol: A common main ingredient in household detergents like Lysol, Pine-Sol and Spic-n-Span. It’s also found in mouthwash. Phenol is toxic and people who are hypersensitive can experience serious side effects at very low levels. Studies have linked phenols to:

  • Damage to your respiratory and circulatory systems
  • Heart damage
  • Respiratory problems
  • Damage to your liver, kidneys and eyes

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a common ingredient in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, is banned in Europe, and known to be a potent endocrine disrupter. It’s already thought to be the cause of male fish transforming into females in waterways around the world.
Formaldehyde, found in spray and wick deodorizers, is a suspected carcinogen.
Petroleum solvents in floor cleaners may damage mucous membranes.
Butyl cellosolve, found in many all-purpose and window cleaners, may damage your kidneys, bone marrow, liver and nervous system.
Triclosan, the active ingredient in most antibacterial products, not only kills bacteria, it also has been shown to kill human cells.

Reading the Labels Won’t Always Help

I always advocate reading the labels on the foods and personal care products you buy, but, in the case of household cleaners, even the most meticulous eye for labels won’t get you very far.


Because many of the most dangerous chemicals will not be not listed on the label. The manufacturers have conveniently lobbied the government to exempt them from this requirement and can omit any ingredient that is considered a secret formula from its label, and many of these secret ingredients are toxic and carcinogenic.

Household goods are still very much an unregulated market. And, cleaning product manufacturers — even those that claim to be “green” — are not required by law to disclose all of their ingredients on their labels.

So while it’s still better to read the label than not, be aware that a lack of ingredient on a label doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not in the product!

Using Natural Cleaning Products on My Top List of Cancer Prevention Strategies

Research is beginning to suggest just how powerful a role environmental chemicals like these play in your long-term health.

In 2009, 1.5 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer, and a report from the President’s Cancer Panel suggests that the percentage of these directly caused by environmental factors has been “grossly underestimated.”

This is why my top list of cancer prevention strategies has always included reducing your exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, household chemical cleaners, and synthetic air fresheners.

Fortunately, this is a relatively easy task to accomplish.

For those times when you need to do a bit of cleaning, one of the best non-toxic disinfectants is Basic H. This is an all-natural surfactant that you dilute with water according to the intended use. You can use this for washing your hands, your body, and for other household cleansing. It’s an all-purpose cleaner that works great for kitchen counters, cutting boards, windows and mirrors, floors, and as an all-purpose cleaner of finger prints from walls, doors, and handles of all sorts. The video below is from the manufacturer and reveals more.

Make Your Own

You can also keep your home very fresh and clean by making your own natural cleaning products using items you probably already have around your home. Some more tips for making simple and effective all-natural cleansers:

Use baking soda mixed with apple cider vinegar to clean drains and bathtubs.
Vinegar can be used as a natural fabric softener.
Hydrogen peroxide is safer to use than chlorine bleach for disinfecting and whitening.
Vodka is a disinfectant that can remove red wine stains, kill wasps and bees and refresh upholstery (put it into a mister and simply spray on the fabric).
Finally, if you’re still using air fresheners because you like a scented environment, I urge you to switch to safer alternatives like therapeutic essential oils.

Remember, essential oils are NOT the same thing as fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are artificially created and often contain synthetic chemicals — so make sure the essential oil you use is of the highest quality and 100 percent pure. A few drops placed in a diffuser around your home, or mixed with water and sprayed onto upholstery or fabrics, is a safe and soothing way to scent your home safely.

So is there an odor to real clean?  It is certain that the smell of chlorine gas is NOT the smell of clean. At best it is a respiratory irritant; at worst it is the smell of a slow, miserable death.

You make decisions every day that affect your health.  This one is easy. Avoid cleaners with irritating odors, artificial fragrances, and other deadly ingredients.

Get safe alternatives here!

To your health,