Non-Toxic Cleaning Products for MCAS
Updated: May 2
Mast Cell Disease & Reactions To Cleaning Products
Are your household cleaning supplies toxic?
Hidden toxins in cleaning products
What to avoid in cleaning products that can trigger a reaction
It is clear from various research studies that certain cleaning products are toxic, but not everyone “reacts” to them the same way. Some people will develop symptoms immediately or shortly after exposure but others will develop health effects later without knowing it was from the cleaning product. That is very concerning because it is difficult to link and thus remains unclear to a lot of people, both consumers and scientists, what the connection is.
For MCAS patients who know they are reactive to various chemicals, it is important to identify the chemicals and find products without them. This is not easy to do. Having said that, there are some ingredients that are more likely to trigger a reaction in patients with mast cell activation syndrome as well as those with TILT, Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance, previously known as multiple chemical sensitivity. However, just because it can cause a reaction doesn’t mean it will.
There is potential for the dysfunctional mast cells in any patient with a mast cell activation disorder (MCAD, whether the rare type known as mastocytosis or the far more common type known as mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) to be triggered (i.e., even further activated, above their baseline level of inappropriate activation) by a wide array of factors, including virtually any substance/material that is foreign to the human body. Such substances include cleaning products.
What is multiple chemical sensitivity?
At least as it relates to the world of mast cell disease, "MCS" is usually taken to mean multiple chemical sensitivity, a condition which more recently has come to be re-labeled (at least by some) as Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance, or TILT. I'll just refer to it as MCS/TILT here. MCS/TILT is a condition in which there is intolerance of multiple chemicals.
Although it's certainly not the case that such patients have intolerance of *all* chemicals (which wouldn't even make sense, since the body itself is made of a great variety of different (natural) chemicals), MCS/TILT patients develop intolerance of multiple chemicals, which might include natural chemicals (though not any natural chemicals which are natural parts of the body) and/or artificial chemicals. MCS/TILT patients might react to chemicals in liquid, solid, or even aerosolized forms (like odors and fragrances and fumes).
The "intolerances" that MCS/TILT patients have for various chemicals can range from very mild to very severe (occasionally even life-threatening) and can include a wide variety of symptoms including (but certainly not limited to) sneezing, swelling, rashes, flushing, racing heart, headache or other body pains, diarrhea, tingling/numbness, weakness, and even "psychiatric" issues such as anxiety or panic.
A cause for MCS/TILT has not yet been identified, but in the last few years some doctors have begun suspecting that, in at least some MCS/TILT patients, mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) might underlie the chemical sensitivities in these patients. More research is needed. THE DEFINITION OF TOXIC
How do you determine what is toxic?
The definition of a toxic chemical is defined by The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as any substance which may be harmful to the environment or hazardous to your health if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. Interestingly, there are natural compounds that might meet this definition particularly as it applies to the effects on humans but are safe for the environment. Take for example, vinegar, which is a great cleaning agent and is generally considered safe with some caveats: it can burn or irritate the skin and can irritate the lining of the esophagus and stomach if it is ingested full strength. While this may sound concerning, when used appropriately, vinegar is very safe for the environment and for humans. The toxicity that is more concerning is coming from synthetic compounds that have been approved for household use and yet have an increasing body of evidence indicating their dangerous effects on the environment and your family.
A Few Common Toxic Chemicals Found in Cleaning Products:
These are not usually identified on the labels of cleaning products, but if there is a scent or fragrance there is a good chance phthalates are to blame. Scents are problematic in general as they can cause MCAD patients to become very reactive, but phthalates also act as endocrine disruptors which can have wide reaching effects on fertility in men and women, gynecologic issues, cancer and many others.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s):
VOC’s are found in abundance in cleaning products as well as other household products. They can be released into the air by evaporation from these products and can greatly affect air quality. In the air, they can cause respiratory issues, such as asthma and decreased lung function. They can irritate the eyes and the throat as they are breathed in and can cause allergic reactions. VOC’s cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and long-term exposure can cause damage to the kidneys, liver and nervous system. Some of these side effects are likely caused by the activation of the mast cells.
One very well-known VOC is formaldehyde and it is found in many cleaning products as well as essential oils. For instance, natural essential oils that contain pinene, d-limonene and citrus contain terpenes that react with the ozone in the air to produce formaldehyde. Believe it or not, even the paper towels you use to clean your house contain formaldehyde, unless you buy formaldehyde-free paper towels made by a few green brands. Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer, allergies and asthma in children.
Borax is a powdery, white mineral that can also be referred to as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. Borax first came on the market in 1891, which is almost 128 years ago. It has a reputation of being natural, as boric acid and borax are derived from the mineral, boron. It is found in many cleaning products as well as personal care products and even things like Silly Putty or Play-Doh. Borax has a number of dangers associated with it. It is an alkaline substance, so it can be caustic to the skin and cause irritation. It has hormone disrupting properties, which can result in disorders of the male and female reproductive system.
Chemical-Free Cleaning Products for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
First and foremost, good ventilation is essential, both during the active cleaning process and afterwards, until any residual odors have thoroughly dissipated.
Taking the time to read ingredients on labels is also very important. Becoming familiar with the ingredients in the products one finds tolerable and intolerable is always a good idea. Past performance in an MCAD patient is usually a good predictor of future performance, so if a given patient has tolerated, or not tolerated, a given exposure in the past, then it is likely that the same patient will tolerate, or not tolerate, re-exposure to the same substance in the future (at least, until the disease is brought under better control, which may give the patient a chance of regaining tolerance to triggering factors to which the patient previously had been intolerant). It is important to keep in mind that every MCAD patient has a unique experience/course with the disease, and while multiple patients can share certain specific reactivities, the clinical experience with MCAD to date strongly suggests that the full spectrum of reactivities suffered by any given MCAD patient likely is unique to that patient.
TOXIC CLEANING PRODUCTS TO AVOID (CROWDSOURCED LIST)
What chemicals should you avoid in cleaning products?
*We have no affiliation with any of these products and have not personally tried out these products. We are not endorsing any of the below products. This is a Facebook community generated list directly from our Facebook fans. We are not responsible for usage of any of the below product recommendations. This list is simply meant to share other users experience with what has worked for them. Please do not consider the below list official medical advice or official product recommendations or endorsements. We have no affiliate relationship with any of the companies mentioned.
We asked. You answered!
Here is what our Facebook fans had to say about what works and doesn’t work for them when it comes to non-toxic cleaning products. There is some duplicate mention of products throughout the list.
Best non-toxic cleaning supplies & best non-toxic cleaners
CLEANING PRODUCT LIST—BAD REACTIONS
"Anything with PEG or PPG products are terrible for me. We make our own mixture of organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Vinegar, and filtered water. Sometimes we add baking soda to get caked on stuff out.
Anything scented but especially severe reactions to Lysol and Clorox products (Clorox cleaning/disinfecting wipes being the worst).
Scrubbing bubbles shower and tub cleaner is super bad. Lysol scents always bother me, and even Clorox scents bother me.
I don’t like anything scented. Especially dryer sheets, detergents and any perfume stuff. It often gives me headaches. In the work environment it’s stifling.
I can't be around anything with bleach or ammonia.
Febreze! Hard to find a hotel room the doesn’t reek.
Anything that says Nontoxic but has fragrance or scent I still React too. has to be "free and clear."
Anything with scents, bleach, Clorox, Lysol and Lysol wipes, Alcohol swabs, Purell are cause severe reactions.
Anything with scents, except for almond, citrus, or lavender castile soap.
Bad reaction to any pre-saturated Swiffer products. Any Lysol, & Clorox, products, all air fresheners, carpet cleaners, anything scented. All Febreze products.
Anything scented is a big no at my house!
I’m allergic to almonds and citrus smells as well. Anaphylaxis around those.
Seriously this is such an important topic!! Not only for MCAS but also for people in general you don’t have to MCAS to be harmed by cleaning products or any products inhalation wise or skin absorption wise. I truly believe usage of harmful products adds up on the body more than some care to care about or realize. I use disposable gloves, sometimes a mask, and try to stick to wipes not sprays. Fragrance free everything. But even stuff that claims to be safe really isn’t. Clorox is the worst.
Windex or any window cleaner is the worst, followed by bleach.
Can’t use bleach or any product with bleach.
I can do fruity scented cleaner like lemon but any flowery scented or perfume scented products cannot do.
Anaphylactic allergic-type reactions:
Febreze/odor-block trash bags
Bounce dryer sheets
Scented laundry detergents
Scented fabric softeners
Lysol (certain formulas)
Other reactions (irritants and less-severe allergies):
Dawn dish soap
Scented soaps and shampoos
Scented dish detergents
Clothing store chemicals (something applied to new clothes)
Craft store chemicals (e.g. scented craft supplies).
I now use Mrs. Meyer's products for dishes, hands, body wash, counter cleaner, etc.
Another big offender is car cleaning products! Armor All vinyl seat spray.
And department stores in the spring when they get all lawn and garden products as well as pool chemicals. I left vomiting, rashes out, itching, and my head was spinning.
I’ve reacted particularly bad to Lysol products and wipes.
409 is bad for me. Armor in cars too.
I can't be in the same room with many people who use fabric softener, dryer sheets or Febreze products. I can feel the headache and respiratory symptoms even before I smell the culprit!
Anything with a synthetic fragrance...Lysol, Febreze, scented laundry soap, perfume etc.
Lysol, ODOBAN, eucalyptus scent, Clorox, Windex, hair spray, static spray (ugh the scent), blue dye dish and hand soaps, twinning alcohol, all send me over the edge
Tilex shower cleaner. I used to wear a mask (the type you use in a hospital or doctor’s office if you are coughing or sneezing from a cold) & hold a dry washcloth against the mask. My lungs & chest would hurt / burn for days. I stopped using it once I was diagnosed with lupus because I noticed I would have a flare up.
I can't wait because every time I step foot in my classroom at one of my schools my face turns to fire, and I feel like I'm going to be sick. They insist they are using "green products" but the person in the room last year had plug ins and multiple cans of Lysol. I need something to give them, so they take me seriously. I have a fragrance free and chemical free sign on my door, but if the rest of the school isn't, then what's the point?
I have had reactions to Febreze, Lysol and glade sprays, and glade candles. At home, I use vinegar, peroxide and ammonia.
Bleach causes me to have breathing issues.
I also react to any fruit flavored shampoos or soaps or sprays.
The worst is bleach! Febreze also terrible.
I cannot be around Lysol, Clorox, Pinesol, Febreze. Plug in and spray scents, even “natural” ones are always a risk for triggering a reaction, so we avoid all of those.
Febreze, air fresheners, floral scents, axe products, bleach, carpet cleaning solution.... too many to mention but these seem to be the worst. I have mostly replaced stuff with a vinegar solution with some drops of essential oil.
I cannot use Pine Sol, Spic and Span, or Murphy’s Oil Soap.
I also cannot use anything containing clove, cinnamon oil, or eugenol, or thieves oil blend in my home.
Other people's dryer vents! The laundry aisle at shopping centers! Very irritating!
I have found derivatives of the above in many household products...even “natural” ones.
For obvious reasons, all scented pumpkin spice, apple spice, chai, “fall scented” or “holiday scented” is out.
A while ago, I looked up eugenol on PubChem (thanks to a smart dental assistant) and was surprised to find it chemically classified as an allergen. I was then shocked to see all the alternate chemical names for it and everything it’s used in.
We avoid scents but most importantly we don’t spray a thing - not even “safe” products. Pour them and swish with a sponge or brush then sit and scrub.
I have always had trouble with the vapors of Fantastik spray cleaner. I have become more sensitive to scents and things in the air over the years.
The day my husband used oven cleaner on the barbeque grate my lips started to burn and I disappeared into the bedroom. While I was captive there, I finally ordered myself a Vogmask using my telephone.
I keep my Vogmask in my purse and use it frequently when I'm out and about. One day I had an air hunger event caused by the scent of hand moisturizer somebody had on their hands. Vogmask to the rescue.
Any cleaning products that have fragrance! I only can use Seventh Generation Free & Clear. I also use white vinegar to clean now.
No go list for me:
Artificially scented products
I react immediately to fragrances especially “air fresheners” like Febreze. Laundry soaps are my nemesis with Tide as the worst. Can’t use Dryer sheets, Pledge, Windex, and even “green” products that have a scent. Bleach (Chlorine) will make me faint. I do well with Ajax branded liquid dish soap with orange. Any laundry soap w no perfumes (Free & Clear).
I feel this is such a personal thing. With MCAS, your reactions are not always the same to each product either, especially “leakers” whose bucket becomes full over time. Also, if you experience more skin type allergic reactions, consider boosting Vitamin D3 which has worked for me.
No dryer sheets, wool dryer balls instead. No commercial cleaning products aside from Method.
Tide, Febreze, Glade or any plug-in are bad. I can use Method cleaners, mint or citrus.
Pine Sol is the worst for me and anything with an artificial floral scent."
GREEN CLEANING PRODUCT LIST- DID NOT CAUSE REACTONS
"Seventh Generation products work well for me. I have experienced less pain since we started using these.
Baking soda, vinegar, tea tree oil is all we clean with.
Hydrogen peroxide is the only safe cleaning product in our house.
We use hydrogen peroxide in our home. No scent and it disinfects...
Seventh generation free and clear work well for me (totally unscented). But it does have coconut as an ingredient, for those who are sensitive.
Norwex for me. Most chemical cleaning supplies have a set time that must be met to actually kill bacteria and viruses. Most of us don’t use these correctly.
Only laundry detergent I can use is Purex hypoallergenic. I use peroxide essential oils and vinegar for my cleaning needs.
We use hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol to clean.
No fragranced products for sure! Vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and tolerable dish soap.
I do quite well with all Method products. The smell of bleach and other floor cleaning products is sensory overload for me. Some scents I react to one day and do fine with the next.
Lots of natural cleaning with e-cloths! Great products BTW.
Wool dryer balls instead of fabric softener.
I love carina organics unscented products for hair and skin.
I use Ecos unscented or nellies laundry soda for laundry.
We only use Norwex clothes and water to clean.
I clean with baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar or dish soap.
I use Enjo cloths and water usually...sometimes vinegar and sometimes nature clean products.
If you can tolerate it, vinegar and baking soda will take you a long way. I also make my own detergents and wool dryer balls.
Everything from cleaning agents to vinegar to toothpaste serve Angioedema from all.
Dryer sheets are a nightmare. These are tough to avoid because you encounter the fragrance on people’s clothes and in the air as you walk down the street. And then there’s your neighbor who vents their dryer 4 feet from your house.
I use Seventh Generation free (unscented) and clear dish soap for dishes and for my hand soap.
For cleaning, I invested in Norwex. I use the mop and all the cloths, this cleaning method only uses water and it cleans everything amazing and disinfects! No smells!!
I use peroxide and vinegar for most cleaning tasks. I use hand soap, dish powder, and rinse aid by Seventh Generation. Method and Mrs. Meyers are too highly scented for me nowadays. I use free & clear laundry powder by Biokleen. Microfiber cloths are great.
Besides not having products with scents (mostly Seventh Generation, and a free and clear dish soap, same with their almost creamy dishwasher liquid), we have done really well with The Beekman Boys Happy Place unscented laundry soap (made with goat's milk) and adding white vinegar to the wash, and their wool dryer balls are also unscented.
I love Earth Friendly Creamy Cleanser to scrub the glass shower doors. It's miraculous how well it cuts hard water stains. I use it on the tub, sink, and toilet also.
I use Method brand cleaning products. I highly recommend them.
Seventh Generation Free and Clear has worked well for us.
Dr. Bronner toothpaste seems to be working for me. Acure hair products seem to work but have to be very careful with the scents. Had one scent that worked for the longest time and then I started noticing I was reacting to something to do with showering and then one day I just couldn’t tolerate it anymore, so I switched scents and that seems to be working now. Trying to find a back-up scent I can alternate with though as I just seem to do best when I have a couple of products to alternate.
I use peroxide to disinfect. I also love Norwex products.
Also use Borax for scrubbing stuff and laundry. Works well! Green cleaner products also seem ok. Have also used soap berries/nuts in laundry.
I make my own with vinegar rubbing alcohol water & method dish liquid. Rubbing alcohol + water in a spray bottle is great for granite, glass & mirrors. Baking soda + peroxide on tile, grout & showers.
Mop with vinegar, water, capful of method all-purpose cleaner makes my floors smooth & shiny and removes dirt very well. For laundry, vinegar plus either method or Nellies detergents
We clean our home with the dish soap aforementioned, warm water & vinegar only. We moved into a home that has cement floors. No carpet off gassing & less dust.
Seventh Generation free and clear products are my favorite, least reactive products.
A Norwex cloth and water works for most things.
Prefer most Seventh Generation and Myers.
Sometimes okay with vinegar/water solutions.
Okay with Bona products for floor.
Tolerate Nature’s Miracle products (with mask) for cleaning up urine, pet waste vomit, etc."
Living with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
The bottom line is that while there are plenty of toxic products on the market, there are also many products, both available commercially or made as a DIY product, that are safe for the environment and for your family.
There is no perfect product for everyone so it takes some trial and error until you find the right products that clean well and keep you and your family safe.
There is also the practice of “greenwashing” which is important to look out for, which is when companies state that a product is all-natural when it in fact, may not be.
I always urge patients to check products on Environmental Working Group.
I recently did a special Facebook Live on toxic ingredients in personal care products. In case you missed in, you can watch the replay here.