Last updated: Sep 23, 2010
glass-cleaner
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The other day, my sweet husband, Frank, decided to give our kitchen a major scrub down. Unasked. I know, I know. Im a very lucky woman, and, no, you cant have his phone number.


He was well into the project when he emerged from the kitchen, pale, nauseated, sweaty, and dizzy. One glance and I knew he was in some kind of trouble. Instinctively, I suspected the cleaning supplies.

I asked him what hed been using and he named two products: Murphys Oil Soap, which we keep in a spray bottle diluted with water to use on our wooden kitchen table and cabinets, and a non-brand-name window cleaner in a blue bottle, clearly a famous brands copycat.

I didnt think Murphys was the problem, because its made from natural plant oils. The 99-cent-store glass cleaner was another story. Its label listed that its active ingredient is a chemical called 2-butoxyethanol (111-76-2). I Googled the stuff, and the very first hit absolutely shocked me. Now I was feeling dizzy.

Thats because the manufacturers product sheet said this, in capital letters: “Danger! Harmful if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Causes eye irritation. Affects central nervous system, blood and blood-forming organs, kidneys, liver, and lymphoid system.”

There was more. On a “health rating” scale with 1 being “slight” and 3 being “severe”, the manufacturer rated 2-butoxyethanol a 2. The chemical also appears on the National Institutes of Health Household Products website. More products than I could count contain the stuff. Although our product didnt make the list, several other glass cleaners did; one contained a 50% concentration of 2-butoxyethanol, for example.

But heres what really made me crazy: the Centers for Disease Control says that the principal effect of 2-butoxyethanol is hematotoxicity. That means that its poisonous to the blood. My husband has chronic myeloid leukemia.

Now, not to worry. Hes fine, just fine. His condition is totally under control thanks to a miracle drug called Gleevec. Hes been fine for more than three years now and his doctor tells us hell live a long, normal life as long as he doesnt walk in front of a bus.

Or, I wonder, use products containing 2-butoxyethanol?

Luckily, as soon as Frank got into fresh air and rested for a little while, he was totally back to normal.

I know better than to use chemical cleaners—especially in enclosed, unventilated spaces; Ive written about their dangers and healthier alternatives many times. But somehow, window cleaners didnt worry me, and so I didnt yelp when Frank, the households penny-pincher, brought home his bargain brand.

Well still be penny-wise: From now on, our exclusive window cleaner will be white vinegar and water, 50/50. For more ideas on safe home-cleaning supplies, check out this slideshow.