Household cleaners that are safe for pets

Having a clean house is important, but so is the safety of your dog or cat. Here’s a breakdown of toxic ingredients to avoid when shopping for household cleaners – along with safe alternatives you can use instead!

Gone are the days when harsh chemicals were the only means of cleaning and sanitizing your home. Nowadays, you can find countless household cleaners that get the job done without leaving hazardous residues in their wake. Many homemade solutions also work just as well and are perfectly safe for homes with pets. Here’s a look at some of the most toxic cleaning ingredients, along with their animal-friendly alternatives.

Offender: Ammonia

Ammonia is found in many glass cleaners and polishing agents because it doesn’t leave streaks. But it’s also very harmful when inhaled. Because animals have smaller lungs than we do, they’re much more susceptible to these types of irritants. And beware – ammonia mixed with bleach creates a poisonous gas.

Alternative: White vinegar

Vinegar is highly acidic, boasting a pH of between 2.0 to 2.5. While it’s not classified as a disinfectant, it does have the ability to kill many harmful microorganisms and leaves a sparkling, streak-free shine.

Offender: Artificial fragrance

If the product you’re using smells like pine needles, fruit, flowers or perfume, it likely contains phthalates – toxic chemicals added as a fragrance carrier to many air fresheners and other cleaning products. Phthalates have been linked to headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, coughing, vomiting and skin irritation in humans. For pets with allergies or sensitivities, artificial fragrances can be even more irritating, and can lead to similar symptoms.

Alternative: Essential oils

High quality essential oils boast antibacterial properties that make them an effective weapon against germs – and they smell great! Add a few drops to a natural unscented cleaner, or dilute with water and diffuse into the air. Just be sure you’re buying a pure, excellent quality oil that’s safe for cats and dogs.

Even “green” cleaners can contain toxic ingredients, so be sure to read labels carefully.

Offender: Bleach

Otherwise known as chlorine, bleach can easily be inhaled, absorbed and swallowed by pets. Exposure can irritate your dog or cat’s mucous membranes, cause coughing and breathing problems, burning, watery eyes and vomiting. Too much exposure can even lead to death.

Alternative: Baking soda

This harmless baking ingredient can be used in place of bleach when cleaning your house and whitening clothes.

Offender: 2-Butoxyethanol

A member of the “glycol ethers” group, 2-butoxyethanol is a primary ingredient in many all-purpose cleaners. Like other members of its family, it’s derived from crude oil, and can significantly harm your animal companion if ingested or inhaled over long periods. Overexposure can cause anemia, intoxication and irritation of the eyes and nose. Low-level exposure has been shown to cause birth defects and damage to sperm and testicles in animals.

Be cautious of the fact that 2-Butoxyethanol doesn’t smell the way you might expect a harmful chemical to smell. It has a sweet odor that might attract pets, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Alternative: Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is an antibacterial and disinfectant, so it’s just as effective at sterilizing your home as chemical-based cleaning products. Use it to wipe down surfaces in your kitchen and bathroom, and mix it with hot water to scrub your floors. Hydrogen peroxide can even be used to remove traces of mold and mildew.

Offender: Formaldehyde

Some wood polishers, air fresheners and cleaning products contain traces of formaldehyde. Though this volatile compound is naturally-occurring, it can damage your animal companion’s cells if inhaled at high doses over a long time. Watch out for sneaky synonyms of formaldehyde, such as formalin, methanol and methylene oxide.

Alternative: Fresh air and homemade wood polish

Open the windows! Air fresheners are rarely necessary if you’re able to air out your space. You can also make your own wood polish using the recipe below.

The Environmental Protection Agency identifies household cleansers and disinfectants as significant contributors to indoor air pollution.

Offender: Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)

This emulsifier allows laundry detergents to produce white fluffy foam. A toxic by-product called 1,4-Dioxane contaminates SLS during the manufacturing process, making it dangerous to your pet’s skin, organs and endocrine system.

Alternative: Liquid castile soap

This vegetable-based soap contains no harmful chemicals, and is an excellent dirt and grease buster. When combined with vinegar, however, the cleansing properties of castile soap – and the vinegar – are cancelled out, so use them separately.

DIY household cleaning recipes

Natural household cleaner

  • 2 cups distilled water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 10 drops of lemon essential oil
  • 5 drops thyme essential oil

Tub and toilet scrub

  • ½ cup baking soda
  • ¼ cup washing soda
  • ¼ cup salt
  • 5 drops lemon essential oil

Laundry detergent

  • 7 litres hot water
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1 cup liquid castile soap (unscented)
  • 3 cup coarse salt
  • 20 drops of lavender essential oil

Mirror and window spray

  • 2 cups distilled water
  • 2 cups white vinegar

Furniture polish

  • ½ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Give these products a try!

Air Scense These air fresheners and toilet pre-sprays use the finest essential oils and plant extracts to neutralize odors rather than mask them.

Citra Solv – These high quality household cleaning products are available in a variety of invigorating plant-derived fragrances – and they’re all USDA Biobased Certified.

Greenshield Organic – Offering the first USDA Certified Organic household cleaners in the United States, this company makes its products from simple sustainable ingredients. 

Nellie’s All their cleaning products are made with plant-based surfactants – either coconut oil-derived or sugar-derived. Their laundry soda contains no perfumes or optical brighteners.

NokOut – This powerful odor eliminator is 100% hypoallergenic and scent-free, making it safe for pets and those with sensitivities to perfume.

Using natural household cleaners can make a huge difference to your pet’s health (and yours!). Dogs and cats often suffer from allergies and respiratory issues as a result of indoor air pollution, so make a vow to boycott the toxic ingredients and keep your furry friend safe!


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.