Pet owners: Do you know what cleaning ingredients to avoid? We rounded up top-rated pet safe cleaning products, plus some DIY options to try.
What Cleaning Products Are Unsafe for Dogs and Cats?
From floor cleaners and carpet shampoos to sink scrubs and all-purpose sprays, keeping the house clean requires a full quiver of products. But many of the most common ones may contain ingredients that are dangerous for your pets to ingest, inhale or even absorb through the skin while moving about and licking their paws.
“There are a number of common household cleaning products that contain harmful and potentially life-threatening ingredients,” says Anthea Schick, a veterinary dermatologist.
Toilet bowl cleaners, especially with the kind that stick inside the bowl, often contain bleach and can be a risk for dogs who like to sneak sips from the toilet. Other problematic products include laundry detergent containing sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), 1,4-dioxane and NPE (nonylphenol ethoxylate). These can cause skin irritation, as well as severe vomiting and diarrhea if swallowed in the concentrated pod form that can look like a toy or treat.
Schick says even products labeled as “natural” aren’t always a safe bet, either, including essential oils, which can irritate airways and even exacerbate asthma. A good rule of thumb: “Don’t let your pets ingest anything you wouldn’t eat!” she says. “Carefully read the labels of everything you use in your home to ensure no harmful ingredients are present.”
Tonya Harris, an award-winning environmental toxin expert and the founder of Slightly Greener, recommends scanning labels and avoiding products with the following ingredients:
Ammonia: Can damage the respiratory system.
Chlorine bleach: Skin, eye, and throat irritant, corrosive to mucous membranes.
Glycol ethers: Propylene glycol, ethylene glycol, diethylene glycol.
Benzalkonium chloride: Often found in disinfectants.
Fragrances: Individual ingredients are not required to be listed because fragrance is considered to be a trade secret. “Fragrances” may contain ingredients that are allergenic, hormone-disrupting, toxic to the brain and nervous system, or carcinogenic.
Phenol: Common in Lysol and PineSol. It can cause liver and kidney damage;
Hydrogen peroxide: It causes irritation to the esophagus and stomach lining, induces vomiting and can also cause severe gastritis and ulceration and bleeding.
Formaldehyde: Known to cause cancer. Some preservatives, known as formaldehyde-releasers, release formaldehyde slowly into a product over time to extend the shelf life. Look for formaldehyde-releasing ingredients such as DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea and Imidazolidinyl urea.
Even products with none of the above listed on their ingredients can pose some risk to your pets, as labels can be deceiving.
“It’s sometimes hard to know exactly what ingredients are in cleaning products,” Harris says. “That’s because the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] requires companies to only disclose active disinfecting ingredients and ‘chemicals of known concern’ on their labels.
“The problem here is that there aren’t any testing requirements for most of the chemicals in cleaning products — by the companies or the EPA. And companies aren’t required to disclose their ingredients, because formulations are considered to be proprietary.”
In addition, pets are often curious by nature and may be tempted to sniff, lick or swallow cleaning products they find around the house.
Harris recommends you minimize risk, even with products that appear to be safe, by:
Keeping pets away from the room or area you are cleaning;
Ensuring the area is well-ventilated;
Allowing the surfaces to dry completely before allowing pets back in the room;
Storing disinfectants out of pets’ reach.
If your pets do ingest cleaning products, call the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 and bring them to a vet immediately.
Here are our recommendations for some pet-friendly cleaning products, including DIY suggestions.
1. Best Pet Safe Stain and Odor Eliminator
When our beloved pets are the ones creating the mess, a cleaning product that’s tough on stains and stink (even that dreaded cat urine) yet gentle on the pets creating them a must.
Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator is Certified Safe by the Carpet and Rug Institute. It’s guaranteed to remove pet stains and odors from carpets and upholstery as well as pet carriers, kennels, concrete and tile — or this family-run business of 15 humans, five dogs and one cat will refund your money. We tried it — it works!
2. Best Pet Safe Floor Cleaner
Made for animal lovers by animal lovers, plant-based Bean & Lilly Floor Cleaner can be used safely on all flooring surfaces. Inspired by and named for the founders’ family dogs, this pet safe floor cleaner is gentle for people, pets and the planet. It’s biodegradable and Leaping Bunny Certified cruelty-free.
As one Amazon reviewer writes, “I am very sensitive to artificial strong fragrances and my dog is allergic to everything. I tried this product and found the fragrance very subtle and the product does not bother my dog at all. I have hardwood and marble and have had no issues with it leaving streaks or film — just a nice clean.”
3. Best Pet Safe Glass Cleaner
Although you can make your own (Harris recommends 50/50 distilled water and white vinegar), sometimes streaks are an issue with DIY glass cleaners. Enter Aunt Fannie’s Glass & Window Vinegar Wash.
This plant-based solution cleans safely, gently and sans streaks. It also works on chrome, light fixtures and stainless steel. It was awarded the highest health and safety rating by the Environmental Working Group.
4. Best Pet Safe Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Skip the potent, hanging toilet cleaners that pets may be tempted to lick or paw. Opt instead for a brush-and-flush product like Better Life’s Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner.
Plant-based ingredients and a Leaping Bunny certification mean this product is safer, and cruelty-free. Be sure to keep the bathroom door closed while cleaning a toilet. Although the ingredients in Better Life’s Toilet Bowl Cleaner are all-natural, they are not intended for ingestion. Pets should be kept away until the cleaning is complete and the solution has been flushed.
5. Best Pet Safe All-Purpose Cleaner
Better Life also makes an All-Purpose Cleaner that can tackle soiled surfaces, including countertops, tables, showers, toys and even boats, cars and sporting equipment. The unscented cleaner contains no synthetic fragrances, dyes or harsh ingredients, so it’s safe around children and pets.
As one Amazon reviewer writes: “I was looking for a safe, natural product that didn’t have any ingredients requiring a hazardous waste disposal label. A lot of so-called ‘natural’ cleaners have ingredients that need an EPA use and disposal label. This doesn’t. It is strong enough to really go through grease and grime like a clear, organic tornado.
“I haven’t found anything that can’t be cleaned with it yet. Plus it’s odor-free, unlike Simple Green which has a heavy scent. And, I feel comfortable spraying it in places where pets, children or myself in bare feet might absorb it by stepping in the residue.”
6. Best Pet Safe All-In-One Cleaner
Harris recommends keeping Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Pure Castile Soap on hand. A little bit of this concentrated, organic and biodegradable soap goes a long way. Dilute it for use all around the house, from the shower to the laundry, floors to sinks, and even dishes, humans and pets.
You can feel good about your clean house and your purchase. Dr. Bronner’s aims to support people and planet — “farm to shelf to shower” — paying fair wages and using recycled bottles and healthy ingredients.
7. Best Pet Safe Carpet and Upholstery Shampoo
Pets and children seem to spend a fair amount of time sprawled out on floors and furniture, so carpet and upholstery cleaners are essential.
Developed by a team of chemists, evaluated by medical doctors and tested by parents, Puracy’s Professional Carpet Cleaner is guaranteed to remove stains and odors from washable surfaces while keeping the human and fur children (and your wallet — no professional cleaning bill!) safe.
8. DIY Pet Safe Cleaners
The best way to know what’s in your cleaning products is to make them yourself. Schick recommends these DIY options to get you started:
Use baking soda (AKA sodium bicarbonate) instead of bleach when cleaning your home. This milder form of salt works well to absorb and neutralize odors.
The acetic acid content of white vinegar makes it a powerful cleanser without being outright harmful to your pets. To create your own cleanser, dilute white vinegar with club soda (1:1), which has been shown effective in reducing household bacteria. It can help get pet urine smells out of clothes, too.
If you’d like to make your home smell cleaner without using air fresheners, try steeping lemon peel in vinegar for at least a full day, then spray the natural freshener throughout the house.