If you want to know what is in a cleaner or detergent you use regularly, read on so that you can uncover the threats and dangers of some of the chemicals you use in your home. I have however also included basic earth-wise cleaning information an alternative to some chemicals.

Things you should know about:

· Use the caller information number on the product label – it is usually a free-call number – to enquire about ingredients or ask for a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which will identify any dangerous ingredients. Most companies will oblige – if not, it may be wise to select an alternative product.

· A number of personal care and cleaning products contain a class of surfactants (dirt removers) called alkylphenol ethoxylates. Two of these (nonylphenol and octylphenol) are hormone disruptors, which mimic the hormone oestrogen, and can affect the reproductive systems of fish, birds, and mammals – remember human beings are mammals. In addition, they biodegrade very slowly.

· The antibacterial agent triclosan is found in some dishwashing liquids, antimicrobial soaps and dishcloths. It has been found to react with chlorine in water to form chloroform, and is closely related to dioxin which is not readily biodegradable.

· Volatile organic compounds (VOC's), include toluene and trichloroethylene, are found in some spot removers, floor waxes and polishes. Some VOC's are linked to cancer, and others, such as formaldehyde (formalin), an ingredient in some laundry detergents can cause health problems such as nausea, wheezing and skin rashes.

· Quaternary ammonium compounds, such as benzalkonium chloride, cetrimonium bromide, quaternium-15 and quaternium 1-29, are used in many cleaning products as germicides, preservatives and surfactants (dirt removers). They can cause irritation to the eyes as wel as a variety of allergic symptoms.

About air fresheners – Do not use a smell – particularly a manufactured one – to cover up another smell. A number of air fresheners contain VOC's, which are hazardous to human health. Some air fresheners contain paradichlorobenzene, a chlorine derivative that has recently been linked to both liver and nerve damage. Be careful when buying essential oils, some have been diluted with synthetic scents, which can be harmful to inhale particularly for people with allergies. To be sure of what you are buying, look for labels that state, '100 percent pure essential oil' or something similar.

About household bleaches – Watch out for chlorine, this is present in many household bleaches and mould removers. It can react with other dangerous organic matter in sewage to form toxic, very persistent chemicals called organochlorines. Avoid products that contain chlorine in forms such as sodium hypochlorite, a lung and eye irritant that releases toxic fumes when mixed with ammonia or acid-based cleaners (including vinegar).

About laundry products – Algal blooms are choking up our waterways and the culprit is phosphate. We use it in detergents, and farmers use it in fertilisers. Although phosphate exists in nature, when concentrations are too high algae thrives, producing blooms that cut out oxygen and other nutrients to river life. So look for 'no phosphate' on the label, this means that there are no added phosphate. Products marked 'P' have less than 7.8 grams of phosphate per wash and are the next best choice. Some laundry detergents and general cleaners contain artificial musks as a perfume. These are persistent chemicals, both in the environment and in the human body, and some may be neurotoxic.

About oven cleaners – Avoid oven cleaners with sodium hydroxide (caustic soda). It is highly corrosive and can cause severe irritation, deep burns and blindness. Products labelled 'non-corrosive' may contain ethanolamine, a solvent that can cause headaches and asthmatic reactions as well as affect the central nervous system. Diethyl glycol alkyl ethers (EGE's) are found in some oven cleaners and have been linked with birth defects.

About toilet cleaners – Think carefully before using a commercial toilet cleaner. Many contain corrosive acids as well as dyes and deodorisers that are irritating to the eyes and skin and may be carcinogenic. Do not buy 'in tank' cleaners that contain paradichlorobenzene, a chemical solvent that accumulates in the body and has been linked to liver and nerve damage.

The alternatives are:

Bicarbonate of soda – Use bicarb (baking soda) when you need a mild abrasive. It is composed of sodium bicarbonate, a slightly alkaline substance, which has very low toxicity, and cleans by forming a mild detergent when it reacts with grease and oil.

Borax – A naturally occurring alkaline mineral salt, borax will dissolve grease, remove stains, deodorise, disinfect, bleach, inhibit mould, soften water and fabric, kills ants and cockroaches. It does not persist for long in the environment, but it is toxic if ingested, so use with care, especially around pets and small children.

Glycerine – A by-product of the soap-making process, glycerine is a useful cleaning ingredient because it helps mix oil with water and dissolves many forms of dirt. Most glycerine comes from vegetable oil or animal fats (tallow), but about 10 percent is produced from petroleum.

Lemon juice – Squeeze a lemon for a milder and much better smelling substitute for bleach. It is also good for inhibiting mould growth, deodorising and removing stains.

Salt – Salt is excellent for scouring pans and kitchen utensils as the grains act as a mild abrasive as well as a disinfectant.

Soap flakes – Buy pure soap flakes or make your own by grating a bar of laundry soap or pure soap. It is 100 percent biodegradable, low toxicity and unlike detergent, does not contribute to algal problems in water ways. And always remember to keep the flakes in an airtight container.

Tea-tree and eucalyptus oils – Use these cleaners and natural disinfectants to finish off after washing down surfaces.

Washing soda – Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is moderately alkaline and is a good cleaning staple for the kitchen. It is particularly good for cutting grease, but also removes stains and softens water.

White vinegar – A good substitute for toilet cleaners. Also use to remove bathroom scum, hard water deposits and tarnish on metal.

Making your own:

Scouring Paste – The simplest cleaner of all. Use for sinks, oven doors, stovetops, and inside mugs. You will need: 4 Table spoons of bicarb (baking soda) / 1 Table spoon of water. How to mix: Mix the ingredients into a stiff paste and apply with a damp sponge and buff residue with dry a cloth.

Bicarb cleaner – A general cleaner that is safe for use anywhere in the home. You will need: 1 Table spoon of bicarb (baking soda) / 1 Table spoon of pure soap flakes / 1 Cup of warm water / Squeeze of lemon or dash of white vinegar. How to mix: Mix ingredients and shake until soap is completely dissolved. Spray and wipe with kitchen sponge.

Vinegar cleaner – All-purpose and long-lasting, this cleaner removes grease and dirt. Ideal for use on stainless steel sinks, tiled and wooden surfaces and plastic furnishes, such as a fridge, shelves and telephone. You will need: 2 Cups white vinegar / 1 Cup water / 25 Drops eucalyptus oil. How to mix: Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake well before use, spray onto a soft damp cloth and rub – there is no need to rinse.

Lavender disinfectant – Keeps bathroom surfaces safe and smelling sweet. It also makes a marvellous spray when ironing bed linen. You will need: 25 Drops lavender essential oil / 2 Table spoons methylated spirits or vodka / 500ml Distilled water. How to mix: Add the oil to the alcohol in a clean dry bottle and leave to dissolve for 24 hours; there after add water and decant into spray bottle. Shake mixture thoroughly before use.

Soap and borax cleaner – This cleaner is so useful you may want to make it up in large quantities. It is great for bench tops. You will need: 2 Table spoons borax / 1 Heaped table spoon soap flakes / 3 Cups water. How to mix: Mix ingredients well. Spray and wipe with a damp sponge make sure to store in an airtight container.

Lemon cream cleanser – This slightly abrasive cleaner is good for baths, basins, benches and stovetops. You will need: A squirt of phosphate-free liquid detergent / Half a cup of bicarb (baking soda) / 1 Table spoon vegetable glycerine / lemon essential oil. How to mix: Stir enough phosphate-free liquid detergent into bicarb (baking soda) to make a soft paste. Add the glycerine and several drops of the lemon essential oil; apply with a damp sponge then rinse.