Me and My Petroleum Distillates

What’s in your cleaning cupboard? Got anything poisonous? Are you sure?

You might have trouble finding out.

Take Petroleum distillates. As part of a remodel, we received a sample cleaning solution as a “gift.” It worked pretty well — magically, wonderfully well. It did everything — polished mirrors, cleaned sinks and counters.

When the sample ran out, I bought a jug of it.


Never mind the strong smell. It made things look really good.

Now the bottle is almost empty. Reorder? Probably worth it to find out what’s in it. Also, maybe it’s time to look into why it smells, and if it does bad things to the water used to wash the cleaning rags.

Avoid contact with eyes and prolonged contact with skin. Avoid prolonged breathing of vapors.

1. What’s in it? The only ingredient listed on the label is down at the bottom, in small letters, on the back of the jug: Petroleum distillates.

2. What are petroleum distillates? According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), it’s a synonym for Naptha and rubber solvent. It is flammable. Permissible exposure limit: 500 parts per million.

3. How much is 500 parts per million? How much time does it take for “breathing of vapors” to become “prolonged”? Unknown.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, another of my favorites, Spray n Wash laundry stain remover has a petroleum distillate, too. Hmm. Spartan Chemical Company’s material safety data sheet adds more info., pretty much unintelligible to me.

So, all that digging, and still hanging on the fence. Wear gloves. Don’t breathe it. Use sparingly. Already doing all of the above. Should be OK, right?  Maybe. Maybe not.

4. Should it be kept out of the water supply? Unknown.

5. Why is it so hard to figure this out?

Partly because there’s a labeling loophole that allows chemical companies to omit the names of ingredients in dyes, fragrances and preservatives. Partly because nobody is sure about the dangers. 

Friday (April 11, 2014) Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced the Household Cleaning Products Right to Know Act of 2014 bill, which would require cleaning products makers to disclose ingredients. We can follow how that goes at his website.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group turned out to be a good resource. They looked at 2000 household chemicals in 2012 to see what’s in them, and rated the ingredients in terms of the risks they pose.   Protect All Shine Plus isn’t on the list, but lots of other stuff is. Check it out. They give petroleum distillates an F, citing allergy and cancer risks.

OK, ok. Probably not worth the shiny sinks.


Image Source: kakisky via Morguefile


Got any substitutes for me?


  • Oh Julia, you are speaking my language girlfriend!

    I am allergic to petroleum. That means I have a reaction to anything that has petro chemicals in it. Thus I am an advocate for natural everything. And cleaning agents are no exception. Any health store either virtual or brick and mortar should have the equivalent to the product you’re using. Try Seventh Generation. I believe they have a new product they came out with that cleans stainless steel. Yes, I should be living in a bubble. We all should. Petroleum is in everything. It is a neurotoxin and effects the central nervous system of our bodies. It is believed to be a precursor to numerous ailments anywhere from migraines to ALS, MS, RSD, Parkinson’s, pancreatic cancer, etc. No, it’s not funny. So stay away people.

    Thank you Julia for bringing this to our attention. ((Hugs!))


    • Petroleum IS in everything. The list on the OSHA site goes on and on. Can I just go back to pretending there isn’t a problem? Thanks for the heads up, and the cleaning products tip.


  • I don’t have any substitutes, but you’re right, it’s scary to think of the chemicals we’re exposed to on a daily basis. I used to clean houses for extra cash and then a fast-food restaurant. Wonder what toxic fumes I inhaled while I was young and ignorant of their potential harm. Perhaps that explains my ailing memory… 😉


  • Probably just as well the past is behind us, and we can’t do anything to change it. Otherwise I’d worry about that too.


  • As a breast cancer survivor, I’ve been trying to really clean up my diet and my environment. But I have to say that it is very discouraging! If I bought everything organic and used only natural products, I’d have to live in a tent to be able to afford it. So, I do as much as I can and compromise in some areas. Sadly, I’m starting to think that some of the “holistic” food and product companies are just as unscrupulous as conventional ones, preying on people’s fears to earn a buck. Some days, I’m ready to throw in the towel and just quit worrying about toxins and chemicals.


  • I know, right? Lots of info out there about vinegar and baking soda as cleaning solutions, but they aren’t the same. I suppose the Everything in Moderation rule applies. I think the extra time and expense for fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise, mindfulness practices are probably worth it for cancer prevention and recovery. Keep in touch about your search for healthier life habits!


  • You are always enlightening us with very helpful information. Not always popular since it is sometimes BLISS to be completely ignorant, but nevertheless, good information! I’ll have to look at the list! 🙂


  • I was horrified over 15 years ago, where I heard an engineer mention that she knew people who used straight petro to clean windows. Just weird.


  • Julia – I love it that your picture of the shiny sink comes from the morguefile! I’m not fussy about having a shiny sink. My standards have lowered 150% since I’ve retired. The cleaning service we used in DC claimed to use all green products but heck, I was never home, not one time when they cleaned our house. That was five years worth.
    I am aware that Petro based products has destroyed more of our quality farmland than any foreign corporation buying the land out from under us. The run off into creeks, rivers, ponds, etc. have polluted our waterways and they will never be clean again, never. I hated that I learned so much the one year I worked for the Coast Guard. The bottom line behind all of this is there’s not a city in the United States that can claim they have 100% pure drinking water. Our household has been drinking the last imported water that I know of that still meets the rigid testing required.
    I no longer worry about cleaning my house. I do worry about what congress isn’t doing to take care of the country we call home. One of these days, someone will be able to toss a match on an open field and they’ll be no putting out that fire.
    Sorry – I didn’t mean to go on a rant. Petroleum should not be used in any product that comes into our homes or businesses. It should not be used in our agra industry and is not safe around any animals.


  • You’re right to keep house cleaning in perspective; and in the end, parsing out ingredients is a luxury.

    Like you, I worry about Congress doing its job, and about us keeping their feet to the fire. Where to even begin? Maybe for you and me, just going outside for a visit with the blooming dogwood and the hummingbirds. It’s spring! What can we do? I will keep your comment in mind next time I have matches near an open field!


  • Nobody mentioned citrus oil! Really, it has the same power as turpentine or mineral spirits but without the cancer risk. It is not completely benign by any measure. But it is from fruit and a renewable resource. Just saying. Baby oil or mineral oil are petrol based but more refined. Less likely to have as many neurotoxins.


    • I’ve used citrus oil to clean bicycle chains. Time to expand! Probably better than what I’ve been using lately — shaving cream. It does a good job of dissolving soap scum. Do not want to think about what it does to a person’s cheeks, if it can dissolve soap scum.

      Thanks —


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