Substitution of formaldehyde in bathroom cleaning products




General Section



Manufacture of bulk, large scale chemicals (including petroleum products)


Cleaning agent


Manual activities involving hand contact

Product category

washing ad cleaning products


Cleaning agent


A cooperative cleaning company decided to try to substitute all products containing hazardous chemicals by safer alternatives. A deodorising product used in bathroom cleaning that contained sodium hydroxide and formaldehyde (sensitiser and carcinogen) was therefore substituted to a product taking into account health and environmental criteria

Substituted substances

Sodium hydroxide

CAS No. 1310-73-2 EC No. 215-185-5 Index No. 011-002-00-6

Chemical group

Sodium compounds; hydroxides

Classification: hazard statements

H314 Causes severe skin burns and eye damage


CAS No. 50-00-0 EC No. 200-001-8 Index No. 605-001-00-5

Chemical group


Classification: hazard statements

H350 May cause cancer
H341 Suspected of causing genetic defects
H331 Toxic if inhaled
H311 Toxic in contact with skin
H301 Toxic if swallowed
H314 Causes severe skin burns and eye damage
H317 May cause an allergic skin reaction

Other adverse effects

The substance is: 1 carcinogen (IARC) as listed in the Substance Database according to SUBSPORT Screening Criteria (SDSC).

Alternative Substances

Sodium acetate

CAS No. 127-09-3 EC No. 204-823-8 Index No.

Chemical group

Sodium compounds; carboxylic acid salts

Alcohols; C12-16, ethoxylated

CAS No. 68551-12-2 EC No. 500-221-7 Index No.

Chemical group


Amides; coco, N-[3-(dimethylamino)propyl], alkylation products with chloroacetic acid, sodium salts

CAS No. 70851-07-9 EC No. 274-923-4 Index No.

Chemical group


Reliability of information

Evidence of implementation: there is evidence that the solution was implemented and in use at time of publication

Reason substitution

skin/respiratory sensitizing
other toxic effects

Hazard Assessment

Substance to be substituted: Formaldehyde is also a sensitiser: may cause sensitisation by skin contact and may cause cancer, according to Annex VI of Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 (CLP Regulation). It is listed in the hazardous Substance Database according to SUBSPORTplus Screening Criteria (SDSC). Sodium hydroxide is not listed in the SUBSPORTplus Database. Alternative substance: The alternatives are not included in the database of hazardous substances according to SUBSPORTplus Screening Criteria (SDSC) and have no harmonised classification according to Annex VI of Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 (CLP Regulation). » Check the Substance Database according to SUBSPORTplus Screening Criteria (SDSC)

Description of Substitution

This substitution was carried out in a cleaning cooperative, because of workers’ extensive environmental awareness. The company, e.g., had a delivery section that promoted sustainable mobility through the use of bicycles and electric scooters. Female workers in the cleaning service used commercial products that often contained hazardous chemicals. Concerned about the toxicity of the products they decided to substitute a cleaning product containing formaldehyde and sodium hydroxide. Formaldehyde was the most hazardous chemical contained in the product although sodium hydroxide also implied health risks. While the alternative product was chosen according to health criteria (toxicity) certain environmental principles during its manufacture were also taken into account. Other criteria such as costs, recycling and the availability as concentrates (to reduce the number of containers and transport costs) of possible alternatives were also assessed. Additionally, good practices in the use of cleaning products (wearing protection gloves, avoiding unnecessary products or cleaning practices) were also implemented and promoted. One of the workers was affected by cancer after the substitution had been carried out. Her workmates believed that the cancer case could be related to the previous use of toxic products. A significant disadvantage of the substitution was the import of the product from Canada, which increases its environmental impact. In addition, some customers complained about the lack of “conventional clean odour” of the new product.

Case/substitution evaluation

The substitution successfully eliminated a carcinogenic chemical and it was assessed as a positive experience by the workers. The alternative product contains sodium salts and alcohol ethoxylates C12-C16 that must be handled with caution due to the serious risk of damage to the eyes. Therefore, the substitution measures should be improved.

State of implementation

Full capacity

Date and place of implementation

2000 in Spain

Enterprise using the alternative

Availability ofAlternative

Alternative is available on the market.


Type of information supplier



Date, reviewed

December 11, 2020