Packed with volatile organic compounds, harmless-looking cans of oven cleaner actually contain hazardous chemicals. While these chemicals work well to clean the grease and grime from your oven, they can become harmful to your health if not properly handled. Knowing the ingredients in oven cleaner can help you identify the safety of the oven cleaner you choose to use.
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This ingredient does its work by softening up the hard, crusted formations in your oven. An aerosol propellant, butane is an organic solvent that contains carcinogens. The spray effect of aerosol makes chemicals released through these means more harmful because the spray breaks down particles even smaller, which makes the chemicals more easily inhaled. Some adverse health effects of carcinogens include reproductive and neuro-toxicity. The nitric oxide released with aerosol sprays also helps cause photochemical pollution.
Monoethanolamine (MEA) combines the properties of alcohol and amine, which allow it to mix with water and have a high boiling point, and gives it the scent of ammonia. When used, MEA reacts according to these properties. Wired Magazine writes, "It breaks down the gunk on oven surfaces, neutralising some fatty acids and turning others into grease-cutting solvents." Highly volatile, this organic compound can cause harmful effects like headaches, nosebleeds and cancer.
Diethylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether
You can find diethylene glycol monobutyl ether (DEGBE) in many other products, including brake fluid and hair colouring. This chemical slows down MEA's rate of evaporation, allowing the oven cleaner to keep breaking down the fatty acids and gunk on your oven's surface. In addition, DEGBE further dissolves the particles loosened by MEA.
Also known as caustic soda, sodium hydroxide reacts and turns into soap as the butane and MEA in oven cleaner starts to soften and break down the crusted food on the bottom of your oven. The soapy residue then allows you to wipe away the grease and grime stuck to your oven. While helpful for cleaning your oven, sodium hydroxide is a corrosive chemical and can burn skin.
Very similar in purpose as MEA, diethanolamine (DEA) also delays the evaporation of the other chemicals, allowing the oven cleaner to work longer at getting rid of fat and grease. According to the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia, DEA "is a skin and respiratory toxicant and a severe eye irritant." You can also find it in a variety of other household cleaning products.
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