What Are the Active Ingredients in Toilet Cleaners?

Many products help remove stains, odors and germs from toilets, and this often requires the use of harsh chemicals that can be dangerous to handle and can hurt the environment. More natural and environmentally friendly toilet-bowl cleaners now are available to lessen these risks.

Person's Hand Cleaning Toilet
credit: AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images
Hands cleaning toilet bowl.

Hydrochloric Acid

Hydrochloric acid removes stains and creates a sparking finish on the toilet bowl. Hydrochloric acid is highly corrosive and requires great care when handling as it can cause chemical burns. Avoid getting it on skin or other materials. According to Elmhurst College, if it does splash onto skin, gently wipe off the acid, flush with water and cover the area with a cloth moistened with baking soda. If it splashes into your eyes, flush them for 15 minutes and visit your physician. Do not breathe hydrochloric acid vapors; use the cleaner in a well-ventilated area or wear a face mask.

Chlorine Bleach

Chlorine bleach is used for its whitening and germ-killing properties. Chlorine bleach vapors should not be inhaled, and it should be used in a well-ventilated area. Chlorine bleach is toxic when ingested, so flush carefully several times after using cleaners that contain this ingredient if you have pets or young children who might be tempted to drink the water.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate is used as a wetting agent to reduce the surface tension of water to allow cleaners to remove dirt more effectively. It can cause irritation to skin and eyes. Take precautions when handling products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate. Wear gloves and make sure you do not get the product into your eyes. Centers for Disease Control recommends flushing contacted areas with water and seeking medical attention. Remove contact lenses immediately if the product splashes into your eyes. Sodium lauryl sulfate is toxic to aquatic life when flushed into the environment.

Citric Acid

Citric acid is in a number of "natural" toilet bowl cleaners that rely on the slightly acidic properties of citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges. Citrus acid binds well with minerals and helps remove them from the toilet surface. Citrus acid is a benign cleaning agent, according to ScienceDaily. It also has a pleasant scent that makes it preferable for household use instead of harsh chemicals.