Cleaning and Personal Care Product Chemicals Linked with Birth Defects: Study

A new study has linked the chemicals in common disinfectants and preservatives in household and personal care products such as cleaners, laundry detergent, fabric softener, shampoo, conditioner, and eye drops with neural tube birth defects (spina bifida and anencephaly).

Solution: Pregnant parents wanting to lower the risks of harm to their unborn children should consider eliminating personal care and cleaning products that contain chemicals of concern, especially those listed as ‘ADBAC’ and ‘DDAC’ on the ingredients labels, and anything that says “fragrance”.  Using all natural cleaners and personal care products–especially DIY versions that you make yourself–is a safer alternative than mainstream commercial cleaners and personal care products.


Common household chemicals lead to birth defects in mice, research finds

A new study at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech has found a connection between common household chemicals and birth defects.

Known as quaternary ammonium compounds or “quats,” the chemicals are often used as disinfectants and preservatives in household and personal products such as cleaners, laundry detergent, fabric softener, shampoo and conditioner, and eye drops. The research demonstrated a link between quats and neural tube birth defects in both mice and rats.

“These chemicals are regularly used in the home, hospital, public spaces, and swimming pools,” said Terry Hrubec, associate professor of anatomy at the VCOM-Virginia campus and research assistant professor in the veterinary college’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. “Most people are exposed on a regular basis.”

Hrubec investigated the effect of two commonly used quats: alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride and didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride. These are often listed on ingredient lists as ADBAC and DDAC, respectively, and are valued for their antimicrobial and antistatic properties, as well as their ability to lower surface tension. Hrubec found that exposure to these chemicals resulted in neural tube birth defects — the same birth defect as spina bifida and anencephaly in humans.


Harm can occur whether it is the mother or the father exposed to the chemicals of concern

“Birth defects were seen when both males and females were exposed, as well as when only one parent was exposed. The fact that birth defects could be seen when only the father was exposed means that we need to expand our scope of prenatal care to include the father.”

-Dr. Terry Hrubec, doctor of veterinary medicine degree and Ph.D. from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine


Hrubec found that mice and rats did not even need to be dosed with the chemicals to see the effect. Her research shows that simply using quat-based cleaners in the same room as the mice was enough to cause birth defects. “We also observed increased birth defects in rodents for two generations after stopping exposure,” Hrubec added.

An earlier study in Hrubec’s laboratory found that these chemicals led to reproductive declines in mice. Follow-up research found that quats were decreasing sperm counts in males and ovulation in females. The research raises the possibility of quats contributing to human infertility, which has been on the rise in recent decades.



Journal Reference:  Terry C. Hrubec, Vanessa E. Melin, Caroline S. Shea, Elizabeth E. Ferguson, Craig Garofola, Claire M. Repine, Tyler W. Chapman, Hiral R. Patel, Reza M. Razvi, Jesse E. Sugrue, Haritha Potineni, Geraldine Magnin-Bissel, Patricia A. Hunt. Ambient and dosed exposure to quaternary ammonium disinfectants causes neural tube defects in rodents. Birth Defects Research, 2017;

DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1064