Toilet cleaners are often some of the strongest chemical cleaners out there, because, after all, we don’t want to risk any bacteria climbing up out of that toilet bowl. However, while the cleaner you flush away will go through various wastewater treatments, some residue of those cleaners is destined for our aquatic environments (and potentially our soils). So, clearly it really matters what you are using - and when you look at the chemicals that we pour down our toilets, they are usually more off-putting than whatever it is we might be cleaning off.
Water is critical to life and we need to do all we can to protect our aquatic environment. When certain chemicals enter our waterways (which many can do, despite wastewater treatment) the impact on water quality, and aquatic plant and animal life can be substantial.
Commercial toilet cleaners often use chlorine, ammonia, hydrochloric acid, phosphates or 1,4 dioxane (eg Sodium Laureth Sulphate), all of which we understand can be seriously detrimental to the aquatic environment. Ammonia and phosphate are especially problematic as they can cause algal blooms, which are disastrous to fish and other aquatic organisms and result in highly toxic waterways. So checking whether your cleaner contains any of those chemicals (or variations of them, eg. benzalkonium chloride, sodium hypochlorite also known as bleach, Triclosan, or quaternary ammonium compounds), is the most important first step.
Another good rule of thumb is that if it has bold exclamations of ‘poison’ or ‘danger’, move along.
In terms of the alternatives, it really isn’t too hard to keep a toilet hygienic and clean. In most cases, there is really no need to go in all guns blazing with harsh chemicals. The idea that our homes need to be perfectly sterile is not only unrealistic but also not ideal. Regular physical cleaning is key (i.e, using a toilet brush). If cleaning agents are needed, there are so many natural alternatives you can use – vinegar, orange oil, baking soda, for example.
Using natural compounds for cleaning will not only be better for the environment, but it will be better for your personal health as well. Many of those caustic ingredients in the commercial products carry warnings for health. These can include skin irritation, risk from fumes, or respiratory irritation. If you can make your own toilet cleaner with any of the multitudes of recipes on the internet, you’ll also be eliminating waste and probably saving quite a bit in the process.