Our society uses a lot of cleaning products that contain a number of chemical toxins. It is estimated that up to 25 gallons of toxic substances are concentrated in the average household (1). Most of these materials are a result of the products we use every day to clean our homes. No current law requires cleaning product manufacturers to test their products for safety or list ingredients. Ingredients are safe guarded against public knowledge because they are classified as “trade secrets” in the industry.
Many cleaning products contain warnings such as “hazardous”, “danger”, and “poison”. Yet these labels have little information identifying their chemical compounds. For products with labels, the New York poison control center found in one study that 85% of these labels are inadequate and are partly to blame for the increasing exposure to hazardous compounds (2).
Take the initiative to protect your health and discover what products and cleaning agents are toxic and which are safe.
As a General Rule, Avoid:
- Warning Labels: Avoid any product labeled as dangerous, hazardous or poisonous. These dangers are not isolated to their consumption but also pose harm if the chemicals are inhaled or come into contact with skin.
- Incomplete Ingredient Lists: Avoid using any cleaning agent that does not provide a list of all ingredients.
- Specific Toxic Components: Avoid products with petroleum-based surfactants, chlorine, formaldehyde or phosphates.
Instead, do seek out properly labeled products such as those that are “non-toxic” and “biodegradable” amongst other certifications. Health food stores like Whole Foods offers a large variety of natural cleaning products readily available. Companies like Shaklee provide non-toxic cleaning supplies and are innovators of leading cleaning products.
One of the best ways to improve the cleanliness of your home and optimize your health and budget is to create your own natural cleaning supplies. Homemade cleaning strategies are generally inexpensive and simple.
Homemade Cleaning Agents:
Acidic substances are some of the best natural cleaning agents. Acid is a natural sterilizing agent that aids in the removal of dirt and bacteria. The following list contains some of the best naturally acidic cleaning substances.
White Distilled Vinegar: White distilled vinegar has been used for more than 10,000 years. It is equipped for uses on floors, glass, mirrors, carpets, chrome, garbage disposals and shower heads. This amazing all-purpose cleaner is inexpensive and is a strong deodorizing tool. Us vinegar for uses ranging from the kitchen to the bathroom. Vinegar also acts as a powerful home insect repellant.
Lemon Juice: Lemon juice contains a high amount of alkaline elements. Digested lemon juice is metabolized into an alkaline ash inside the body. A highly acidic substance, lemon juice has a pH of 2 when not broken down and outside the body. Its primary component, citric acid disinfects and cleans while providing a natural lemon fragrance.
Combine lemon juice when using vinegar in many household cleaners for additional freshness and sterilization activity.
Baking Soda: A natural alkaline substance, baking soda is a sodium bicarbonate. A natural odor eliminator, baking soda neutralizes both acids and bases. Unlike synthetically produced odor “eliminators”, baking soda actually does eliminate odors rather than adding more chemicals into the air which only cover up smelly scents.
Baking soda also can be used to remove stains from surfaces as fragile as fine china. When used as an abrasive tool, baking soda can be scrubbed on sinks, countertops and other surfaces.
Citrus Seed Extract: Citrus seed extract is analogous to the properties of lemon juice. Typically made from grapefruit seed, citrus seed extract functions as a natural preservative and a strong antimicrobial substance. You can get grapefruit seed extract in health food stores and online.
Essential Oils: Essential oils are extracted from raw plant materials like flowers, bark, wood, root, seeds and peels. They act as some of the most powerful antioxidant concentrates and have medicinal qualities when properly used. Essential oils serve as powerful antimicrobial disinfectants. With concentrated essential oils, a little goes a long way and are in fact a highly economical way to slash your cleaning budget.
For some of the best cleaning scents use lemon, orange, lavender, tea tree oil (melaleuca) and peppermint.
Safe Homemade Cleaning Products
Most of the materials you need to prepare your own effective cleaning products are probably already lying around your home.
If cleaning natural stone such as marble or granite, be sure to read the following section on the dos and don’ts for cleaning these natural surfaces. Otherwise, use this all-purpose cleaner to disinfect bacteria and remove dirt and grime from almost any surface.
Tough on Grime Cleaner:
For tough on grease and soil build up on grills and ovens avoid toxic and hazardous cleaners which flood the market. Instead using this all-purpose cleaner can be just as effective. Spray on your prepared cleaner and allow to set for several minutes. Using a metal spatula or metal brush to clean the grill or scrape the bottom of an oven, rake away the burnt debris in one swift motion. (9)
Natural Stone All-Purpose Cleaner:
Never use an acidic cleaner on a natural stone surface. The acid will actually eat away at the stone. Use your dishwasher liquid to create this cleaner.
Citrus Scented Spray:
Vinegar is one of the best multi-surface cleaners. Rather than tossing your leftover citrus peels from oranges, lemons or limes save them for this all-purpose spray.
Homemade Laundry Soap:
Brass Surface Cleaner:
Do you struggle to clean your antique brass fixtures in your home? From your lighting fixtures to your faucets and doorknobs, there is an easy and toxic free solution using these two common kitchen items.
Simply take lemon juice and table salt and use them with a sponge to make natural cleaning products that will make your brass shine!
Try this easy to do recipe for producing your own glass cleaner for streak free windows and mirrors. Be sure to avoid cleaning heated glass surfaces such as windows on a sunny day or the glass door of a warm oven. The heat will increase the likelihood that your solution will dry too quickly leaving streaks left behind. (10)
Homemade Air Fresheners:
Mom’s tip for putting a box of baking soda on the inside door of the fridge is certainly a useful strategy for removing foul odors. But if your well designed living space doesn’t have room for a vibrant orange box sitting on the coffee table, consider these options suggested by Rodale’s Organic Life: (9)
Coffee Grinds: Don’t throw out your used coffee grinds after you have your morning coffee. If you enjoy the scent, allow the coffee grinds to dry completely before tucking them away into your own scented sachets. Simply find a piece of material you like and tie the sachet off with a string. Place them in a bowl or hang around your home.
If you are not a coffee drinker, try first asking your local coffee shop for some of their used grinds. Otherwise, fresh grind your own beans. Dry coffee grinds are also effective at freshening the air.
Stovetop Brew: Simmer a pot of spices and fruits over the stove or near a fireplace during the winter. Toss in your favorite seasonal scents throughout the year. In the fall and winter use orange peels, cinnamon sticks and cloves and simmer rosemary stems and lemons peels in the spring and summer.
White Vinegar: Placing a cup of white vinegar out is also a simple and easy way to deodorize the air. If you prefer, or when company is over, simply place the cup or bowl in a confined and hidden space. You may also find that doing so will help you trap any pesky fruit flies so consider such issues when you seek a location.
Best Green Cleaning Products:
If you still prefer to purchase your cleaning products rather than make them yourself, here are a few products you can have shipped to your door from Amazon. Good Housekeeping combines consumer reviews with decades of experience cleaning homes and overall cost and product testing. Listed are some of their recommendations for a greener clean (3).
Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid contains no ammonia, added fragrance, enzymes, synthetic preservatives or other harsh chemicals often including phosphate and UV brighteners. Planet Inc. is dedicated to a healthier environment and a healthier you started first with the health of your home cleaning supplies. These products are 100% biodegradable, and hypoallergenic. Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid has consistently received a 5 star rating since its first 2014 consumer reviews on Amazon. (4)
Another great product to choose from is Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Liquid Cleaner. This product ranks high amongst the Environmental Working Group due to its disclosure of ingredients and limited health and environment concerns (7).
Sun & Earth’s Natural All Purpose Cleaner is non-toxic, hypoallergenic, biodegradable and free of allergens such as dyes, synthetic fragrances and chemical preservatives. This all-purpose cleaner is recommended for use in the kitchen, bathroom, use on outdoor furniture, pet areas and can even be safely used around kids on toys and highchairs. (5)
The product comes in a citrus scent but this fragrance is naturally derived from its major cleaning agent, orange essential oil. Try this out instead of the toxic household cleaning products.
Although Good Housekeeping lists Arm & Hammer Essentials, 2X Concentrated as one of the safest and greenest tough on stain detergents, the product has stirred up some concern with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) (3).
This information serves as a key lesson to the public supporting that labels such as “free of perfumes & dyes” does not quickly translate into meaning “safe”, “healthy” and “green”. In fact, this same product has been reported as possibly toxic to the nervous system listing concern for cancer. (6)
Instead, consider Biokleen Laundry Liquid, Citrus Essence. This company is rated high at disclosing their ingredients. Biokleen laundry liquid has few suspected health hazards of concern and is given an “A” rating by the EWG (7). You can find this cleaning product here
This tried and true method is still one of the best strategies at removing bad odors. Arm & Hammer does offer several products such as their “Fridge-N-Freezer” baking soda to remove nasty odors. Place these products in the fridge, under sinks or beneath trash bags for a consistent air deodorizer. You can find this product here
You may also choose to consider using essential oils in your home. There are a plethora of essential oil diffusers on the market depending on your need, purpose and specific criteria. Essential oil diffusers are a great way to add burst of concentrated scents into the air to kill bacteria that may be circulation, repel pesky bugs or simply freshen your space.
You can find a great diffuser here
Simple Household Tricks to Reduce Toxins
Here are some simple things you can do in addition to what has been discussed thus far in order to reduce toxicity in your home and clean up your indoor environment.
- Use Plants: One of the best air filters that you can purchase are plants. Consider adding easy to maintain household plants into your atmosphere. Some common varieties include ivy, spider plants and the Boston fern.
- HEPA Filters: Use a vacuum that has a HEPA filter.
- Replace Filters: Regularly replace furnace and A/C unit filters.
- Open Windows: Open windows to allow fresh airflow and promote the ventilation of toxic gases.
- Prevent Dust Build-Up: Use microfiber cloths or 100% cotton materials to dust and prevent the spread of additional dust.