By: Susan Gonzalez, RN
We all want clean happy homes. But sometimes in wanting “clean” we get “chemically-induced-smells-like-it’s” clean. And the chemicals that “clean” sometime do so at a cost to you and those living in your house. Most were formulated for industrial use and are totally unnecessary for day to day cleaning in a home.
I fear that we, as consumers, have been scared into believing that sickness comes from dirt and have all bought into the “anti-microbial” propaganda that conditions our brain to think we need toxic chemicals to rid our homes of bacteria, viruses, and odor when inexpensive ingredients (that we probably have around the house anyway) will do just as good a job.
With hundreds of cleaners on the market all over the world, it is impossible to list them all. However, here is a list of noted ingredients that you should avoid. You may want to note that companies are not required to list all ingredients on a label. For example “fragrance” may contain phthalates a known endocrine disruptor (the US EPA is trying to limit phthalates overall) and sometimes you have to go the company’s website to get a complete list of ingredients as only the “active ingredient” is listed.
The great offenders:
–chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) wait…bleach is in pretty much EVERYTHING I use! Yes, that’s right. Because we have been conditioned to believe that bleach does everything and it is GOOD…from getting your clothes white to killing 99.9% of germs on any surface. Manufacturers know if they have “contains bleach” on the label people will buy it. In reality, bleach is a corrosive chemical that can cause liver damage with low level exposure. The “white” you see when you bleach you clothes is the bleach acting on the fibers to optically make things look whiter, but that doesn’t mean it’s cleaner. Bleach mixed with the following chemicals will produce a toxic gas that can be fatal and can overcome victims in minutes:
phosphoric acid (found in toilet bowl cleaners, mildew and lime removers, bathroom cleaners and dishwashing detergents)
sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate (found in toilet bowl cleaners, deodorizers, dishwashing detergents)
ammonia (found in many various cleaning products and floor cleaners)
–Aerosol products: anything that is sprayed from a can needs a “propellant” to make it airborne. Airborne particles are very small and are easily inhaled deep into the lungs. Two common propellants are formaldehyde and methylene chloride. Both are known carcinogens. Other propellants are propane (fuel) and nitrous oxide (laughing gas used as anesthesia at the dentist). Aerosol products are used by those seeking a quick “high”, but often lead to death instead. Pump spray dispensers do not use propellants.
--DEA (diethanolamine) listed as a suspected carcinogen by the state of California you can find this in many many cleaning products. Can be absorbed through skin, and lungs. (also known as TEA lauryl sulfate) “DEA” at the end of anything contains it (even if the word “coconut” appears before it).
–Fragrence: “fresh breeze”…”mountain rain”…”field of flowers”…sounds nice, but these added fragrances contain toluene (mthylbenzene) a known reproductive toxin which can damage a developing fetus. It also is found in breast milk. US EPA found almost 100% of perfumes contained toluene. Fragrances can also contain phthalates which are endocrine disruptors. Exposures to phthalates in the workplace showed increased incidence of male breast cancer, testicular cancer, and genital abnormalities in baby boys when mothers were exposed during pregnancy. (reference here) (FYI..phthalates are found widely used in nail polish)
–2-butoxyethanol: a powerful solvent found in window cleaners. The EPA sets exposure standards for this kidney and liver damager. But if you are using this cleaner in a poorly ventilated room, you are getting a higher exposure than what the EPA sets.
These are just the biggies. There are plenty more. See a complete list of household chemicals here.
Everything you need to clean your house is probably in your house already
If you have these ingredients, you can make natural cleaners and deodorizers for every corner of your house and save an amazing amount of money. You can also pat yourself on the back that you are not exposing you or your family to harmful chemicals. And reusing your containers means you by-pass the recycle bin.
You might also think about investing in microfiber cloths for cleaning. I find that I don’t even need to use anything but water when I use these because the fibers are made to clean grease and oil. They work great on windows. You wash these in the washing machine and they come out great. (wash them separately because they tend to collect fiber and lint). Here are the one’s I have, but you can find these anywhere.
Just buy these cheap items the next time you’re out:
- white vinegar – only white as others might stain. Yes, there is a vinegar smell when it’s wet, but when it dries there is none. For most recipes a bit of lemon juice will cut the smell.
- lemon juice – fresh is best, but reconstituted in a bottle will do.
- borax – where has this stuff been all my life!!? I love this stuff! You can do pretty much all your cleaning with just borax. It’s been around for over 100 years. Borax has just one safe ingredient (sodium tetraborate decahydrate. I know it doesn’t sound safe but it is) The only caution is not to inhale the powder when you’re using it. My laundry has never smelled so clean!
- baking soda – you can clean with it, deodorize with it, and even drink it for an upset stomach. Costco sells it in 13.5 pound bags. We buy it by the case.
- liquid castille soap – “castile” soap means it is derived from plant oils and fats. You can purchase this already made (in nice scents like peppermint) and some grocery chains carry it. Or you can make your own.
- hydrogen peroxide – you can get this at any drug store in the first aid aisle
- olive oil – low grade cheap will do for cleaning
- scented essential oils if you wish: lemongrass, cinnamon, lavender, or tea tree – these can be purchased at any health food store. Make sure you buy essential oil and not “fragrance oil” as essential oils are pure. I get mine here.
- Coke - yes, as long as you don’t drink it, this unhealthy American drink has a purpose!
All purpose cleaner: 2 cups water, 1 cup hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup lemon juice. Mix well in a spray bottle. Use on any surface like you would any spray cleaner.
Dishwashing detergent: Mix equal parts borax and baking soda (slightly more baking soda if you have hard water) and store in a tightly sealed container. Use 2 tBs per load. Put vinegar in the rinse dispenser. You may add 1 tsp of lemon juice to the detergent for greasy dishes.
Disinfectant: 1/8 cup borax to 1 liter warm water (one hospital used this formula and it satisfied the hospital’s germicidal requirements) Another solution is: 2 tsp borax 4 tBs vinegar, to 3 cups hot water. Wipe on with damp cloth or use in non-aeresol spray bottle. You can add 1/4 tsp castile soap if desired.
Drain opener: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar and cover drain if possible. Let sit for 5 minutes, then pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain. (don’t use if you have used a chemical drain opener and it’s still in the drain.) You can use this weekly to prevent clogs. Throw a piece of lemon peel in the garbage disposal every week to keep it smelling fresh.
Floor cleaner: for all floors including wood: 1 cup of vinegar to a pail (1 1/2 gallons) warm water. For wood floors, you can also add 1/4 cup castile soap.
Stainless and chrome cleaner: Dip cloth in undiluted vinegar. Wipe surface.
Scouring powder: 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup borax, 1 cup regular salt. Combine and keep in a tightly sealed container. Use on sinks and tubs.
For burnt-on pans: Pour Coke into pan and boil on stove. The stuck on mess should soften and be easy to clean
Disinfectant: see above
Lime and mineral deposit remover: Soak a rag in vinegar and apply to lime deposits around faucets. Wait 1 hour. deposits will be soft and easily removed.
Shower heads: Place 1/2 cup undiluted vinegar in a plastic bag and secure bag to shower head with rubber band (I used a large plastic bag and secured it with a zip tie leaving enough room to cut the tie. I found I needed more “bag” on top to keep the shower head immersed without sagging)
Tub and tile cleaner: 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/2 cup white vinegar.
Toilet bowl cleaner: Pour 1 cup borax and 1/4 cup vinegar in bowl and let sit overnight. Scrub with brush in the morning, or pour 1 can Coke in toilet. Let sit for a 1 hour and flush. (This is where Coke belongs
Whitening: 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide in bleach dispenser or 1/2 cup borax in with the detergent. (adding borax will also soften clothes)
Fabric softener: 1/2 cup white vinegar, baking soda or borax in the rinse cycle, add a small ball of aluminum foil in the dryer with the clothes to reduce static cling.
Stain remover: 1/4 cup borax, 1/4 cup baking soda in 2 cups cold water. Soak for 10 minutes or so before laundering. For severe grease stains add 1 can of Coke to washer with your detergent. Full strength hydrogen peroxide will remove blood stains. Full strength lemon juice will remove ink spots.
Starch: 2 – 3 tsp cornstarch in 1 pint of water. (you way need to dissolve the cornstarch in a small amount of warm water first, then add that to more water to make 1 pint) Use in refillable spray bottle.
Shoe shine: rub shoes with the inside of a banana peel or olive oil and buff with paper towel.
Air fresheners: Mix 1 oz vodka or witchhazel with 20 – 40 drops of essential oil (lemongrass, lavender etc.) and mix that with 6 oz filtered or distilled water. Put in a spray bottle and spray as often as needed. Or, simmer cinnamon or cloves in a saucepan with water on the stove. Zeolite is a mineral that safely and naturally absorbs odors and can be purchased commercially. Most air is stale because of poor ventilation…open windows and run fans to circulate air. (Caveat: Wait till you’re done cleaning to drink the remaining vodka)
Windows and mirrors: Use plain water and microfiber cloth. Consumer Reports (1992) found that plain water worked as well as half of the products tested. In addition, the most effective cleaner for oily fingerprints was lemon juice and water. 2 tBs of lemon juice in 1 quart (1 liter) water or 1/2 water 1/2 vinegar poured into a spray bottle.
Carpet deodorizer: Sprinkle baking soda on the carpet and leave overnight. Vacuum in the morning.
Dusting: dust with microfiber cloths or mix 1 tsp olive oil with 1/4 cup vinegar and apply with soft cloth.
General cleaning tips when using cleaners: These tips are important whether you use chemicals or naturals.
- Always wear thick gloves. The skin that you rely on to absorb your favorite hand lotion is the same skin that will absorb phthalates and chemical fragrance in hand soaps. Most bathroom cleaners are extremely irritating to skin and bay cause chemical burns. Even if you’re cleaning with alternative cleaners like vinegar, too much exposure can cause skin redness.
- Never mix cleaners. Ever hear of chloramine gas? That’s what you get when you mix ammonia and bleach or bleach. The gas can overcome you in minutes and do permanent harm to your lungs and eyes. The gas can render you unconscious in minutes. (see “bleach” above) Even if the surface was cleaned with one product, the chemical will remain and should not be cleaned with another right on top or gasses may be produced.
- Always ventilate. You can never be sure of what will happen or how you will react to a cleaner. If you are spraying, the particles are in the air that you are breathing. Make sure you open windows and turn on fans when cleaning. In most of the reported injuries from gas formation, inadequate ventilation was the reason for poisoning.
- Rinse everything away. Never clean without rinsing all the cleaners away from the surfaces that will touch your skin (feet, butt, you get the idea) Don’t ever clean and let dry.
Which brings me to another reason to use naturals: the water system. How long can we continue to pour these toxins down the drains and into the water system and expect clean water to drink and swim in?
So there’s no excuses. Here’s everything you need to have a TRULY “clean” home.
Disclaimer: Always test a small amount of cleaner on the surface you want to clean to see if it will react. Always keep cleaning products, natural or otherwise away from children and pets.
A very well written article by The Savvy Sister. Click here to visit her website for more healthy living articles.