Cleaning products are everywhere including furniture, dishes, clothes, windows and even the air. They help us fight against germs and dirt but can actually make things worse. Most of the cleaning products you see are petroleum-based and have bad effects on our health and environment. However, there are non-toxic green ways to keep your house clean without any side effects.
According to the Environment Protection Agency, indoor air pollution is one of the main environmental dangers and a lot of it comes from different cleaning products. The main side effects include dizziness, headaches and irritation of the throat and eyes. Additionally, if a person has respiratory illnesses, their symptoms worsen. Moreover, there are long-term side effects such as heart disease, respiratory diseases (especially asthma) and cancer. For this reason, EPA recommends everyone avoid using these products regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.
Even though the consequences of using most commercial cleaning products can be severe, the US government still doesn’t control or even label them. And EPA only regulates those products that contain pesticides. Therefore, you are on your own when it comes to choosing better products. The good news is that it’s an easy task.
Gone are the days when chemicals were the only way to clean the house. Nowadays, there are plenty of non-toxic products that are harmless to our health and they help protect the environment. If you don’t trust commercial products at all, you can easily make your own effective products and even cut down on packaging waste. The majority of green cleaning products are very cheap and very effective.
There are a lot of easy-to-use green alternatives that you can use instead of common cleaning products. Here is a short list of the most common products that can be used alone or combined with each other for a variety of applications.
Soap in bars and powders is biodegradable and can clean everything. Green soaps don’t contain petroleum distillates.
Baking soda can be used for cleaning and deodorizing. It softens water, too.
Borax* cleans everything from walls to floors.
Lemon is an amazing acid; perfect against bacteria.
White vinegar quickly removes odors, mold and grease.
Washing soda, also known as soda ash, is a mineral that removes stains and cleans sinks, tubs and tiles.
Isopropyl alcohol is a disinfectant.
Cornstarch can be used to clean windows.
Citrus solvent can clean oil and grease.
*With regard to borax, it is considered a mild skin irritant, just like baking soda or salt. There have been rumors that borax can have harmful effects on the reproductive system, but there are no studies that prove this. Testing in mice had revealed that the animals developed health issues from high levels of borax. However, when it is not ingested, it doesn’t have any side effects. It is a natural substance that cannot accumulate in the body or absorb in any other way. It is also safe for the environment.
Now when we know the basics, let’s talk about common harmful cleaning products and their green alternatives.
Most commercial laundry and dish detergents are made of petroleum, which is a finite resource. Some of these products also have alkylphenol ethoxylates, which are hormone disruptors that enter and harm the environment through your drain.
Most detergents also have fragrances and ingredients to soften the fabric, especially phthalate, which has been linked in laboratory tests to cause different diseases of the reproductive system. Sensitive people can suffer allergic reactions from fragrances. Fragrances can also trigger symptoms such as headaches, skin irritation and watery eyes. Even though phosphate cannot be used in soaps anymore, it still can be found in detergents. It is also fatal when swallowed. Other dangerous ingredients include triethanolamine and diethanolamine, which can react with preservatives and cause cancer.
The simplest thing you can do is to use fragrance-free soaps. But if you just want your things to smell nice, sniff-test a product from a couple of feet away. If the smell irritates your respiratory system, avoid the product. There are also green, plant based all-purpose cleaners (made of palm kernel, corn and coconut oil).
A simple green way to remove stains from clothing is to soak them in water mixed with lemon juice, borax, white vinegar and washing soda. There are also plenty of companies – for example, Naturally Yours or Seventh generation – that produce green all-purpose cleaners and dish detergents.
Adding a half of a cup of baking soda to the wash cycle will effectively soften your fabrics. Or you can use white vinegar, which not only softens fabric, but also eliminates cling.
Formulas in these cleaners can cause severe symptoms if accidentally swallowed. Toilet-bowl cleaners are one of the most dangerous cleaning products because they contain bleach, which can burn the skin and eyes. Lye, found in oven cleaners, can also burn the respiratory tract.
When you need to clean a backed up drain, try using a plunger snake tool first to clean as much of the clog as possible. It will give your green cleaning products room to work or can eliminate the need for them altogether. Eco-friendly clog busters use enzymes instead of caustic chemicals to effectively dissolve obstructions. And you can also get a cheap plastic drain screen to prevent blockage altogether. These drain screens are available in most hardware stores.
You can use baking soda to clean oven surfaces. Coat with it and let it sit for four to five hours, then gently scrub it off while wearing gloves. You can also use plant-based multi-purpose cleaners that contain non-chlorine scouring powders. To prevent your oven from getting dirty, wipe the ceiling and the walls clean after use.
Most of these polishes can irritate eyes, skin and the respiratory system. They contain formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen.
What you can do is to mix one-half cup of vinegar and one teaspoon of olive oil to polish furniture. You can also use solvent-free products that contain plant oils (especially lemon oil). Our grandparents kept their silver shiny by using toothpaste. If you need to polish copper, use a cloth or a sponge dipped in white vinegar with salt in it. You should simply rinse the sponge with water when you’re finished.
You can make your brass shiny with a homemade polisher made of salt, white vinegar and flour. Just mix them together and gently scrub the surface. There are also plenty of green polishers for all kind of surfaces.
All these products and many others (including antibacterial soaps) help harmful bacteria to grow, according to a report published by FDA. Most scouring powders and cleaning solutions contain chlorine bleach, which is very caustic, and can burn the eyes and skin. When it gets to into the environment, chlorine bleach creates organic chlorines, which are a carcinogen, as well as plenty of toxins.
It is also important to know that you should not mix bleach or sodium hydroxide with anything that contains quaternion compounds. If you do, you will create a highly toxic gas. Unfortunately, many commercial cleaning solutions contain bleach.
You can easily change antibacterial soap for plain soap and water. All you need to do is to wash your hands for a bit longer to remove bacteria. To make kitchen and bathroom surfaces clean, try EPA-registered disinfectants. You can also use white vinegar to kill viruses, bacteria and mold.
An effective way to kill food-borne pathogens such as E-coli is to use soapy water to clean the dishes, knives, cutting boards and everything else touched by unprepared meat or eggs. You can use baking soda and water to quickly remove dirt from tubs, countertops and sinks. If you don’t like scrubbing the sink, try to use green products that contain a non-chlorine formula. They often come in the form of a cream.
In order to quickly clean the windows take an empty, clean spray bottle and fill it with the one-quarter cup white vinegar and water. Or you can use lemon juice to clean very greasy windows. There are also green commercial cleaners produced by Earth Friendly, Seventh Generation and Naturally Yours.
All these nicely smelling aerosol propellants contain nerve-damaging ingredients that are also flammable. And we won’t event start on the tiny particles that are harmful for the lungs.
The best thing you can do to get nice smells in the house is to open your windows and ventilate the space naturally (if weather cooperates, of course). You can also leave an open box of baking soda on the table to remove odors.
Use dried flowers, herbs and cedar blocks to provide gentle and natural scents but avoid anything that doesn’t have a specific fragrance on the label; it often means that the product is made of synthetic chemicals, such as phthalate. Green alternatives are products that contain essential oils, such as lavender or lemon.
Moreover, it is also important to avoid aerosol sprays because they disperse the ingredients that you can easily inhale. Even though not all sprays contain toxic ingredients, most of them irritate lungs and noses. The same is true for powders that can spread through air and irritate eyes and skin.
Clutter collects a lot of dust, so remove old magazines and newspapers that can be lying around. You can also leave the shoes outside. If you are building a house, a central vacuum system can be a good solution. It eliminates the dust, which vacuum cleaners cannot clean.
If you live in one of those houses that is so tight no air is coming in, you should open your windows during good weather or run exhaust fans. During colder months, you should open the room wide and let the air in. You can even open the windows for five minutes – the walls and the furnishings will retain the heat while you let the air in.
Keep Your Bedroom Clean
We spend a lot of time in our bedrooms. Don’t let pets in these rooms, especially if you have a large pet that spends a lot of time outdoors.
Switch to Cellulose Sponges
Most sponges are made of plastic or polyester that take years to break down. They are also treated with triclosan, which can produce chloroform when it is mixed with water. Cellulose sponges, on the other hand, are biodegradable and soak up water much better just because they are more absorbent. You can find them in all natural foods stores. There are also non-toxic cloths that are really absorbable and biodegradable.
Clean The Smart Way
When cleaning your house, start with the top and save carpets and floors to the last. Start with shelves and windows and then work downwards. Then you should take an hour to let the dust settle and vacuum the floor.
Use Gentle Products
As we mentioned above, most commercial products such as toilet cleaners and drain cleaners are quite toxic. Use DIY products described in the article or switch to green commercial products. We recommend avoiding anything that contains chlorine and bleach; they have a lot of side effects.
Most green products can be found in hardware or natural food stores. And remember. Green cleaning is much easier than it sounds!