When my daughter started crawling, and putting everything she could find in her mouth, I really started questioning our household cleaning products. Although I had an idea that they were somewhat toxic, I never realized the full extent of their destruction until I started to do more research. Turns out, the common household, multi-purpose cleaner is far more toxic than I’d imagined, and inside the home, it’s our little ones, pets, and elderly who suffer from these products the most.
So before I talk about the alternatives, I want to first convince you why you should stop using the poison you currently use to clean with.1. Health: Household cleaners enter our bodies through absorption in our skin, or inhalation when we breathe. These products contain carcinogens that cause and/or promote cancer growth, neurotoxins that disrupt your nervous system, and “hormone disruptors” that interfere with the body’s natural, chemical messages.
Here are a few (of the many) common ingredients found in household cleaners, and the effects that they have on your health.*
Ammonia: Found in glass cleaner, oven cleaner, drain cleaner, car-polish, and multi-purpose cleaners, is known to irritate the eyes, nose and throat, cause kidney and liver damage, and when mixed with chloramine bleach, the highly poisonous chloramine gas is formed.
Fragrances: Oh, fragrances…you are the worst! Phthalates are a common fragrance ingredient in floor polishes, glass cleaner, fabric softeners and deodorizers--they are endocrine disruptors, and have even been found to affect the sperm count in men! Air-fresheners contain cancer-causing benzene and formaldehyde (so ironic).
Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs): Degrade into nonylphenols (NPs), which can mimic the hormone estrogen. In laboratory experiments, NP has been shown to stimulate the growth of human breast cancer cells. NPEs can be found in stain removers, all-purpose cleaners, air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, degreasers, and car wash products.
2. Environment: Cleaners make their way down the drains, and end up in oceans, streams, and ground water. Many of the chemicals they contain are proven to cause adverse reproductive effects in fish and other aquatic organisms, contribute to algae blooms, and cause toxicity leading to death in marine species.
Not only is what’s inside the bottle harmful to the environment, but the plastic bottle itself is contributing to the seemingly endless amounts of solid waste entering the landfills each day.
3. Savings: Making your own cleaners costs a fraction of the price compared to commercial cleaners.
4. Detox and De-clutter: If you look under your kitchen sink, or laundry room cupboard… or wherever you happen to keep your cleaning supplies… how many different cleaners do you have? It seems like there is a different cleaning product for every surface in your house. We all have (had) those rusty cans we bought a decade (maybe two decades) ago, with the skeleton on the side, that never gets used. I’m telling you now, you don’t need it—dispose (safely) of it all, and replace it with homemade alternatives. Disposing of your household hazardous waste (HHW) is cleansing for the mind, body and cupboard-space.
*For a list of the many, common ingredients found in household cleaners, and the specific effects they have our bodies and the environment, read this article put out for the David Suzuki Foundation, and this provided by the Organic Consumers Association.
Over the last year I’ve experimented with several different homemade cleaners. I have found three that I love and they do the job better then the 16 toxic ones they replaced.
Below is a list of the ingredients I use to make them…you’ll notice that you can pronounce them all.
About the Ingredients:
White Vinegar: Vinegar (acetic acid) deodorizes, cuts grease, and due to its level of acidity, it kills bacteria, mold and germs. It is non-toxic and completely environmentally friendly.
Citrus: Citrus, lemons in particular, are high in citric acid, which makes them a great grease cutter and disinfectant. It can also be used as a stain remover because of its mild bleaching properties. The lemon peels I use help give the cleaner a fresh, lemony scent.
Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap: This soap is eco-friendly, fair trade, Non-GMO, and is a great alternative to harmful detergents! It is very concentrated, so it’s best to dilute it for cleaning purposes. There are so many uses for castile soap, from shampoo to dish soap, and I use it in many recipes, so stock up if you’re along for the ride!
Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing Alcohol): Although environmentally friendly, this is one ingredient that I still want to keep out of my daugher’s reach, and prolonged exposure is also warned to me harmful—so I’m suggesting you should not “huff” it like glue for an extended period of time. That being said, and since you’re not a bunch of morons, Isopropyl alcohol is a fabulous cleaning ingredient. It’s ability to evaporate quickly makes it a great glass cleaner, and since it is 70-99% ethanol, it’s obviously a great disinfectant too.
Essential Oils: Tea tree oil, and Lavender oil are my favorites essential oils for cleaning due to there disinfectant qualities. Tea tree oil has anti-fungal properties that can kill staphylococcus, e-coli, shigella, and salmonella, making it a super hero in the kitchen. There is a long list for what Lavender oil can do--it's so versatile. Check out the health benefits of lavender oil here. Lavender oil as a cleaning agent is a powerful disinfectant with a beautiful scent.
Start by collecting your citrus peels. I add them to a bag in the freezer until I have enough to fill a jar (any size you’d like.) Once you have enough, cut the peels into quarters, and place them skin side out (so that it looks pretty while it’s sitting on your counter for the next week.) Cover the peels with white vinegar, seal with a lid, and leave to soak. After a week, strain the mixture into a spray bottle, and add your choice of essential oils—I use orange and tea-tree in this recipe. It’s now ready to use as a kick-ass, eco-friendly, non-toxic, multi-purpose cleaner.
Tip: When used with baking soda, this is the best bathroom cleaner going, and can seriously conquer soap scum. Simply spray your sink/toilet/tub with the cleaner, sprinkle with baking soda, and scrub!
The photo on the left is even after he tried cleaning the break dust off with "tire cleaner." The tire on the right has just been cleaned with lemon peel-infused vinegar and baking soda!
Fill a spray bottle full of ¾ water (do this FIRST to prevent the castile soap from bubbling over), and fill the remainder with your favorite Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap. Add 15-20 drops of essential oils, and gently swirl to mix. This is cleaner is great in bathrooms, and for cleaning kid’s toys, and sticky messes.
I hope you like these eco-friednly alternatives! Feel free to leave a reply or email me directly with any questions--I'd love to answer them!
Ready to Detox Your Home?
Step 1: Go around you home and gather all the cleaners that you'd assume would kill you or put you in the hospital if you were to drink them.
Step 2: DO NOT DUMP THEM DOWN THE DRAIN! Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) needs to be disposed of properly. Contact your local Regional District, Landfill or Recylcing Depot to find out where they take HHW. It may also be helpful to read this article.Step 3: Make the cleaners I've listed, or experiment with your own!