There are so many options for natural cleaning solutions and healthy cleaning products currently on the market, making it easier than ever before to find healthy cleaning products for your home so you can ditch the chemical cleansers.
What’s the Problem with Chemical Cleaning Products?
Natural cleaning, or green cleaning, is important for so many reasons– both personal and planetary!
Many of us are accustomed to using chemical-based cleaners around the home, but these sprays, foams, and gels come at a high cost. Chemical cleaners are linked with asthma, respiratory issues, skin irritation and eczema, and skin allergies.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the number of American children and teenagers reported to suffer skin allergies more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2001, with nearly 9 million cases reported– most likely due to an increase in household chemical exposure as chemicals get stronger and we’re sold an increasing amount of cleaning, sanitizing, and scent products for the home.
In a 2012 report called the “Hall of Shame,” the Environmental Working Group calls out dozens of cleaning products that pose clear and present danger for our bodies and our environment. Below is a recap, but you can download the full report: EWG Hall of Shame Report 2012 (PDF).
1. Chlorine bleach is commonly used to treat drinking water, sanitize swimming pools and to whiten laundry, and is a strong eye, skin, and respiratory irritant. Mixing chlorine bleach with other cleaners like ammonia can release dangerous chlorine gas. Exposure to chlorine gas can cause coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, or other symptoms.
2. Ammonia is often included in glass cleaners and other hard-surface cleaners, and can be irritating to the skin, eyes, throat, and lungs. Ammonia can burn your skin, and can damage your eyes (including blindness) upon contact.
3. Triclosan and Triclocarban are commonly added to household cleaning products such as hand soap and dish soap as well as a broad range of other products from toothpaste to socks. These chemicals are persistent in the environment, and are linked to hormone imbalance, and potential increased risk of breast cancer.
4. Ammonium quaternary compounds (“quats”) are found in household cleaning products like disinfectant sprays and toilet cleaners, and some have been identified as a known inducer of occupational asthma. Certain quats have also been linked to decreased fertility and birth defects in mice.
5. Nano-silver can be incorporated into textiles, plastics, soaps, packaging, and other materials, giving each the natural antibacterial property of silver metal. Nano-silver particles can penetrate deep into your body and have been shown to be toxic to the liver and brain.
In most households, the need for routine disinfection with chemical cleaners is rare.
These chemical cleaners are absorbed through the skin and though the respiratory system, are are linked to a host of health concerns, especially for children. Consumer Affairs reports that most of these chemicals are actually unnecessary in the home.
“Powerful antimicrobial chemicals (also known as disinfectants) are increasingly found in household cleaners, from laundry detergent to kitchen cleaners to handy wipes. Yet research has shown that some of the most common antimicrobial chemicals used in cleaners could have serious health consequences. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to potential health impacts from simple irritation of the skin, eyes, and respiratory systems to hormone imbalance, immune system impacts, asthma, and potential reduced fertility. The overuse of disinfectant chemicals also contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, more commonly known as ‘superbugs.’”
Most of the the products on the market are too strong for regular household cleaning, which Women’s Voices for the Earth likens using these cleaners in our home to killing a fly with a sledgehammer. They acknowledge that many of these chemicals are effective germ killers, but warns consumers to use them with caution and only when truly needed, such as when someone is sick in the home or there is a need for disinfection from contaminated foods or body fluids.
Here is an infographic that shows how chemicals are absorbed into our bodies, and why this can be such a concern.
But there is good news: research shows that less toxic ingredients, such as vinegar and borax, have sufficient antibacterial properties that may be used in place of harsh chemicals for a cleaner, greener home. Vinegar, baking soda, borax, essential oils and lemon can be exceptionally effective (and cheap!) cleaning products for the home, with no side effects for your family. Check out this list of homemade cleaning products that work as well as those you buy.
How to start a Green Home Detox and Clean with Natural Cleaners
If you’re ready to get rid of chemical cleaners in your home, there are a few options. First, you can simply pull all chemical cleaners from your home and donate them to a shelter or to another facility that could use them. This is not an ideal solution, as you are then exposing vulnerable populations to chemicals, but these types of facilities probably already use these chemicals, and could use the free products.
The second option is to just trash them, which is wasteful and puts the products into our waste stream. The better solution is to simply use up the products you have, and swap in new green cleaning products or homemade cleaning products as you need. This helps your budget, since you don’t need to go on a shopping spree right away, and as you can get accustomed to the new cleaners and find ones you like as you try new stuff.
Whether you make or buy your natural cleaning products, you’re making the right step towards a cleaner, greener and safer home.
Next, decide whether you’re going to buy your natural cleaning products or make your own. There are so many great brands on the market, and they are becoming more popular in all stores.
Costco, Target and other large national chains carry organic and natural brands that feature an array of cleaning products for the whole home. Brands that are great for the home and the planet include Seventh Generation, Method, Ecover, The Honest Company, Branch Basics, Mrs. Meyers and more. Here’s what to look for when you buy natural cleaning product:
1. Check your product in the Environmental Working Group Database for toxicity.
2. Read the label: choose a brand that is transparent about their ingredients. Avoid ‘fragrance,’ which can be any type of chemical fragrance and does not have to be disclosed.
3. Choose unscented products to make it less likely to be irritating; you can always add scent with clean, pure essential oils if you like.
4. Buy a smaller size, if possible, so that you can try it out and make sure it works best for your needs. The favorites in my home are Seventh Generation or Costco natural dish soap, Seventh Generation laundry soap (along with natural white vinegar, always!), and Dr. Bronner’s for all other household soap, including hand and shower– but some of my best greenie friends have very different opinions!
If you want to jump on the homemade cleaning product bandwagon, we have a ton of resources for you! We’ve been making many of our own natural cleaning products for years, and love them for their safety, effectiveness and affordability!
1. Homemade Glass cleaner: White vinegar can be used in a spray bottle, or just splashed onto a rag or onto newspaper for the cleanest window and mirrors you’ve ever seen. And yes, the funky vinegar smell will dissipate quickly!
2. Baking soda Scrub: If you’ve ever burnt your pans to a crisp on the stove, simply cover the bottom with white vinegar. Bring to a boil, then add baking soda. Drain, and scrub as usual. Easy! Here are some more tips for how to use baking soda for natural cleaning:
3. Natural Drain Cleaner: For slow moving or slightly clogged drains (sinks or tubs), dump about 1⁄2 cup baking soda into the drain. Add an equal amount of vinegar and let the foamy magic happen. Let stand for 15 minutes then rinse with warm or hot water to flush the drain. You can learn more tips for homemade drain cleaner here.
4. Floor cleaner: Basic cleaner: mix together equal parts white vinegar and warm water. Mop as usual. For disinfecting, use 1 gallon of hot water mixed with 1⁄4 cup Borax (find at hardware stores). Don’t use vinegar on wood floors, as it can dull the finish. More healthy floor cleaning tips here.
5. All-purpose Cleaner: Here are two recipes! In a reused spray bottle, mix together 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar or white vinegar and 20 drops essential oil (optional, but lovely). Shake and use! Or try this one: 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s), 20 drops essential oils. Shake well before use.
6. Essential oils for natural scenting: They add a lovely scent to your home-made products, but also aid in cleaning. Thyme, oregano, rosemary and tea tree and anti-fungal, antibacterial and can help keep your kitchen and bathroom super clean and fresh smelling. Think of pine or juniper for floor cleaners, or lavender, lemon or rose for all-purpose cleaners. Have fun mixing and experimenting with your own signature scents.
BONUS TIP: Don’t forget the elbow grease: Using a little bit of muscle can go a long way to creating a cleaner home! Most of the time you don’t even need chemical or natural cleaner: just a little scrubbing power can clean sinks, toilets, showers, and more (but a little bit of vinegar can’t hurt!)