Many common household products contain ingredients that can affect your health. In small amounts these ingredients may not cause problems but the risks come when you are exposed over time and in combinations that have not yet been studied. The good news is that these products can be replaced with alternatives that are easy to make, save you money and don’t affect your health. Gentle and readily available products like baking soda, salt, vinegar and essential oils often do the job just as well.
You need to be aware that even natural ingredients can react with one another. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are two natural disinfectants and sometimes it is recommended that you use alternating mists of these ingredients when cleaning. Experts do confirm that this practice is safe but when you mix them in the same container you create peracetic acid which can irritate the respiratory system, eyes and skin. Don’t happily mix away without being aware of possible bad combinations, even if ingredients are natural. It helps to know your acids from your bases!
An ingredient in household bleach that you need to be aware of is chlorine. Bleach does not contain pure chlorine but sodium hypochlorite (chlorine added to lye.) Even short-term inhalation may cause irritation of the eyes and nose, cough, sore throat, headaches and chest tightness.
Mixing bleach with ammonia, which is found in many other cleaning products, creates harmful chlorine gas. Exposure to even a low level of pure chlorine gas will irritate the respiratory tract, skin and eyes. You may develop a sore throat, cough, feel chest pain, experience headaches, dizziness, nausea and much more.
Pour hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, and lemon essential oil into a glass bottle. Fill the rest of the bottle with water.
2. General Household Cleaner
Many general household cleaners contain ammonia. This is a powerful irritant that particularly affects those who have asthma and breathing problems. Consistent exposure can cause liver and kidney damage. Butyl cellusolve is another ingredient commonly used in household cleaners which penetrates the skin easily and acts as a neurotoxin.
Although baking soda and vinegar are both handy on their own, many natural recipes for general cleaners include both, despite the fact that they virtually cancel one another out. Vinegar solutions do not benefit at all from adding baking soda. Only when you have hard water is there a slight benefit from adding vinegar to a baking soda solution as vinegar salts suspend the hard water deposits. Some limited value comes in the immediate reaction between the two – the fizz. Just under 1/2 T of baking soda will turn a quart of vinegar into diluted salty water. The fact that the vinegar causes the baking soda to foam up means it’s not a good idea to store them together in a closed container.
2 Tbsp. castile soap
10-20 drops of tea tree oil
Water to fill bottle
Pour water into spray bottle, leaving enough space to add the tea tree oil and soap. Use as you would any general purpose cleaner.
3. Oven Cleaners
Sodium hydroxide (lye) is an ingredient often found in oven cleaners. It is very corrosive. If it gets in your eyes or touches your skin, you can suffer severe burns. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can give you a sore throat. This ingredient is often found in drain cleaners too.
As already mentioned, mixing baking powder and vinegar is not that effective. Mixing castile soap with vinegar or lemon juice is not a good idea either. The soap is a base and vinegar or lemon juice is an acid. The vinegar will not cut scum and the soap won’t transport the dirt. Instead the vinegar reduces the soap back to its original oils creating an oily, white mess. In the following recipe, the vinegar is used for rinsing after the paste has been used.
- 1/4 cup castile soap
- 1 cup baking soda
- 1/2 cup coarse sea salt
- warm water
- distilled white vinegar (for rinsing)
Make a paste out of the baking soda, soap and salt and add a little water. Apply to the oven’s interior and allow it to sit overnight or at least for a few hours. Use a sponge and warm water to wash the interior. Spray the interior with some distilled white vinegar to wash away the residue of the paste.
4. Window cleaners
A key ingredient in many window cleaners is 2-butoxyethanol. This gives them their sweet smell. It can cause a sore throat when inhaled. At high levels (such as if you’re cleaning in a confined area like a bathroom) glycol ethers can cause some serious health issues.
2 cups of water (filtered or distilled leaves no residue)
2 tablespoons vinegar
10 drops essential oil of your choice – lemon helps to cut the smell of the vinegar.
Combine ingredients in a spray bottle (preferably glass) and use as needed to clean window.
Note: You may have to mix in a few drops of liquid dish soap in the mixture if you have always used a commercial window cleaner. This will help to remove any residue of detergent that remains on the windows.
5. Air Fresheners
Phthalates are found in many products with fragrances, not just air fresheners. Exposure is by inhalation but also through contact with the skin. Phthalates are endocrine disrupters and are known to cause thyroid disorders, hormonal abnormalities and reproductive problems.
The best alternative is to ventilate rooms well and perfume the air with essential oils. Add more plants to your home to naturally detoxify air. Choose fragrance-free or all natural organic products.
Fresh Wave Home Spray contains extracts of lime, soy, aniseed, clove, pine needle, clove and cedar wood. It is a safe all-natural solution and eliminates odors effectively. This product is one of the good ones – a best seller on Amazon.
6. Dry cleaner/carpet cleaner/spot remover
Perchloroethylene or “perc” is a neurotoxin and the EPA classifies it as a “possible carcinogen” as well. Inhalation may cause dizziness, loss of co-ordination and other systems. This ingredient is what clothes smell of when they come back from the dry cleaner. It is the smell that lingers in the air after cleaning carpets.
Try not to buy clothes, curtains etc. that are labeled “dry clean only”. If you do need to dry clean, find cleaners that use water-based technology rather than chemical solvents. For a safe spot remover, look for a nontoxic brand like Ecover Spot Remover. For a carpet cleaner, use the following recipe.
3 cups water
3/4 castile soap
10 drops peppermint essential oil
Mix the soap in the water and add the peppermint oil. Rub foam into carpet with a damp sponge. Let it dry and then vacuum.
An amber glass spray bottle will prevent ingredients like hydrogen peroxide from degrading in ultra violet light and the glass is not affected by strong oils like citrus. Microfiber cleaning cloths work best when not using harsh chemicals as they are specially designed to lift off dust, grease and dirt.
Buying a cleaning product because it claims to be ‘natural’ or ‘green’ is not enough. There are some good natural cleaning products on the market but they do not all live up to their claims. The solution is to make your own – then you know exactly what they contain and making them gives you a sense of satisfaction. You will be happy that you made the effort.