Stay Safe While Keeping Your Home Clean
Sometimes it seems like house cleaning is a never-ending job. Why wouldn’t you want a household cleaner that makes the job easier? But “stronger” isn’t always better for your family and the environment. In fact, many home cleaning products can be toxic and some that are OK to use alone can be downright dangerous if used with other products.
Even cleaning products labeled “green” or “natural” can contain ingredients that aren’t always safe for people or the environment. This is especially true if anyone in your family has asthma, allergies, or other respiratory challenges, has sensitive skin, or other health concerns.
Simple DIY Household Cleaners
There are a number of simple household staples that you can use for cleaning tasks. Here are some ingredients you probably already have at home that you can use.
White vinegar is great for cleaning mirrors, glass and chrome, removing hard-water deposits, and helping laundry detergent work better. Don’t use vinegar with bleach, on waxed surfaces, or for cleaning natural stone.
Baking soda is a great odor remover for drains and your refrigerator. You can use it as a scrub for hard surfaces like tubs, sinks, toilets, and more. It also works on carpets and upholstery—sprinkle, let it sit, and vacuum it up.
This acidic fruit is good for removing hard-water deposits, cleaning mirrors and glass, and shining chrome.
It’s also good for cleaning:
Copper (use half of a lemon and salt)
Garbage disposals (thinly sliced; great for deodorizing, too)
Cutting boards (especially after chopping onions or garlic)
Microwaves (microwave a cup of water and lemon juice)
Plastic food storage containers (removes stains and odors)
As with vinegar, don’t use lemon for cleaning natural stone as the acid can damage the surface.
Traditionally made from olive oil, castile soap can be made from a variety of vegetable oils. This versatile, biodegradable soap has so many uses, including dishes, laundry, floors, windows, pest spray, and personal/body care. Castile soap is often concentrated and should be diluted, so read the label.
This is a combination of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide that is not only much safer for you, it’s safer for the environment. Chlorine-free bleach is good for brightening and stain removal and general housecleaning (diluted). This type of bleach is not considered a disinfectant like chlorine bleach, however. Be sure to check labels, as many “oxy” or “color safe” bleaches contain extra ingredients or fragrances.
Looking for an even less hazardous alternative? Consider safer disinfectant/antimicrobial products that carry the EPA’s Design for the Environment logo.
DIY Cleaning Tips
Here are some ways to use simple cleaners around your home.
In the kitchen, boil 2 cups of water with 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Or elsewhere in the house, leave a bowl of 2 cups of water with 1 tablespoon white vinegar to absorb odors.
In the garbage disposal, add thin strips of lemon peel, along with ½ cup salt and ice cubes down the disposal to get it smelling clean and fresh again. If that doesn’t work, try a ½ cup baking soda and 1 cup of vinegar. Let sit for 15-30 minute, then flush for a minute or so with hot water.
Clean Windows and Mirrors
The best homemade glass cleaners seem to be those made from vinegar, rubbing alcohol, cornstarch, and water. The ratios vary, but start with ¼ cup vinegar, ¼ cup alcohol, 1 tsp cornstarch, 2 cups water.
Use plain old black and white newspaper instead of paper towels. You’ll be amazed at how shiny and streak free it will make the glass.
Safer Cleaning Products
According to the EPA, “Manufacturers of chemical products are not required to list ingredients on their containers or make them public.” This can leave you in the dark about what’s in cleaning products and how safe they really are, regardless of what the label claims.
Here are tips to help you choose cleaning products that are safer for your family and the environment.
Avoid Scented Cleansers or Fragrances
Avoid fragrances and air fresheners. Remember, “clean” doesn’t have a scent. Both the American Lung Association and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommend avoiding air fresheners and cleaning products with fragrances. Even items marked “fragrance free” can be scented with compounds that hide the smells of other substances.
Search for Safer Cleaners
Both the EPA’s Safer Choice site and the EWG have sites where you can search for cleaning products. The EWG site rates products based on available information, while the Safer Choice site only shows products that have applied for and met the Safer Choice standards. For safer disinfectant/antimicrobial products, see products that qualify for the EPA’s Design for the Environment program.
Look for These Logos
Not all logos are created equal. Green Seal, a non-profit organization, and Ecologo (from UL, a global safety certification company), test products to ensure they meet strict environmental and health standards. EPA’s SaferChoice labeling program can also help you choose safer products.