Simply Clean

How ironic is it that cleaners are often made with the dirtiest ingredients. Toxins, chemicals are making their way onto surfaces that you eat on, clean on and surfaces that in general are places that you want safe.

The cost of using commercial cleaners runs high. It has costs for the economical, environmental, and personal stand points.  The list below names all ingredients in most everyday cleaners that you should avoid at all possible. Below that list is another list of recipes that people can use to make their own cleaning solutions.

Corrosives. Avoid products labeled “Danger. Corrosive.” Corrosives include some of the most dangerous chemicals in the home, such as lye, hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid, and sulfuric acid — the active agents in many drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and toilet cleaners. These chemicals can burn the skin, cause internal burns if ingested, and explode if used incorrectly.

Ammonia. As I’ve started researching eco-friendly household cleaners, I’ve noticed that ammonia is in some of the recipes. Ammonia is found in home recipes and commercial products.  It’s less dangerous in small amounts, but it is a strong eye and lung irritant and should particularly be avoided by anyone with asthma or other lung sensitivities. In large doses it can scar corneas and cause chemical burns on lungs and skin. In the environment it causes Eutrophication which generally promotes excessive plant growth and decay, favors certain weedy species over others, and is likely to cause severe reductions in water quality. In aquatic environments, enhanced growth of choking aquatic vegetation or algal blooms disrupt normal functioning of the ecosystem, causing problems such as a lack of oxygen in the water, needed for fish and other aquatic life to survive. The water then becomes cloudy, colored a shade of green, yellow, brown, or red. When ammonia reaches the soil surface, it usually reacts with water in the soil and is converted into its ionic form, ammonium and absorbs to the soil. The ammonium in the soil eventually disassociates or is nitrified into nitrite or nitrate by nitrifying bacteria, releasing H+ ions into the soil. If not taken up by biomass and converted to methane, the surplus H+ ions eventually lead to the formation of an acidic soil environment. The nitrogen left over in the soil will either be taken up by plants, stored in the soil, returned to the atmosphere, or will be removed from the soil in runoff or leaching. An ecosystem is a natural system consisting of plants, animal, and other microorganisms functioning together in a balanced relationship. Combinations of the problems mentioned above could make changes in the ecosystems. When changes in ecosystems occur, the natural balance of a system is disrupted and fragile plant and animal species can be replaced by non-native species. The disruption of an ecosystem can cause it to adapt by changing (positive or negative outcome), or a disruption may lead to the extinction of the ecosystem.

Bleach. For the reasons noted elsewhere, but primarily for its toxic fumes. Effects range from coughing and chest pain to water retention in the lungs.  Chlorine irritates the skin, the eyes, and the respiratory system. Human health effects associated with breathing or otherwise consuming small amounts of chlorine over long periods of time are not known.  They are currently under investigation.  Some studies show that workers develop adverse effects from repeat inhalation exposure to chlorine, but others do not.  Laboratory studies show that repeat exposure to chlorine in air can adversely affect the immune system, the blood, the heart, and the respiratory system of animals. Chlorine dissolves when mixed with water.  It can also escape from water and enter air under certain conditions.  Most direct releases of chlorine to the environment are to air and to surface water.  Once in air or in water, chlorine reacts with other chemicals.  It combines with inorganic material in water to form chloride salts.  It combines with organic material in water to form chlorinated organic chemicals.  Because of its reactivity chlorine is not likely to move through the ground and enter groundwater.

Phosphates. Phosphates are naturally occurring minerals used in automatic dishwashing detergents as a water softener. When released back into the environment, phosphates can cause algae blooms in lakes and ponds that kill aquatic life. Look for phosphate-free dishwashing detergents, try a homemade recipe of half borax and half washing soda (a more alkaline form of baking soda), or skip the dishwasher and use a dishpan and regular dish soap instead.

Petroleum products. Many surfactants (cleaning agents) are refined petroleum products that are linked with health problems and require environmentally harsh methods to extract and distill. A few specific ones to avoid: diethylene glycol, nonylphenol ethoxylate, and butyl cellosolve.

If you still need more proof or just want more information check the Household Products Database — part of the Specialized Information Services of the National Library of Medicine — a vast compendium of common household products that includes the potential health effects. Just go to and click on the category of the product you’re interested in.

Below, I have some solutions to daily cleaning problems. The only thing on this list that I know for sure works (because we do it at home) is using vinegar as a deodorizer. To me there is nothing worse than the smell of vinegar, but I can’t deny that it gets rid of even the worst smells, besides the smell of vinegar, but eventually goes away and until then I just avoid the area.

 All-Purpose Cleaning Spray:

For countertops, sinks, toilets, and for spot cleaning floors
Mix 1 part white vinegar and 1 part water in a spray bottle. Spray and scrub.
For really tough soap scum or mineral deposits, warm the solution first, spray, and let sit before scrubbing, or use straight vinegar (but avoid straight vinegar on tile grout – it can cause the grout to break down).

Bathtub / Sink Scrub:

In a bowl, make a paste with baking soda, a squirt of your dish soap*, and a squeeze of lemon, to the consistency of frosting. Dip cloth or sponge into paste and scrub.
For really stubborn grime, allow to sit 10-15 minutes before rinsing.

Mirror & Glass Cleaner:

2 tsp vinegar
1 quart water
Mix in a spray bottle. Spray on mirror or glass, and wipe clean with old newspaper. (The ink doesn’t smear, and it leaves no lint!)

Floor Cleaner:

1/4 Cup dish soap*
1/2 Cup white vinegar or lemon juice
2 gallons warm water
Combine in sink or large bucket, and use with mop.
You can use this on any floor, unless the manufacturer has specified to avoid all detergents.

Some other tips:

• Don’t use vinegar on marble – it can damage the surface.
• If you’re concerned about the smell of vinegar, you can always add a few drops of essential oil to your mix, but know that the odor of vinegar disappears as it evaporates.
• Vinegar is a disinfectant, but for raw chicken juice and other clean-ups involving bacteria, you will want something more powerful, like hydrogen peroxide. Read more.
• For really dirty toilets, you can shake in some baking soda in addition to using the all-purpose cleaning spray, and add a little lemon juice, too, if you like.
• If you don’t want to cut up fresh lemons, keep a squeeze bottle of lemon juice in your fridge. You can buy this, or make it yourself by squeezing some lemons ahead of time. If you buy it, make sure it only contains 100% lemon juice, with no added oils or essences.
• Use 100% cotton microfiber cloths for your cleaning – they will not leave lint behind, and you can throw them in the wash afterward and re-use them.

*About dish soap: when you purchase dish soap at the store, look for words like biodegradable, septic-safe, and non-toxic. Don’t buy anything that contains petroleum distillates or phosphates. If you don’t want to make your own stuff or need a cleaner that’s not on the list then Seventh Generation and Earth Friendly Products are a couple of good companies that make eco-friendly products.




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2 responses to “Simply Clean

  1. Those are great ideas for household cleaners. Any ideas on personal toiletry items. Have you found any information on making your own safe toothpaste, shampoo, etc.?

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