April 11, 2013 - Spring is finally here (please?), and that means it’s time for lolling in the grass, tossin’ the disc, barbecuing with friends, and scouring your living space from top to bottom.
While it might be tempting to spray your whole place with bleach (that makes things “clean,” right?), a lot of common household cleaning products are actually pretty toxic to our health. Luckily, there are alternative ways to keep things fresh and sanitary. Read on for the low-down on cleaning every area of the home, DIY style.
Ditching the Dirt - The Need-to-Know
The Environmental Protection Agency ranks indoor air pollutionamong the top environmental dangers, and much of this pollution comes from common cleaning products (or what we’ll call “indoor pollutants”). Immediate effects of exposure to indoor pollutants can include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as exacerbated symptoms of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Long-term effects (following long or repeated exposure to indoor pollutants) include respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even cancer. The indoor pollutants that can cause these reactions are so common that the EPA strongly recommends everyone improve the air quality of their home, regardless of whether symptoms are currently present. In other words, these pollutants are pretty whack.
Despite the potentially serious consequences of exposure to indoor air pollutants, the government doesn’t regulate or assess the safety (or even labeling) of the vast majority of cleaning products on the market. The EPA, meanwhile, only regulates cleaners that contain registered pesticides. This means that consumers are basically on their own when it comes to choosing safe cleaning products — a task that’s wayeasier said than done. (For reviews of the toxicity of 200 hundred household cleaners, check out the Environmental Working Group’sdatabase.)
Luckily, chemical-laden cleaning products aren’t the only means to keep a home safe and sparkly. Non-toxic homemade cleaning products aren’t only better for us, they can also help save us money and protect the environment. Making your own products cuts down on packaging waste and reduces the release of household chemicals that can contribute to air and water pollution. The best news? The majority of the most powerful cleaning products may well already be on our pantry shelves.
So Fresh and So Clean - Meet the Star Players
Before we get to the cleaning, let’s check out some of the most common (and most useful) non-toxic cleaning products.
Castile soap is a style of soap that’s made from 100 percent plant oils (meaning it uses no animal products or chemical detergents). Popularized by the Dr. Bronner’s line of products, castile cuts through grease and cleans.
Thanks to its acidity, vinegar is nothing short of a cleaning wunderkind — it effectively (and gently!) eliminates grease, soap scum, and grime.
Natural lemon juice annihilates mildew and mold, cuts through grease, and shines hard surfaces (it also smells awesome).
Essential oils have gained popularity thanks to aromatherapy, but these naturally occurring plant compounds also make great scent additions to homemade cleaning products (particularly if you’re not into the smell of vinegar). Essential oils are generally considered safe, but these extracts can trigger allergies — so keep this in mind when choosing scents.
Many DIY cleaners tout Borax (a boron mineral and salt) as a non-toxic alternative to mainstream cleaning products; however, the issue is pretty hotly debated. Some research suggests Borax can act as a skin and eye irritant and that it disrupts hormones. For this list, we’ve chosen to avoid products that use Borax.
A note on mixing products: Most of these ingredients can be used in combination with each other; however, many sources advise against mixing castile soap with vinegar or lemon juice. Since castile soap is basic (i.e., high on the pH scale) and vinegar and lemons are acidic, the products basically cancel each other out when used in combination (though it’s fine to wash with a base — like castille soap — and rinse with an acid — like vinegar!).
Cleaners for Every Surface and Occasion
For lots and lots of details on what cleaners to use for every part of every room -- bathroom, kitchen, laundry room and everything else, go to Greatist.com.