Natural Cleaning Products

Chances are you have a few cleaning products in your house. Even if you have products that are marketed as "green," they are still potentially toxic, take excessive resources to make (due to their "green" status), and most are also probably unnecessary. 

It's fairly well known that most household cleaners are toxic. They contain harmful chemicals that are linked to things like cancer and birth defects. Many of them are also just the same cleaner repackaged into a new bottle so we think we need four different products for the whole house instead of just one. Cleaning products also have one of the highest rates of exposure reported to poison control centers across the U.S. (third highest for adults and second highest for children).

Many cleaning products have fumes that are dangerous to inhale and are creating super bugs that are making us sicker (specifically those products containing triclosan). Depending on how often you bleach your entire house (me, never) these products can weaken your immune system by creating a "too clean" environment. It's similar to what happens when you take antibiotics and kill the good bacteria with the bad bacteria and then get a terrible upset stomach. 

Make Your Own Cleaning Products

Making your own cleaning products is much easier than you might think. You only need a few ingredients that are pretty inexpensive.

  • White vinegar interferes with the ability of bacteria to grow by creating an acidic environment. It is generally preferred over apple cider vinegar because it won't stain. It is non-toxic and easy to use.
  • Lemon juice is a common alternative to white vinegar.
  • Baking soda is a naturally abrasive substance, deodorizer, and cleanser. It is gentle enough to use on nearly every surface (which is not the case for many other cleansers).
  • Olive or jojoba oil polishes furniture and oil wood. They are also less likely to go rancid.
  • Hydrogen peroxide helps remove stains. Always be sure to check color-fastness before use.
  • Soap nuts are a berry-like fruit harvested from a tree. They contain saponins, which clean anything from clothing to dishes, and even hair! If you can't find soap nuts, try grated handmade soaps or natural, biodegradable dish soap.
  • Essential oils are a great addition to any natural household cleaner, especially those that have cleansing and purifying properties. They are also great when you want to add a pleasant smell but are looking to avoid harmful fragrances that increase your toxic load.
  • Liquid castile soap is an all-natural vegetable based soap, made mostly of coconut and olive oils. My favorite brand is Dr. Bronner's.

Household Cleaner Recipes

All-Purpose Natural Household Cleaners

  • In a spray bottle, mix 9 parts water and 1 part white vinegar. You can a few drops of dish soap, as well. Add essential oils if you'd like to minimize the strong smell of the vinegar. Melaleuca oil (tea tree) or lavender can be used as a cleansing, deodorizing, and purifying agent.
  • In a spray bottle mix 2 cups of water, 1 teaspoon castile soap, and 3 drops of essential oil. Shake, spray, and wipe surfaces clean. If you'd like disinfecting qualities, add melaleuca oil as your essential oil. 

Be aware that mixing vinegar and castile soap in the same container will create a sludge. 

Natural Scouring Alternative

  • Sprinkle baking soda over the area to be cleaned or onto a rag and scrub.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner

  • Mix 1 cup vinegar and 30-50 drops melaleuca essential oil in a spray bottle. Spray the mixture inside the toilet bowl and on the seat and lid. Allow to sit for several minutes, then sprinkle baking soda inside the bowl and scrub with a toilet brush. Using a clean cloth, wipe the solution off the outside of the toilet. 

Natural Furniture Polish

  • Mix 1/4 cup white vinegar, lemon juice, or lemon essential oil with 1 tablespoon of oil. You can use this in a spray bottle or put small amount on a cotton rag.

Several years ago I purchased the book Clean House, Clean Planet by Karen Logan which talks about a lot of this and gives TONS of recipes for clean alternatives to chemical-filled cleaning products (how's that for a pun?). I find it to be a really great resource as I look to rid my house of chemicals. 

I am nowhere near close to getting rid of all my toxic cleaning products, although I'm trying. We have a terrible problem with our bathtub drain getting clogged and often need to bust out the heavy duty (i.e. super toxic) drain cleaner to make that work. If the drain is not draining that means that the bathtub gets covered in soap scum very quickly. We have a textured bottom to our tub which is SO HARD to keep clean. Every now and then I bust out the bleach cleanser to get that sucker de-scummed. Just like with food, I think it's important to find a balance that works for you. If you are going to stress out about the cleanliness of your toilet...clean it with chemicals, but try and find another area that you think you can manage with a more natural solution. 

What's your favorite non-toxic cleaning product recipe?

Happy cleaning!

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Martha Rosenstein, FNP