Homemade cleaners made from all-natural ingredients are much milder than those created for the retail market. However, this does not reduce their effectiveness when tackling those pesky hard to clean cleaning jobs.
Although it may mean that a little extra elbow grease is required!
In comparison, many of today’s commercially manufactured cleaners are simply too strong for their intended purpose. And, while a few products may cause immediate reactions from acute exposure, (headaches, skin burns, nausea, irritation of the eyes), hidden problems arise with repeated contact.
Indeed, Ingredients in common household products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption, and neurotoxicity.
And this is just a small sample of the health problems reported from the repeated exposure to the toxic chemicals hidden within cleaning products.
Simply put, commercial cleaning products are bad for our health and bad for the environment.
However many of the natural recipes work just as well, if not better, than their modern counterparts. Traditionally these natural recipes have been used, improved, and passed down through the centuries to close family members.
Therefore, these recipes have evolved, over time, to be good for the environment and good for the family unit.
- How do commercial cleaning products create long-term health problems?
- Do manufacturers need to reveal the ingredients in their products?
- Hidden toxins in cleaning products?
- Worst toxic offenders commonly found in household cleaning products.
- Why use homemade cleaning products?
- Common natural cleaner ingredients.
- Examples of homemade cleaners made from natural ingredients.
- Basic rules for making natural cleaning recipes.
- Beware of greenwashing.
How Do Commercial Cleaning Products Create Long-Term Health Problems?
The long-term effects of cleaning product pollutants may include respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer. This is why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes that cleaning products carry a real risk of toxic chemical exposure.
The EPA states that “products for household cleaning and maintenance” are one of their primary sources of indoor air pollution”. And it is why the EPA strongly recommends that everyone improve the air quality of their home.
This is because indoor air moves very differently from outdoor air. Outdoor air is subject to many different conditions which can dilute the toxicity of chemicals around us very quickly.
However Indoor air receives no such dilution. Inevitably the gases or particles released into the air from commercial cleaners result in the inhalation and absorption of this toxic chemical soup.
Repeated contact with these undiluted chemicals adds to the body’s “toxic burden”. A burden I would describe as an increasing number of chemicals stored in the body’s tissues at any given time.
So if the body is exposed to a chemical a handful of times it may not cause any harm. However, long term exposure would allow for some chemicals to build up enough over time and trigger some kind of disease outcome.
This is the concept [of body burden] in that pollution is not just in our air and in our water — it’s also in us.”
Do Manufacturers Need To Reveal The Ingredients In Their Products?
Amazingly, there is no federal regulation of chemicals in household products. Indeed, U.S. law allows manufacturers of most cleaning products to use almost any ingredient they wish.
Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has stated the following. “In terms of household cleaners, neither ingredients nor products must meet any sort of safety standard. Nor is any testing data or notification required before bringing a product to market.”
Therefore from the phthalates in fragrances to the lung and eye irritants in oven cleaners, all of them pass scrutiny. Ingredients in common household products have been linked to narcosis, pulmonary edema, cancer, and severe liver and kidney damage.
Phthalates and other included substances can also reduce sperm count and harm fetal and infant development.
Unfortunately, the US government does very little to assess the safety of the vast majority of cleaning products before they’re sold to consumers.
And the EPA only effectively regulates cleaning products that contain registered pesticides. That is why you can find the “toxic to aquatic life” warning on the packaging of many of these products.
One drain cleaner for instance notifies me that it: “May be corrosive to metals. Causes severe skin burns and eye damage. Very toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects”. And then goes on to say POUR DOWN THE DRAIN!
The only thing it did not recommend was a HAZMAT suit!
Hidden Toxins In Cleaning Products
Companies are free to use vague terms such as surfactant, fragrance, or preservative, to describe their ingredients. Thus using this loophole they are free to leave their consumers oblivious to the specific chemicals they may contain.
And therefore also oblivious to the possibility of any severe short, or long-term, health hazards associated with these chemicals.
Furthermore, by deliberately hiding toxic ingredients within a fancy word structure consumers may be unwittingly creating a hidden toxic burden within the body. A toxic burden that may give rise to a multitude of health issues over an individual’s lifetime.
An example would be the number of commercially available floor and furniture waxes that contain neurotoxic petroleum-based solvents. Doctors have stated that, in the short term, these solvents can cause headaches, irritability, and a loss of concentration and awareness.
Long-term effects can vary between individuals but we should ask, what other toxins are common to household cleaning products and where can we find them?
So let’s take a closer look at just 4 of those hidden toxins and try to expose the hidden dangers, what they mean to our overall health status, and what we can do to avoid them.
Worst toxic offenders commonly found in household cleaning products
Found in: Many fragranced household products, such as air fresheners, dish soap, perfume, nail polish, and hair spray. Three of them, BBP, DBP, and DEHP, are permanently banned from toys and products intended to help young children, eat, teethe, or suck.
Tests on people show DBP can irritate skin and although we’re not sure if BBP causes cancer in people, research shows that it may have.
Alternative: When possible choose fragrance-free or all-natural organic products mixed with essential oils. Avoid stale indoor air and keep windows open to dilute and freshen the air. Also, consider adding an air purifier or more plants to your home as they are natural detoxifiers.
Found in: consumer products, including toothpaste, soaps, detergents, toys, and surgical cleaning treatments. Triclosan is a chemical with antibacterial properties and when you use a product containing triclosan, you can absorb a small amount through your skin or mouth.
Research has shown that triclosan:
- Might contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs
- Could alter normal hormone regulation in animals. (Endocrine disruption)
- Might be harmful to the immune system
The EPA was reviewing the safety of triclosan at the time of writing.
Alternative: Consider making your own personal products and avoid purchasing antibacterial products that contain triclosan. Alcohol, vinegar, lemon, and citrus-based essential oils make great sanitizers.
3. Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”
Found in: Many household cleaners, disinfectant wipes, fabric softeners, and antibacterial products. They are a skin irritant and studies show that they could be one of the leading causes of contact dermatitis. They are certified by the EPA as pesticides.
Alternative: There are many natural alternatives that can disinfect, sanitize, and provide antibacterial comfort.
Vinegar is one such natural disinfectant and can double as a fabric softener just as easily. Simply soak cloth baby wipes in vinegar and throw one into the wash as required. Your clothes will not only come out soft and sanitized but the vinegar also prevents static cling!
Other alternatives include lemon, tea-tree oil, borax, lavender oil, and eucalyptus.
A quick natural disinfectant recipe that is both sweet-smelling and highly effective can be found below.
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 5 drops tea tree essential oil
- 5 drops lavender essential oil
- 2 cups of water
Mix the ingredients with or without water in a spray bottle and you will have a safe, germ killing, all-purpose cleaner/disinfectant.
Note care should be taken when spraying vinegar on polished surfaces.
4. Sodium Hydroxide
Found in: Oven cleaners and drain cleaners and unblockers.
Also known as lye, sodium hydroxide is an extremely corrosive chemical. It can cause severe burns on contact both internally and externally and so should not be inhaled. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat and it is a severe airborne eye irritant.
If it can do all this to a human just by being within its proximity, imagine what it is doing to the environment!
Alternatives: Baking soda and water mixed into a paste and left to work overnight makes a very effective oven cleaner. The baking soda will leave a white film behind but this can be easily removed with a quick spray of vinegar.
For stubborn baked-on grease put a heatproof dish filled with water in the oven and turn on the heat. Let the steam soften any baked-on grease and then let the oven cool. Once the oven is cool follow the steps as outlined above.
To unblock a drain simply pour a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain and plug it for 30 minutes. Never do this in a sealed jar as the chemical reaction will cause the jar to explode. After the bubbles die down, run hot water down the drain to clear the debris.
So as you can see chemical-laden cleaning products aren’t the only way to protect the family and keep the home hygienically clean.
Homemade cleaners made from natural ingredients may take a little more time and effort. But they can be just as effective as the very toxic, commercially manufactured cleaners you find in the stores.
Why Use Homemade Cleaning Products?
Homemade cleaners that are made from all-natural ingredients, carry none of the health risks and are extremely safe for the environment. Plus, non-toxic homemade cleaning products aren’t just better for us; they also help us to save money and protect the environment.
Furthermore, making your own non-toxic cleaning products is something that everyone can easily learn to do. And the best news is that the ingredients for the most powerful cleaning products around may already be on our pantry shelves!
So let’s look at a sample of what these ingredients are and why we should use them.
Common Natural Cleaner Ingredients
Baking soda has proven virus-killing abilities and it also effectively deodorizes, brightens, cuts through grease and grimes, softens water, and scours.
Castile soap is a style of soap that’s made from plant oils and is therefore not petroleum-based. This soap is a firm favorite in the natural cleaning world as it uses no animal products or man-made chemicals.
Castile soap can be used neat to cut through grease or added to natural cleaning recipes to increase their potency.
Distilled White Vinegar
Distilled white vinegar (5% acidity and above) is a staple of the natural cleaning world. It is primarily used to kill mold, disinfect surfaces, remove light grease, and dissolve stains.
Natural lemon juice cleans chrome, kills mold, sanitizes surfaces, and provides a beautiful fresh fragrance when needed. Many homemade cleaners made from natural ingredients will include a dash of lemon many benefits.
Please watch the video below to see a few examples of how easy it is to clean with fresh lemons.
Essential oils are naturally occurring plant compounds that are processed into an extremely concentrated form. For example, it takes 75 lemons to make just one 10ml bottle of lemon essential oil.
Primarily used in conjunction with other ingredients essential oils can fragrance, remove stains and disinfect areas. However, essential oils can trigger allergies and may be dangerous to pets so keep this in mind when choosing scents.
For more information please read: 23 readers suggested natural cleaning recipes that actually work!
I feel that I must point out that essential oils should always be handled and used with care. They are strong, volatile, and very potent concentrations of the plants from which they are extracted.
Pregnant women, diabetics, and people with allergies or respiratory conditions should consult a doctor about using essential oils if they are unfamiliar with them.
Examples Of homemade cleaners made from natural ingredients
ALL PURPOSE HOUSEHOLD CLEANER (No Vinegar)
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp liquid castile soap
- 1 1/2 cups distilled water
- 10 drops of Tea tree oil
- Glass spray bottle
Combine the baking soda and 1 cup of water in a spray bottle then shake or stir until the baking soda dissolves. Next, add the castile soap and the tea tree oil and replace the lid and then gently shake the mixture. Once the bubbles have dissipated you may wish to add the remaining water or use the mixture as it is depending upon personal preference. If the mixture separates over time then simply shake it gently before use.
- 1/4 cup soap flakes
- 2 cups hot water
- 1/4 cup glycerine
- 5 to 10 drops lemon essential oil
- Combine soap flakes and water and stir until dissolved.
- Allow cooling until lukewarm.
- Stir in the oil and glycerine and leave to cool.
- As it cools into a gel, stir and pour into a suitable container.
- 2 tbs castile soap
- 3/4 cup baking soda
- About 2 to 3 tbs of water to make a smooth paste
- 10 drops grapefruit oil or citrus essential oils of choice
- Combine baking soda, castile soap, and oils.
- Add water to the mixture and stir until a smooth paste is formed.
- Put into a suitable container and use sparingly.
LAVENDER OIL WOODEN FURNITURE POLISH
- 15 drops lavender essential oil
- 1 tbs rubbing alcohol or vodka
- 1 tbs apple cider vinegar
- 30 ml lavender base oil or olive oil
- Combine all the ingredients and mix well.
- Place into a glass spray bottle and rub the spray into the wood on contact.
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 1/2 cup distilled or tap water
- Combine the two ingredients in a glass spray bottle.
- Wipe dry with a clean cloth or crumpled newspaper.
- If the solution dries quickly it will leave streak marks.
Basic Rules For Making Natural Cleaning Recipies
- Always label your homemade cleaners and include a natural ingredients list for date coding and in case of an accident.
- Never mix a commercial modern product with your homemade product, the results could be dangerous and unpredictable.
- Always store natural cleaning products out of the reach of children and pets.
- Don’t use ammonia. (Never combine ammonia-based cleaners with chlorine bleach or products containing bleach as the fumes they create are dangerous to health).
- Never use the containers of commercial products to store your own homemade cleaners.
- Natural cleaners are organic in nature but are acid, alkaline, or abrasive so please wear gloves to reduce the risk of skin irritation.
- Never digest your cleaner no matter how good it looks or smells.
- Vinegar is an acid and can cause harm to some surfaces. Please read my article entitled, 15 things you should never clean with vinegar and why.
- Store natural cleaning products in a dark bottle and away from sunlight as UV light will degrade the quality of almost all-natural cleaning recipes.
- Always add essential oil to ingredients not ingredients to the essential oil.
- Purchase and use essential oils only from reputable companies whose oils are third party tested. (A list can be found on my post: essential oils and the danger to cats, dogs, and birds).
- Keep all essential oils in dark bottles and away from UV light. Please note that if the essential oil did not come in a dark bottle then it is not a genuine essential oil.
Beware of Greenwashing
Greenwashing may be described as an attempt to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.
If a product proclaims itself “green,” “natural” or “biodegradable,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s non-toxic or good for the environment.
Biodegradable may mean in three to five days or simply that the substances will eventually break down over time. Dog poop bags for example are notorious for this type of greenwashing.
Similarly, a product’s packaging might be predominately colored green have a picture of a mountain, and be marked as ECO. However, nothing about it will be eco-friendly. In this example, ECO may stand for ECONOMY and the manufacturer is subtly misleading the customer.
So if you are unsure about making your own natural cleaning products beware of greenwashing. Many companies will try to fool you and you may find that the safe product you just bought is not safe at all. A little knowledge and research can go a long, long way.
By making homemade cleaners and using only natural ingredients to do so it is possible to reduce our product purchases, decrease costs, reduce packaging waste, and lower our carbon footprint.
Plus all the ingredients for homemade natural cleaning recipes can be bought in bulk. This bulk buying not only further reduce costs but allows for greater overall benefits throughout the whole chain. This is why I strongly advocate that everybody should support their local bulk stores.
I would say that for these reasons alone, changing to non-toxic, organic homemade cleaners seem like an obvious choice. It is simply, the clean green choice, and also the cheaper, healthier choice for you and your family.
What’s more, In doing so it will significantly benefit the environment. Not least by the large reduction of dangerous chemicals released into the environment every day that contribute to both air and water pollution.
However, the real saving is in the betterment of personal health. No one can avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, but, with a little knowledge, it is possible to reduce it significantly.
A quick note about natural cleaner recipes from my personal experience:
I would first like to say that for those who think vinegar mixed with baking soda is a great combination, you are wrong.
Vinegar is an acid and when mixed with an alkaline, (baking soda) the chemical reaction which takes place, (frothing) is just the two chemicals canceling each other out.
There are many youtube videos and websites which combine these two elements. However, frothing and fizzing is only the chemical creation of water and salt. (H2O) & (C2H3NaO2).
All you are really getting is a mild soft scrub.
With this in mind, you may as well save the soda and vinegar for other purposes.
The exception to this rule is when you want to exploit the frothing reaction to agitate a stain or blockage. This is why vinegar and baking soda are often used to unblock drains or clean toilets.
So in conclusion I hope that you are now inspired to try some homemade cleaners made with all-natural ingredients for your home cleaning.
I believe that you now have the opportunity to clear your home of those dangerous toxic chemicals. Chemicals that are too strong for their purpose and simply hurt you, your family, and the environment.
Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys, would be amateur actor and green living enthusiast. He has been sharing hints, tips and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.
He now has an army of followers who are like hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action.