There are thousands of cleaning products on the market that promise to kill 99.9% of germs, do the scrubbing for you, leave a streak-free shine, and make your clothes softer and brighter—all with a lemony-fresh scent. Every year, Americans spend an upwards of $60 billion on commercially manufactured cleaning products from laundry detergent to limescale remover. The average family spends over $600 a year on cleaning products and has over a dozen different products in their home. We know to keep these products out of the reach of our children, but are they even safe for us to use at all?
The truth is, the cost of using commercial cleaning products is much higher than just the hard earned dollars we spend. A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine suggests that regularly using household cleaning products may be as bad for your as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day! These household cleaners not only do immediate damage to our health as we use them, but also cause damage to our water, air, and soil as they are washed down the drains.
The issue with store-bought household cleaning products is the compounds in those brightly colored bottles are not required by federal law to be listed on the packaging. This leaves room for manufacturers to put in any manner of toxic chemicals ranging from endocrine-disrupters, known carcinogens, pesticides, neurotoxins, synthetic compounds, to allergens. This allows well-known cancer-causing chemicals like formaldehyde, chloroform, perchloroethylene to be used in products ranging from laundry detergent to jewelry cleaning solution without any warning for the consumer. Some companies that do included a list of ingredients may choose to hide toxins on the label under terms such as “proprietary blend” or “fragrance.” As many as 3,000 different chemical ingredients are, by law, allowed to be labeled as “fragrance” alone!
Don’t be fooled by “greenwashing,” either. Many companies will use the color green on packaging, use phrases like “made from naturally derived ingredients,” or use pictures of lemons or leafs to make products appear safe to the consumer. Terms like “environmentally friendly” and “natural” are unregulated and can be used by companies looking to cash in on the eco-conscious movement.
Antibacterial products have also become a major issue with household cleaners. Studies have proven that not only do chemical antibacterial products do no better at eliminating bacteria than plain soap and water, but the use of these products (in combination with the rampant overuse of antibiotics in the past several decades) may contribute to the development of multi-resistant bacteria (AKA SUPERBUGS). Overuse of antibacterial products in the home disrupts our gut bacteria which can lead to allergies, asthma, digestive issues, and immune system problems.
The good news is that we can make safe, effective household cleaners out of easily available ingredients and save money while doing it. When you make your own household cleaners, you’ll find you need less products, your house will smell fresh (instead of like synthetic fragrances), and your kids can help with the cleaning also!
Tips to get Started:
- Start Slow- There is no need to throw out all of your cleaners today. Start with one natural cleaning product, get comfortable with it, and build from there.
- Find Healthier Alternatives- For items you’re not ready to make (or just don’t want to), check the EWG Cleaning Guide for the safest cleaners possible.
- Check Contraindications- Make sure you know the materials of the items you’ll be cleaning and what types of cleaners are safe for them. For example, if you’ve got natural stone counter tops like granite, you don’t want to be using vinegar (a mix of isopropyl alcohol and distilled water is better)!
- Spot Test- As with any cleaner (commercial or homemade), always patch test a small area to make sure that the cleaner doesn’t ruin the finish or fabric.
- Take Your Shoes Off- Shoes are notorious for tracking in dirt, grass, pesticides, viruses, and bacteria into your home. Make it a rule to take off shoes at the door and enjoy a cleaner floor without extra cleaning!
- Embrace Natural Air Fresheners- Instead of turning to chemical sprays to mask household smells, open the windows and let fresh air in. Bring in houseplants to naturally filter the air. Place essential oil diffusers around the home to bring in inviting aromas without any harmful synthetic fragrances.
- Spray Bottles (glass is best, but not always a good idea if your kids are helping)
- Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
- Isopropyl Alcohol
- Distilled White Vinegar
- Distilled Water
- Baking Soda
- Liquid Castile Soap
- All Purpose Spray- A 50-50 mix of distilled water and white vinegar is the standard all purpose cleaning spray. This can be used on laminate counter tops, laminate floors, tile floors, plastic items (think toys, kids furniture, cutting boards), toilet surfaces, bathtubs, showers, shower heads, humidifiers, sinks, inside of the microwave/fridge/dishwasher/washing machine, and the list goes on. The acetic acid in the vinegar does a great job at disinfecting and cutting through grimy messes. You can add a pinch of salt to the bottle to boost the disinfecting power of the vinegar as well. To clean, just spray the surfaces directly and then wipe clean with a microfiber cloth (or a microfiber mop pad for the floors). The vinegar smell will dissipate as it dries, but if you’re one of those people who just can’t stand the smell of vinegar, you can add a couple drops of essential oils to the bottle. You can also infuse your vinegar before you make the cleaner! Fill a glass jar with lemon or orange peels and top it off with white vinegar. Let the vinegar sit for 2 weeks at room temperature and the natural oils in the citrus peels will infuse the vinegar and leave a wonderful citrus scent. (Please note: vinegar is NOT a suitable cleaner for wood, wood flooring, granite, marble, or stainless steel!).
- Mirrors, Glass, Granite, and Stainless Steel Spray- A 50-50 mix of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol leaves a streak-free shine on mirrors, glass, granite, and stainless steel appliances. The alcohol disinfects by damaging the cell walls of the bacteria so that can no longer function properly and then they quickly die. This spray also works well on faucets and bathroom fixtures, door knobs and handles, and phones/keyboards/computers/tv screens/electronics (please spray onto the microfiber cloth first and then wipe the item. Never spray the electronics directly!). This mixture is also perfect for removing stains and smells from microfiber furniture. Just saturate the stain, blot the excess moisture with a microfiber cloth, and then wipe the fabric in one direction until the stain disappears. Since the alcohol helps the water evaporate more quickly, you won’t be left with those annoying watermarks that microfiber is known for having.
- Scrubbing Compound- For all of the items that could use a good scrubbing, baking soda and a few drops of liquid castile soap do the trick. You can make the mixture into a paste with a bit of distilled water and then scrub away at sinks, bathtubs, and toilet bowls. A splash of vinegar at the end will create a bubbly reaction that disinfects, and then give everything a quick rinse (or a flush!) and you’re done!
Which natural cleaner are you going to try first?
Full disclosure: This blog post contains some affiliate links. Meaning, basically, if you make a purchase from any of these links it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I may make a little money. So thank you in advance for supporting my family. I am not sponsored by any products, brands, or vegetables featured.