Did you know…the average household contains about 62 different toxic chemicals that we regularly expose ourselves to? And, that many of these ingredients have been linked to cancer, asthma, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption as well as neurotoxicity?
Recently, a bit of a health scare forced me to take a closer look at all the possible sources of toxins in my life. One of the first areas I decided to tackle was a close inspection of the “green” cleaning products I was using. After visiting the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Healthy Cleaning database where products are rated A-F in terms of toxicity, I found that many of the products occupying the space under my sink were victims of “green washing”. Green washing is a tactic used by marketers to make products appear far more green than they actually are. In reality, many of my convenient products were still full of the toxic chemicals that I thought I was avoiding. In fact, two of them were rated as “F’s”. Seriously?
This realization brought to mind a trip to Italy about 14 years ago. During our stay in Tuscany, I had noticed that every time we returned to our villa after a day of visiting various hill towns, it would smell slightly odd. The smiley Italian woman who was cleaning when we arrived one day must have noticed me sniffing to discern the scent because she looked at me and asked, “You no clean with vinegar in America?” I said, “No, we use Lysol.” She proceeded to shake her head in obvious disapproval and said, “Chemicals not good.” Though I can’t recall exactly, I at the time clueless and unaffected, probably just shrugged it off. Years later it has given me pause many times to think of all the chemicals I’ve likely been exposed to in my lifetime. And I am now heeding her advice by simply going to my pantry for many of my cleaning supplies.
Your pantry is a wonderland of natural, effective, and economical cleaning ingredients that are not harmful to people or the environment. You might find one or two in your medicine cabinet, as well. Below are some of our favorites and suggestions as to how to use them. Just add a little elbow grease.
1. Baking Soda: This mildly abrasive and highly odor absorbent powder has an abundance of uses. It is great for cleaning surfaces in the kitchen and bath, as a deodorizer, removing scuff marks, unclogging drains (combined with vinegar and boiling H2O ), removing burnt on food from pots and pans, and can even put out a grease fire. Best of all, it is really inexpensive.
2. White Distilled Vinegar: Vinegar is a great all purpose cleaner for just about any room and most surfaces in your house. It removes stains, softens fabrics, freshens laundry, cleans glass, cuts grease and removes soap scum. It is a non-toxic and all-purpose cleaner. Its acidic properties make it an effective antimicrobial but do not use it on porous surfaces.
3. Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar: ACV can be used much like white vinegars as an all purpose cleaner. It is a particularly good toilet cleaner and can be used in place of a dish washing detergent. And just a reminder, it is also a fabulous all purpose cleaner/”alkalinizer” for the inside of your bod, too. 🙂
4. Hydrogen Peroxide: This one should be kept out of the reach of children but works well as a disinfectant while killing germs, bacteria, fungi, and mildew. You can also use hydrogen peroxide to whiten and remove stains in the laundry.
5. Olive Oil: Combine 2 parts olive oil and one part lemon juice and you’ll have the best furniture polish ever.
6. Castile Liquid Soap: Honestly, castile soap is my #1 pick for the best all purpose cleaner. My favorite brand is Dr. Bronner’s. I’m partial to the lavender but also use the peppermint for many things including warding off pests in my garden. And yes, this is the same castile soap you bathe with. I don’t think this company has any product that isn’t A-rated with the EWG.
7. Club Soda: Club soda’s simple formula makes it a good glass cleaner, water softener and stain remover.
8. Vodka: Forget the store bought fresheners. Put undiluted (bottom shelf) vodka in a spritzer bottle and have an instant refresher for your furniture and fabrics. It is also good to have on hand for red wine stains. Bonus: It also kills mold.
9. Essential Oils: Look for pure essential oils. Combine them with water in a mister bottle to be used as air fresheners, disinfectants, as well as fabric and carpet refreshers. Follow the directions specific to the oil type to get just the right combinations. Tea tree oil and lavender, in particular, have antibacterial qualities.
9. Lemon Juice: Citric acid makes lemon juice a natural germ killer and grease cutter. Rub a juicy lemon all over your cutting board to help get rid of any lingering germs. Grinding a few lemon slices in your garbage disposal both disinfects and smells great.
10. Course Salt: Salt will clean copper pans, scour cookware, lift off oven spillage, and combined with lemon and a bit of soaking can remove rust stains.
11. Ditch The Paper Towels: Go for microfiber cloths and natural cellulose sponges and loofas….and save a few trees in the process. Just as a side note, I gave up paper towels during our Suburban Smackdown last spring and have not bought them since. I still have the same emergency roll under my sink that I had there last May.
Now, if you just don’t see your self whipping up your own concoctions (though you really should at the very least give one or two a whirl because the cost savings alone may shock you), there are plenty of quality non-toxic cleaners on the market today. Don’t be fooled by “green washing”, though. Niki and I recently spent a little time at Whole Foods combing through the household cleaning aisle. We were both using our phones to check various products’ ratings on the EWG site. The products there ranged from A to F, so you really do have to do a bit of homework. You also can’t assume that a brand that has one A-rated product is good across the board because that is often not true. We were able to find A-rated products in all cleaning categories but we did go to multiple stores to find them. Here is a look at some of the A-rated products we found we found:
Other resources and references: