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Clean Up Your Act

Clean Up Your Act

A clean home is a healthy home, right? Not necessarily. It turns out the very efforts to rid your living space of dirt, dust, mildew and grime might make it a more dangerous environment for you and your family. And you're not the only ones who could suffer: Many of the ingredients in household cleaners contaminate the air and water as well as thousands of organisms, from algae to wildlife, when they are washed down drains and make their way into the ecosystem.

What's Wrong with What's on the Market
"Conventional commercial cleaners are some of the most toxic substances you can bring into our home," says Linda Mason Hunter, home ecology specialist and co-author of Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home. "Many of the chemicals found in cleaners have only been around since World War II, and they've never been tested for long-term health effects."

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that the immediate health risks associated with the use of conventional household cleaning products include asthma attacks, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders and memory impairment. Additionally, a 1987 study by the EPA determined that the air inside a typical home is up to ten times more polluted than the air outside the home because of the toxic chemicals many of us use to scrub and sanitize. They include the following:

Formaldehyde a volatile organic compound, found in liquid cleaners and floor polishes, that is suspected of causing cancer.

Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) a toxic compound that irritates the respiratory system and emits poisonous vapors when combined with ammonia or vinegar.

Petroleum distillates (naphthas) nonrenewable, oil-based resources found in furniture and floor polishes that can affect the central nervous system and lead to cognitive and behavioral problems.

Pesticides and fungicides such as chlorine and alkyl ammonium chlorides, found in most conventional antibacterial cleaners and mildew removers. They can cause skin irritation and nervous system damage.

Polish Off or Pitch Out?
There are two ways to go about switching over to eco-friendly products: gradually replace your scrubs and sprays as you use them up, or toss toxin-filled items out once and for all. Experts are split on the issue, but Annie Berthold-Bond, author of Clean & Green: The Complete Guide to Non-Toxic and Environmentally Safe Housekeeping, cautions that there are a few situations in which she suggests making an immediate change. "If the home contains young children or anyone who is pregnant, sick or sensitive to chemicals, contact your local recycling center about disposing of your toxic cleaning products," she recommends.

If you choose to deplete your supply of conventional household cleaners before replacing them with safer alternatives, carefully follow the instructions to avoid toxic reactions, always wear gloves when you clean, and make sure your home has lots of ventilation while you're scrubbing—even an open window or two can help get the fumes out.

Make a Lifelong Change
Once you start using natural cleaning agents, you'll find it hard to believe you ever allowed something labeled "Hazardous" into your house. Here are a few of the products we've taken a shine to, plus some tried-and-true homemade options you can make with everyday pantry items such as baking soda and vinegar. Store-bought or homemade, they're all reasonably priced, readily available and really work at keeping things spotlessly clean—without compromising your health or the environment.


Earth Friendly Products' Creamy Cleanser
Who wouldn't choose lovely scented lemon oil over petroleum-based products for cleaning porcelain and stainless steel surfaces that directly touch dishes (in the kitchen sink) and your delicate skin (in the bathroom)? This grease-cutting cream gives them all sparkle and shine, without scratching.
$3/16 oz.;

Bi-O-Kleen's Spray & Wipe Cleaner
Grease-cutting, disinfecting grapefruit seed extract and orange oil make this a versatile liquid for everything from countertops and toilets to laundry and upholstery stains. It's even safe enough to use on dolls, teddies and that muddy toy dump truck.
$5/32 oz.;

Homemade Option: baking soda and vinegar
Mix 1 cup each water and vinegar plus 2 Tbs. baking soda in spray bottle. Use as you would any cleaning liquid.


Seventh Generation's Natural Citrus Carpet Cleaner
The hydrogen peroxide (a powerful bleaching agent) safely replaces the neurotoxin butyl cellosolve and the possible carcinogen perchloroethylene in conventional carpet foams and sprays. The nonaerosol spritz loosens ground-in dirt, dissolves stains and eliminates odors. Plus, your just-cleaned carpet will be safe enough for little ones to crawl around on.
$5/32 oz.;

Homemade Option: Shaving Cream
Spray foam shaving cream on carpet stains, let stand 30 minutes, then rub with a sponge and vacuum.

Earth Friendly Products' Floor Kleener
This natural alternative to petroleumbased cleaners is made of coconut and lemon oils that condition and cleanse hardwood and laminate floors without stripping them or leaving chalky streaks. Vinegar in the formula dissolves grease and wax buildup.
$3.79/22 oz.;

Homemade Option: vinegar and warm water
Mop floor with a solution of 1/2 cup distilled vinegar and 1 gallon warm water.


Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser
Talk about standing the test of time! For over 120 years, Bon Ami has been chlorine-, dye- and fragrance-free. The all-purpose cleansing powder has naturally abrasive minerals that cut grease and add shine without scratching surfaces.
$1.39/14 oz.;

Homemade option: baking soda and lemon
Sprinkle baking soda on a used lemon half and use as a scratch-free scrubber on counters, tiles and stainless steel.


Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Window Spray (Lemon Verbena Scent)
Renewable, biodegradable plant-based surfactants in this spray provide the same streak-free shine as ammonia-laced blue liquids. What's more, the fragrance acts as an aromatherapy pick-me-up to get you through doing all the windows.
$5/20 oz.;

Homemade option: vinegar and newspaper
Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in spray bottle, spritz on glass surfaces and wipe with newsprint for a streak-free shine that won't leave tiny fibers behind.


Forever New Fabric Care Wash
This biodegradable, cruelty-free powder is the preferred cleanser of high-end lingerie dealers. The patented formula contains no phosphates or bleach to keep delicates from bleeding or fading.
$5/8 oz.;

Homemade option: hydrogen peroxide and water
To whiten delicate garments without bleach, soak them for 30 minutes in a solution of 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide and 4 cups water.

Comments on this Article

Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds is AMAZING! I use it on my floors, to wash dishes, to clean my bath tub, etc...

wow! its amazing the properties of just vinegar, baking soda and water. i will definately try these.

I put all of my toxic cleaners on craigslist when I made the switch. Someone who has yet to make the change was very grateful to receive lots of cleaners for their home.

what about using paper towels? We go through so many and I just can't imagine using a rag that collects bacteria..

Joyful Girl Natural Products has organic/natural cleaning products and all other products that are fantastic!

Thank you for the tips. As I am replacing my cleaners, I am giving the old ones to my sister. Maybe your readers could donate their old cleaners, or give them to a single mom down the street.

Can't wait to try the whitening laundry mix. I hate the smell of bleach!

I'm switching over because I want to be healthier and don't want those toxins in my house ... but I'm not giving them to someone else to poison them! What are you thinking?

I have been cleaning with vinegar & baking soda for years now. I was a professional housekeeper for many years & developed allergies. This is the only way I would clean anymore.

I agree with you about the Earth Friendly Creamy Cleanser. It's lovely. But the Mrs. Meyers Lemon Verbena Window Spray was horrible. It left streaks I had a hard time geting rid of. And the smell was nauseating, just as bad as the toxic commercial brands. A terrific window and glass cleaner is the Earth Friendly brand. It has vinegar in it and it cleans easily and does not leave any streaks.

Note to Kate: Rags don't collect bacteria if you wash them. Don't let a wet rag sit around on the kitchen counter. Spread it out to dry, or better yet, have enough rags to use a clean ones each time (or at least every day). Paper towels might be okay once in awhile -- but to reduce their environmental impact, be sure to use ones made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper.

Thank you for all the great green-clean tips! I would suggest though, that if you are trying the peroxide whitening tip, you be sure to submerge your item completely. If you don't, you run the risk of bleaching only certain spots of the clothing (which I have done!)

Note to Deb: Deb, I had the same experience many years ago. I also developed many allergies to chemicals. I also experienced my first migraine headache at that time. You know, a wicker basket of "green" housecleaning products would make a great bridal shower or house-warming gift. It's a good way to spread the "green" message without sounding preachy.

The wicker basket of "green" is a great idea and I think it would be a great gift for new mommies as well. 8-)

A Canadian company Dusting Divas makes aromatherapy cleaners with scents of cinnamon, orange and cloves. Yum they are too die for and are completely biodegradable and all natural. Why would you ever want to go back to cleaners that smell like fake lemon.

Thanks for the tips. Trying to kick start a fresh way of living. This is definitely helpful for making best choices with the tiniest of footprints to teach my daughters. Loving this site!

You can use a cup or half a cup of vinegar instead of fabric softener. I have done this for years and no, your clothes do not smell like vinegar. Fab softener is a terrible waste of money.

Copper bottom pans shine right up with a dampening of distilled vinegar, a good shake of salt, and a little scrubbing - You don't even need to worry about hurting your skin.

Shaklee's Get Clean cleaners are all natural, biodegradable,work great, and are extremely economical. Shaklee has been a leader in the green movement for over 50 years. Check them out at You'll never have to walk down "that aisle" in the grocery store again!

For copper bottom pans : turn pan upside down rub ketchup on copper and let sit for 20 minutes. Rinse with water and repeat if necessary.There is almost no rubbing invovled in bringing the copper color back. Works like a charm!

Add vinegar to your rinse water for your dishes, too, you'll be surprised how much brighter they turn out. I pretty much clean with two bottles, one with diluted dish detergent, the other with diluted white vinegar. Two boys, one husband and various hanger-on, and my walls and floors are fresh. Put some essential oils into a box of baking soda as an airfreshener that even defeats teen boy foot yecch.

Mrs. Meyers products do not score well on the Good Guide rating scale. Before I purchase skin care or cleaning products, I check, and I'm surprised how many times companies claiming safety, environmental sustainability, etc., have not-so-great ratings. Then, I search for a similar product with a good rating.

i've also used these home remedy household products for pet stain and works great.50% water, 50%vinegar,put on area, let dry, sprinkle baking soda over area,mix 3% hydrogen peroxide with teaspoon of detergent.and srub But when i'm in a hurry i mix all together to me its the same effect.But it works clears and cleans cat urine out of carpet and the area smells fresh. test a carpet area first.

Clean naturally or do what I do (don't clean at all)

I use EcoSense by Melaleuca cleaning products and they are wonderful! Highly recommend. No bleach, no harsh chemicals, no phosphates. Products are super concentrated and last a long time. The indoor air quality at home has completely changed. I no longer have asthma!

I also use EcoSense by Melaleuca They are wonderful products and I love the fact that they are super concentrated and I can make what I need the reg. strength or full strength if I need to If anyone wants more info email me Sandy

For copper bottom pans: Turn pan bottom side up. Cut a lemon in half. Put a tablespoon of salt on the copper bottom and rub with cut side of lemon half. No scrubbing. Result is immediate.

How about dishsoap, shampoo, bodywash and conditioner?

I have been switching over to natural cleaners due to allergies & migraines. Thank you SO much for all of these suggestions!!! I am trying to get my entire family to convert to more eco-friendly cleaners, maybe this article will help! Thanks again!

Norwex cloths are antibacterial by themselves so you dont even need cleaners and they have amazing products, I will never buy another cleaning product again!

The best window cleaning product is a bottle of club soda! Just open the cap to let out the fizziness for a couple of days, pour into a spray bottle and use it as you would window cleaner. Use a lint-free cloth and voila! Clean windows! Very inexpensive, too!

What about chlorine in New Zealand's water? Is that able to be used without violating Vegan standards? Because I want to take a shower with my new vegan shampoo, shampoo, conditioner and bodywash, but today I'm being as Vegan as possible and only using tap water as little as possible, just in case it's not Vegan enough. Should I just take a shower tomorrow?