Harsh house cleaning chemicals expose you to health hazards and pollute the environment, but you can easily and inexpensively make your own natural cleaners
Lemons are effective as deodorizers as well as kitchen and bath cleaners
Hydrogen peroxide has unique antibacterial properties that make it ideal for general cleaning around the house
White vinegar can remove mildew and clean dingy bathroom grout when allowed to sit for 30 minutes
In addition to many personal care uses, baking soda has myriad household cleaning uses and is inexpensive and safe
Cleaning the house is no one’s favorite job, and dangerous cleaning products worsen the task by posing risks to you and the environment. An extreme example occurred earlier this year at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Burlington, Massachusetts.
Chlorine gas produced when the cleaners Super 8 and Scale Kleen were unintentionally mixed killed the general manager1 and sickened 10 others.2 The gas “generates a noxious mixture of hydrochloric acid, hypochlorous acid, hypochlorite, and other corrosive compounds” according to Chemical and Engineering News.3
While the Buffalo Wild Wings event was an accident, not everyone realizes that adding two cleaners together does not make a stronger cleaner and can create dangerous compounds.
In this case, the sodium hypochlorite (liquid bleach) in Super 8 interacted with the phosphoric acid and nitric acid in Scale Kleen with disastrous consequences.4 Similarly, mixing bleach with ammonia produces the toxic gas chloramine, and mixing bleach with hydrogen peroxide can create an oxygen gas explosion.5
Of course, most harm from chemical cleaners is much less dramatic, but it still exists. Using cleaning products once a week for 20 years is considered equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 10 to 20 years, according to research in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.6
While oven, drain and toilet bowl cleaners are the most dangerous cleaning products, even milder household cleaners have been linked to breast cancer,7 brain, immune system, hormonal system and liver effects, and are suspected of contributing to asthma, lower sperm counts, early puberty in girls, autoimmunity and possibly autism.8
Household cleaning products also contribute to air pollution in the home and in the environment. And, since they invariably come in plastic packaging or containers, they add to plastic and litter pollution. Luckily, there are safe and effective cleaning products you can make at home that pose no health risks and cause no pollution and no litter.
Lemon Juice for Whitening and Adding a Fresh Scent
Lemons are effective deodorizers for your garbage disposal, humidifier and refrigerator, and are a great laundry additive. They also have excellent cleansing properties that match or even exceed harsh, chemical cleaners. Here are a few of the many cleaning jobs lemon juice can take care of:
Furniture polish — Combine lemon oil, lemon juice and olive or jojoba oil to make a homemade furniture polish. Simply buff with a cloth.
Windows — Lemon juice combined with cornstarch, vinegar and water cuts through grease and grime on windows and glass.
Coffee maker — Run a cycle with plain water, then add a mixture of lemon juice and water, letting it set before running a cycle through. Wash to remove lemon scent.
Silverware polish — Combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1.5 cups of water and one-half cup instant dry milk. Soak silverware overnight, then rinse and dry.
Dish soap booster — A teaspoon of lemon juice added to dish soap helps cut through grease and increases effectiveness.
Toilet — Adding half a cup of lemon juice to your toilet, then letting it set prior to scrubbing, will help remove stains.
Shower doors — Dip the cut half of a lemon in baking soda, then rub into on the glass to remove water stains.
All-purpose cleaner — Combine water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon and lemon essential oil for a wonderful kitchen or bathroom cleaner.
Hardwood floors — Combine lemon and vinegar to make a grime-fighting nontoxic floor cleaner.
Hydrogen Peroxide — An Effective Disinfectant and Sanitizer
For cuts and scrapes I have always recommended hydrogen peroxide over rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol because it is both safer and more effective in killing bacteria. ( I also travel with peroxide for quick cleaning of stains on clothes.)
Whether large or small, wounds heal faster when there is plenty of oxygen available, and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) contains one more oxygen molecule than water (H2O), making it more oxygen-dense.
The additional oxygen molecule causes the bubbling you see when you apply hydrogen peroxide to a cut or scrape — it breaks bacterial cell membranes open by attracting electrons, and they release the enzyme catalase. This unique antibacterial action of hydrogen peroxide also makes it ideal for general cleaning around the house!
For cleaning greasy surfaces like your kitchen counters, put 20 to 30 drops of citrus essential oil in a spritzer bottle with 3% hydrogen peroxide. Spray surface and wipe off. Hydrogen peroxide is also a disinfectant. A study in Food Microbiology found spraying vinegar, followed by hydrogen peroxide, was effective for killing a variety of bacteria, including E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella.9
White Vinegar Removes Foul Smells and Much More
There are many different kinds of vinegar — some with impressive health benefits when taken internally, such as cider vinegars made from fermenting fruits like apples. Other vinegars, such as white vinegar and true vinegars made from distilling grain alcohol, are the best choice for household cleaning jobs.
Many of us remember our mothers or grandmothers washing windows with vinegar so the windows would become squeaky clean, or even rinsing our hair in vinegar. But vinegar’s acidic PH does not fully explain its many cleaning and disinfecting benefits.
Research in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found a mixture of 50% distilled white vinegar with club soda and tea tree oil was more effective against E. Coli than bleach.10 To clean sinks, tubs, tile floors and other surfaces, the vinegar should be diluted with water by as much as 50-50. Baking soda can be added for extra “punch.” (More on that later.)
A vinegar and water mixture also makes a great all-purpose countertop cleaner and for stone counters. Rubbing alcohol or vodka mixed with water can also be added with positive results. For heavier-duty cleaning, such as mildew and bathroom grout, you can spray vinegar straight onto the area and let it set for 30 minutes.
You should then be able to remove the mold or grout stains with a scrub sponge and warm water — an infinitely better solution than harsh, chemical cleaners. White distilled vinegar along with ice cubes will also get rid of foul smells in your garbage disposal when you turn the disposal on.
Baking Soda for Scrubbing, Deodorizing and Unclogging Drains
Baking soda, also known as nahcolite because it comes from the natural mineral natron, has centuries of use in both cooking and cleaning. This inexpensive, versatile and safe product has many personal care uses, which I have written about before. But just as impressive are its many household cleaning uses. Here are some of them:
Kitchen and bath — Baking soda is great for scrubbing your bath and kitchen. Put it in a glass, grated-cheese container with a stainless steel top that has holes in it, and sprinkle the baking soda on the surfaces and scrub. You may add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to this. Lavender and tea tree oil have potent antibacterial qualities.
Clogged drains — Sprinkle baking soda down a clogged or slow drain, add apple cider vinegar and let it bubble for 15 minutes. Then rinse with hot water. This is a safer alternative to dangerous drain cleaners.
Pots and pans — Soak pots and pans in hot water and baking soda for 15 minutes to easily wipe away baked-on food.
BBQ — Use baking soda to scrub your barbecue grill.
Toys — Clean baby toys in a mixture of 4 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 quart of water.
Laundry — Baking soda can also be used as a fabric softener in your laundry, or to get your clothes whither and brighter (add 1 cup to your laundry load).
Carpets — Baking soda is a natural carpet cleaner. Sprinkle it onto carpets, let it set for 15 minutes, then vacuum it up. Your carpet will be clean and fresh smelling.
Shoe deodorizer — Sprinkle baking soda in your shoes for a natural deodorizer.
Grease fires — Baking soda will help smother out the flames in the event of a minor grease fire in your kitchen.
Fruit and veggie cleaner — Remove dirt and residue from fruits and veggies by sprinkling them with baking soda and rubbing with a vegetable brush.
Organic Essential Oils Can Replace Toxic Deodorizers
There are so many household uses for organic essential oils, they are limited only by your imagination. In addition to their pleasant fragrances, many essential oils have antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity and can be added as a boost to your homemade cleaners.
Moreover, they do not pollute the indoor and outdoor environment or cause plastic waste pollution. Here are a few suggestions:
Antibacterial cleanser — To make a homemade cleaning scrub with antibacterial activity, simply add a few drops of lavender oil to baking soda. Some of the most popular essential oils for cleaning include lemon, peppermint and tea tree, which shows antiviral activity against viruses like influenza.11 Sweet orange is another option that has been shown to work against E. coli and Salmonella.12
Aromatherapy — Diffuse essential oils around your home for a natural, therapeutic air freshener which benefits your mood and stress levels and avoids toxic sprays.
Air freshener — Unlike synthetic fragrances, which pollute your air, essential oils may improve indoor air quality. For example, heartwood, marjoram, cinnamon, lemon basil, caraway, bay tree, peppermint, pine and others all have antifungal properties.13
Laundry — Freshen your laundry by spritzing your wet clothes with a mix of water and a few drops of essential oil before placing it in the dryer. Alternatively, add a dozen or so drops to an old wool sock or wool dryer balls, and put it in the dryer with your laundry.