Have you ever walked down the cleaning supply aisles of Target or Walmart and noticed the dizzying choices of cleaning products and just wondered how you were going to make a decision on what to buy? Should you choose that conventional cleaner with bleach or their “green” version? If it is labeled as a green product why are there 20 strange sounding ingredients listed? That “all natural organic cleaner” looks good but is it truly non-toxic and why is it 4 times the price of these other cleaners? I have heard of people making their own cleaner but why should I?
Before making that decision of what to buy, it is important to consider these 5 factors before handing over your hard earned cash.
Making your own cleaning products is much cheaper than buying a pre-made product. Baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and cornstarch can be found in most homes for cooking but can also be used for cleaning (can’t say the same about that can of foaming bathroom cleaner, can you?) Isopropyl alcohol & peroxide reside in our bathroom cabinets for first aid but can also be used to make inexpensive disinfectants. When you have these items in your home already, it will instantly save you money, time as well as storage space.
Most homemade cleaners have the same base ingredients so they can be used in different ways and amounts to tackle specific areas of the house. For example baking soda can be used as a fabric softener, deodorizer, metal polisher, drain cleaner, non-abrasive scrub, toilet cleaner as well as other countless uses (this list doesn’t even cover its health and beauty uses) Vinegar can be used to clean multiple surfaces, deodorize, remove mildew and as a fabric softener. Lemon juice can be used as glass cleaner, deodorizer and stain remover while cornstarch can clean windows, carpets, and polish furniture. The list goes on and on.
The Environmental Working Group or EWG, reviewed more than 2,000 popular household cleaning products and found that only seven percent of cleaning products adequately disclosed their contents.After 14 months of research, below are some of their findings.
- 53 percent of cleaning products assessed by EWG contain ingredients known to harm the lungs and 22 percent contain chemicals reported to cause asthma in otherwise healthy individuals.
- Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is sometimes used as a preservative or may be released by other preservatives in cleaning products.
- The chemical 1,4-dioxane, a suspected human carcinogen, is a common contaminant of widely-used detergent chemicals.
- Chloroform, a suspected human carcinogen, sometimes escapes in fumes released by products containing chlorine bleach.
- Quaternary ammonium compounds (“quats”) like benzalkonium chloride, found in antibacterial spray cleaners and fabric softeners, can cause asthma.
- Sodium borate, also known as borax, and boric acid are added to many products as cleaning agents, enzyme stabilizers or for other functions. They can disrupt the hormone system.
- Many leading “green” brands sell superior products but but not all cleaners marketed as environmentally conscious disclose ingredients adequately.
If you have a cleaning service come to your home, don’t forget to hold them to these standards as well. Make sure they only use green cleaning solutions and are OSHA compliant, using only green sealed & certified products.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, phosphorus, nitrogen, ammonia are the worst environmental hazards in household cleaners. These “Volatile Organic Compounds”, or VOCs are found in conventional products like: degreasers, sanitizers, laundry whiteners, bathroom, floor and window cleaners as well multi-purpose cleaners. They are also found in moth repellents, pesticides, air fresheners and dry-cleaned clothing among other products.
VOCs are air pollutants which can have detrimental effects on human health by contributing to respiratory illnesses and can also be harmful to the environment. After we use these products in our home, they enter the environment, and chemically interact with oxides of nitrogen and sunlight to form ground-level ozone, causing harmful environmental effects such as crop and vegetation damage.
Phosphates are also used in many household cleaners because of their effectiveness, but in the environment, they act as fertilizers.When we use these products and they go down the drain, these phosphates can end up in our rivers, lakes, and oceans, causing a rapid growth of algae, resulting in pollution of the water. These phosphates can be removed during wastewater treatment by the addition of special chemicals, but the process is expensive and is not always practiced.
Is it worth the bother?
You might be asking yourself “Why should I bother making my own green cleaners when I can just buy any old cleaner at the store?” (did I just read your mind? It’s one of my mommy powers) and it is a valid one. It is so easy to run out to the store, grab a bottle of conventional cleaner and be off on your merry way. Yes, I too, have done this in the past. In the past I wasn’t aware of the dangers of these chemicals and their short and long term effects. In the past I had to turn on the bathroom fan and put a face mask and special clothes on when I cleaned the bathroom. In the past, I would worry about every surface my child touched, in fear some of those dangerous chemicals might end up in my child’s mouth. In the past I had to put my dog and parrot outside or in another room while I cleaned for fear they would breathe in some of these chemicals.
Today I don’t have those worries. Now I just grab my DIY chemical free cleaning kit with the confidence that I am not doing harm to my family or the environment and I can tell you about every ingredient. Yes, some of these homemade, non-toxic cleaners take a little extra time to work and might require a bit more elbow grease BUT, I no longer choke or feel light headed when I clean, I no longer have to turn on fans and or feel like I have to “suit up” to clean and most importantly, I do not have to worry. When I clean my bathtub with baking soda and vinegar, or kill mold with tee tree oil spray, the kids can jump in right after, without fear of touching chemical residue. Today I can use my 50/50 vinegar spray with my kids, the dog or cat near me without having to shuffle them off to another room like in the past. Ahhh, less stress on my very full plate. Totally worth the extra effort in my book.