Happy Spring and spring cleaning… This post is a continuation of an earlier post looking into how the products we use on our bodies and in our homes are often filled with nasty chemicals. I don’t know about you, but there are multiple times in the past that I’ve been cleaning the tub or the sink with a store-bought cleaner and the fumes made me dizzy or stung my hands. Even on a base instinct level, this should tell you that you might not want these types of products in close contact with your skin and lungs everyday. Outside of common sense worries about the toxicity of cleaning products, scientific studies have emerged that address the problems with many cleaning products. For example, Lab tests done for the Environmental Working Group found that a typical assortment of cleaning products released 457 distinct chemicals into the air.
With this in mind, I started to look into the toxicity of common cleaning products on the GoodGuide–a product search engine that can help you find safe, healthy, and green products for your home. I encourage you to check out the GoodGuide to see how your cleaning products stack up–I’m guessing that you might be horrified. Taking a cue from my mom and grandmother, I decided to go the old-fashioned route with my cleaning products. For the most part, simple baking soda, vinegar, water, and soap do most of the work in our house. I love that these are products I would feel safe ingesting or putting on my skin, and they’re also so much cheaper than store-bought products! Other than these ingredients, I’d also add in some basic cleaning tools: a good brush or two, microfiber cloths, a few spray bottles, a container for your baking soda (may I suggest a cheese shaker), and a mop with reusable microfiber attachments that can be washed in the washer. I love Don Aslett Mop, which was given to me by my mother-in-law (thanks Sonya!), but there are plenty of other good choices out there.
Here are some of the cleaning “recipes” I’ve incorporated in our house, but I’d love to hear more about cleaners that you’ve made and liked as I’m still experimenting with a few of these.
All-Purpose Spray/Floor Cleaner
modified version from Clean Up Your Act: All Natural Homemade Cleaners, Young House Love
- 3 cups warm water
- 1 teaspoon pure castile soap
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 10 drops of essential oil (tea tree is a disinfectant, but I like grapefruit)
3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide(apparently, hydrogen peroxide loses its potency quickly, so no need to add it to a cleaner) 20 drops tea tree oil 20 drops of grapefruit essential oil
Combine all ingredients in a 32 oz. spray bottle and shake gently. I also use this as a floor cleaner: I first go over the floors with a microfiber cloth dampened with water on my favorite mop ever, then I spray this on the floor and go over the floor again with the mop. You can also use 50-50 water and vinegar on the floors too though, which works great.
PS. There are lots of all-purpose spray recipes out there that mix castile soap and vinegar, but don’t do this. It causes a chemical reaction between the acid and base that’s not dangerous, but creates a white goo that won’t be helpful for your cleaning. Read more here. Either castile soap cut with water or vinegar and water are good cleaners, but don’t combine the two!
Dishwasher Rinse Aid
Vinegar. That’s it. Really.
Most dishwasher manufacturers suggest, or even require, that you add rinse aid to the receptacle in your dishwasher in order to run it. However, many rinse aids are quite toxic and include cancer-causing agents or other harmful chemicals, plus the dreaded dye and synthetic fragrance. If you don’t want to use vinegar, which is the easiest, cheapest, and effective option, you can also look into some of the more natural rinse aid options on GoodGuide.
Researchers at U Texas, Austin have found that squirting hot water through a nozzle to produce a fine spray increases the surface area of water in contact with the air, liberating dissolved substances in a process known as “stripping.” Any chemicals that are in the water or substance are then distributed in the air, significantly contributing to indoor air pollution in your home. For that very reason, you want to make sure any substance you’re spraying on your shower walls, putting on your clothing, or putting in your dishwasher are as non-toxic as possible.
Daily Shower Spray
For the reasons mentioned above (chemical “stripping”), you want to make sure that the cleaners you use in your shower are non-toxic so that you’re not inhaling crazy fumes while taking a hot shower.
I do find that using a daily shower spray cuts down on mold in the bathroom, which is especially a problem when you don’t have good fans or vents in your bathroom. It also cuts down on the time you have to spend scrubbing, which I appreciate.
I’ve used simple half and half vinegar and water in the past to good effect, but I don’t like the strong vinegar smell right after, so I’m using this instead:
- 1/3 C. rubbing alcohol
- 3 1/2 C. water
- 10-15 drops of tea tree oil (tea tree has natural antifungal properties, but you can use another essential oil if you’d like)
Combine all in a spray bottle and shake to combine. Spray all over shower walls and shower curtain or door each day to prevent mold.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Bon Ami, which has no ingredients that raise health concerns, according to GoodGuide. However, I’ve since found baking soda and castille soap to be a cheaper alternative that keep me from having to have more specific cleaners around. I purchased a glass cheese shaker at the dollar store and simply filled it with baking soda. Baking soda alone is wonderfully abrasive, but mild and non-toxic at the same time.
I like to wet down the tub, sprinkle baking soda all over the bottom and sides of the tubs and then squirt a few drops of Dr. Bronner’s in. Mix it all into a paste with your scrub brush, and scrub the whole surface of the tub. This gets the job done as well as, if not better, than anything I’ve ever used and if you use the essential oil scented Dr. Bronner’s it leaves a nice scent in the bathroom. I like the Peppermint best for cleaning.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Similarly to the tub cleaner above, simply add baking soda and a bit of castille soap to your toilet and scrub away. Works great.
I’ve talked before about all the reasons why we should really reconsider using antibacterial soap containing nasty stuff like triclosan. I used to just put plain Dr. Bronner’s cut with a bit of water in my soap dispenser in the bathroom, but I found it dried my hands out in the winter, so I modified the following recipe:
modified from Fancy Foaming Handwash on Healthy Vegan Blog
- 1 C. water
- 2-4 Tb. liquid castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint or Almond, but you can use unscented)
- 1 tsp. pure vegetable glycerine
- 1 tsp. jojoba, almond, or apricot oil
- a few drops of essential oil (my favorite is grapefruit), if desired
Combine all ingredients in a soap dispenser and shake gently. If you put this in a foaming soap dispenser, it will actually foam if you like that sort of thing–it is quite thin, so you might want to try this, but I don’t mind using it in my regular soap dispenser. You can make your own soap dispenser pretty easily out of a Mason jar, or buy them on Etsy. With this recipe, I shake it up every once in a while to keep it mixed up.
Miracle Stain Remover
- 1 part castille soap
- 2 parts hydrogen peroxide
- baking soda (optional)
- laundry brush
Mix the soap and hydrogen peroxide in a bowl and use a spoon to pour it directly on stain. You may use the laundry brush and sprinkle some baking soda on the stain and scrub gently with brush if the stains are particularly stubborn. Let sit and then launder as usual.
This stuff really is miraculous. I cut myself and bled on one of my favorite white button-downs–a stain that simply wouldn’t come out. This fixed it! And it also fixed sweat stains on some white t-shirts. I will be pulling this out again and again.
I haven’t switched over to homemade dishwasher detergent, dish washing soap, or laundry soap yet, but there are a lot of recipes out there! In the meantime, I use Ecover products and Trader Joe’s options that get good scores on the GoodGuide. Chime in and let me know if you have any products that you love.