The Environmental Working Group examined the safety data of over 1000 ingredients used in commercial household cleaning products. They found that half of these products contain ingredients harmful to the lungs. It’s convenient to buy household cleaners and use them without a thought, but for every toxic cleaner out there, there is a safer, natural, non-toxic option. This guide will provide recipes for the do-it-yourselfer to make your own eco-friendly kitchen cleaning products with common ingredients. If you’re not a DIY kind of person, don’t worry, I’ll be sure to include a natural alternative that you can purchase, hassle-free. But first:
DANGEROUS CHEMICALS FOUND IN COMMON CLEANERS
- Quaternary Ammonium Compounds or “Quats” are often found in spray cleaners and fabric softeners. These compounds are known as asthma triggers.
- Antibacterials have been linked to endocrine disruption and antibiotic resistance. The FDA banned 19 antibacterial compounds from hand and body soaps in 2016, but these compounds may still be found in other cleaners.
- Chlorine Bleach produces fumes containing chlorine and chloroform. These chemicals are linked to cancer, respiratory and neurological effects. Bleach is also highly reactive and can form dangerous gases if it comes into contact with ammonia or other acids.
- Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen used in many cleaning products as a preservative.
- 2-Butoxyethanol is a skin and eye irritant that made the list of toxic substances in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. It’s found in laundry stain removers, oven cleaners, and degreasers.
- Diethylene Glycol Monomethyl Ether (DEGME) is a solvent used in some degreasers and heavy-duty cleaners. It’s linked to reproductive health effects and has been banned for use in cleaners in the EU.
- Ammonia is a respiratory and skin irritant.
- The common ingredient known as “fragrance” may contain hundreds of different chemical compounds, including phthalates which are an endocrine disruptor.
These are just the more common chemicals; there are plenty more to worry about. But the good news is that harmful chemicals are not necessary for cleaning your home.
SAFE ALTERNATIVES TO HARMFUL CHEMICALS
- Baking soda cleans, deodorizes, scours, and softens water.
- Alcohol is an excellent disinfectant; however, isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol has safety concerns. Vodka or grain alcohol can be used in its place.
- Cornstarch can be used to shampoo carpets and rugs.
- White Vinegar cuts grease, removes, mildew, odors, and some stains. It also prevents and removes wax build-up.
- Oxygen Bleach is made from sodium bicarbonate and/or peroxide. It gently removes stains, whitens fabrics, and has a number of applications in household stain removal.
- Washing Soda is the mineral sodium carbonate decahydrate. Washing soda cuts grease, removes stains, softens water, cleans walls, tiles, sinks, and tubs, but it can irritate mucus membranes, so use with gloves. And never use washing soda on aluminum.
- Vegetable or Olive Oil is great for furniture polish.
- Hydrogen Peroxide is a common disinfectant for wounds that can also be used as a household disinfectant. Mild bleaching effects make it a great as a stain remover for fabrics and grout.
Again, these are just some of the safe alternatives, but there are plenty more. These basics, however, can be used to clean the home. Borax is not on the list because research suggests it may have an effect on the reproductive system and borax is easily absorbed by our skin. The following non-toxic, home-cleaning recipes do not include borax for this reason:
RECIPES FOR ECO-FRIENDLY KITCHEN CLEANERS
- All Purpose Cleaner – combine 1 cup of distilled white vinegar with 1 cup of water. Vinegar can be pungent, so I recommend adding a few drops (6-8) of essential oils. Tee tree and/or grapefruit oil is a great choice as they both have antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Put mixture in a re-usable glass spray bottle, and you also cut down on plastic waste.
- Oven Cleaner – you have a couple options for non-toxic oven cleaners:
- For normal cleaning jobs, turn the oven on the self-cleaning setting or set the temperature to 125 degrees. Dampen caked on areas with a spray bottle of water or vinegar. Pour salt directly over the area, then turn the oven off and let it cool down. You can then scrape off the salted areas and wipe clean.
- For a heavy-duty job, spray down the oven with vinegar, then sprinkle baking soda over the affected areas. Let it sit for a few minutes as it chemically reacts (for really caked-on stuff, let the mix sit for a couple hours) and then scrub with steel wool or a coarse brush. Finish by wiping down the oven with warm soapy water and a sponge.
- Dish Soap – combine 1 cup of liquid Castile soap with 3 tablespoons of water and a few drops of essential oil if you are using an unscented Castile soap. A vinegar or oil bottle with a metal spout is great for storing and dispensing the soap.
- Dishwasher Detergent – combine 1 cup of washing soda, ¼ citric acid, ¼ cup of course salt in an air-tight container and mix. Add 10-15 drops of citrus essential oils (optional, but orange, grapefruit, or lemon essential oils have antibacterial properties) to mixture and mix again. Use a tablespoon per load and put white vinegar in the rinse aid department.
- Marble/Granite Cleaner – acids can etch or erode marble and granite, depending on how long it is exposed to the substance. Instead, I tablespoon of liquid Castile soap mixed with 1 quart of warm water will safely clean the marble/granite surface.
- Glass Cleaner – combine 1 cup of alcohol, 1 cup of water, and 1 tablespoon of vinegar in a reusable glass spray bottle. I’m a fan on the glass bottle with the silicone sleeve from Grove Collaborative.
ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVES FOR CLEANING TASKS AROUND THE KITCHEN
- Ceramic or Glass Stovetop – to remove stuck-on food, wet the area with hot, soapy water and sprinkle with baking soda. Cover with a damp towel and allow it to stand for half an hour, then wipe the stovetop with a clean, damp cloth.
- Wooden Chopping Blocks –simply rub a lemon slice across a chopping block to disinfect the surface. For tough stains, squeeze lemon juice onto the stain and let it sit for 10 minutes, then wipe clean.
- Drain Cleaner – there are a couple methods depending on the severity of the clog:
- For light drain cleaning, mix ½ cup of salt in 1 gallon of water. Heat the water (not to a boil) and pour down the drain.
- For stronger cleaning, pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain, then ½ cup of vinegar. Cover the drain with a frying pan lid. The chemical reaction breaks the fatty acids down into soap and glycerin, allowing the clog to wash down the drain. After 15 minutes, pour boiling water down the drain (do not do this with plastic pipes) to clear the residue.
- Microwave Cleaner – pour vinegar and lemon juice in a small cup and microwave for 2 minutes. Leave the door closed for a few minutes after heating the mixture to allow the steam to coat the surfaces inside the microwave. Open the door and wipe down with a warm cloth or sponge.
- Cast-Iron Pans – combine olive oil and a teaspoon of course salt in the pan. Scrub with stiff brush, rinse with hot water, wipe dry, and you’re done.
- Refrigerator – add ½ cup of baking soda to a bucket of hot water. Use a clean rag to wipe down the inside of the fridge with the mixture.
- Silver Cleaner – lay out silver utensils in the sink or a bucket. Pour in boiling water, 1 cup of baking soda, and a pinch of salt. Let it sit for several minutes until the tarnish disappears. If you are concerned about a particular item, rub it with toothpaste and a soft cloth, rinse it with warm water, and allow it to air dry.
ECO-FRIENDLY CLEANERS YOU CAN PURCHASE
Click on these links I’ve provided for eco-friendly alternatives you can purchase rather than make:
Brite Homes is committed to educating homeowners on how to be more environmentally-conscious. We recently published a blog called “The Eco-Friendly Kitchen: 10 Amazing Products That are Better for the Environment.” Give it a read. There are some wonderful alternatives to the unsustainable products we use on a daily basis. Between green products and DIY eco-friendly cleaning, you can greatly reduce your environmental impact in the kitchen and create a happier, healthier home.