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Earth-Friendly Cleaning

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 11 months ago





The average household contains anywhere from 3 - 25 gallons of toxic materials, most of which are in cleaners, and the average American uses about 40 pounds of toxic household cleaning products annually. These products contain dangerous ingredients, including neurotoxins, carcinogens, allergens, central nervous system depressants, heavy metals, and other agents that cause or contribute to cancer, respiratory problems, reproductive abnormalities, allergic reactions, and behavioral problems. According to the American Lung Association:


The household cleaning agents, personal care products, pesticides, paints, hobby products, and solvents that make our lives so easy are also sources of potentially harmful chemicals. The range of household products that contain potentially harmful substances that contribute to indoor air pollution is wide-reaching and diverse. Some of these products release contaminants into the air right away; others do so gradually, over a period of time. The harmful components in many household and personal care products can cause dizziness, nausea, allergic reactions, and eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation; some can cause cancer ... Contamination from household products, if limited to low levels for short periods of time, does not pose a serious health threat. However, contamination can occur over a long period of time from a variety of sources, and harmful effects can occur. Where there is prolonged exposure and where there is a possible multiplying effect from a presence of contamination from many different products, the effects can be serious, even fatal.


According to the EPA, many household cleaners contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and harsh acids, and levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants are two to five times higher inside homes than outside (regardless of whether the homes are in rural or highly industrial areas). When people use products containing organic chemicals (e.g., paint, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleaners and disenfectants; moth repellants and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing), they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, causing damage to the central nervous system, headaches, loss of coordination, kidney damage, liver damage, nausea, eye, nose, and throat irritation. Some organic pollutants cause cancer in animals, and are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.



Ingredients from household cleaning products make their way into the environment through various routes: they are flushed down toilets, poured down sinks, sprayed into the air, thrown into the trash, and dumped onto the ground. Many hazardous cleaning products are landfilled or incinerated, upon which they release their toxins into the environment and contribute to depletion of the ozone layer, pollute groundwater, contaminate the soil, and harm plant and animal life:


  • Phosphates, found in dishwasher and laundry detergents, cause algae bloom, which kills fish and aquatic plants, and produces chemicals that are toxic to animals and people who drink the water.

  • Trisodium nitrilotriacetate is a possible carcinogen in laundry detergents. It can disrupt the elimination of metals in wastewater treatment facilities.

  • Chlorine bleach, found alone and in detergents, is toxic to fish and can bind with organic compounds in water to form organochlorines, which break down slowly in the environment and accumulate in the fatty tissues of wildlife. Chlorine is especially toxic to organisms that live in water and soil.

  • Napthas and mineral spirits, found in furniture polishes, are neurotoxins and considered hazardous waste. Mineral spirits break down very slowly and contaminate air and water.

  • Formaldehyde, an ingredient in furniture polish and various cleaning products, is a potential human carcinogen and a known cancer-causing agent in animals.

  • Phthalates, found in furniture polish, disrupt hormone function and can cause genetic defects in both animals and humans.

  • Ether-type solvents, methylene chloride, butyl cellosive, and petroleum distillates, found in oven cleaners are hazardous waste and can contaminate the air, water, and soil.

  • Sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide, in drain cleaners, can change the pH of water and cause fish kills. 



The Children's Health Environmental Coalition's HealtheHome Quiz provides a personalized assessment of the potential toxic exposures in and around your house, and suggestions on how to improve your home environment to protect your and your fellow co-opers' health.


Rid your home of cleaners that are toxic or that you suspect may be toxic if the label says "Warning," "Danger," or "Poison." Do not dispose of them down the drain or in the garbage. The Washtenaw County Home Toxics Collection Center (705 N. Zeeb Rd. at the Western County Service Center) accepts flammable, toxic, corrosive, and poisonous materials 9am - noon every Saturday from April - Dec., except for Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving weekend. Complete lists of acceptable and unacceptable materials are available online. During the winter months, call 734-222-6874 to arrange a drop-off. Batteries in a clear plastic bag, up to 3 gallons of motor oil (in a milk jug with a screw-top or taped lid), and up to 3 oil filters (in a sturdy, clean plastic bag) placed outside of recycling bins are accepted for curbside collection.



When you buy new cleaning products, look for manufacturers (like Citra-Solv, Dr. Bronner's, Ecover, Seventh Generation, and Sun & Earth) who do list their natural ingredients on the label and purchase cleaners containing non-petroleum-based surfactants, that are chlorine and phosphate free, that claim to be "non-toxic" and that are biodegradable.


A cheap and easy alternative is to make your own cleaning products using "the basic ten":

  1. White vinegar: An antifungal that also kills germs and bacteria.

  2. Baking soda: Eliminates odors and works as a gentle scouring powder.

  3. Borax: Borax, the common name for the natural mineral compound sodium borate, eliminates odors, removes dirt, and acts as an antifungal and possible disinfectant. Use with care around pets, as it can be toxic if swallowed.

  4. Hydrogen peroxide (3% concentration): A great nontoxic bleach and stain remover, as well as a proven disinfectant.

  5. Club soda: A stain remover and polisher.

  6. Lemon juice: A pleasant-smelling nontoxic bleach, grease-cutter, and stain remover.

  7. Liquid castile soap: An all-purpose cleaner, grease-cutter, and disinfectant. “Castile” means the soap is vegetable-based, not animal-fat-based.

  8. Corn meal: Great at picking up carpet spills.

  9. Olive oil: Makes a wonderful furniture polish.

  10. Pure essential oils: Adding all-natural, organic essential oils to your cleaning concoctions can add wonderful scents to your housekeeping endeavors. Lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and tea tree oils may have antibacterial, antifungal, or insect-repelling properties.


If you choose to make your own cleaning products, follow these guidelines:

  • Do not mix anything with a commercial cleaning agent.

  • If you do store a homemade mixture, make sure it is properly labeled and do not store it in a container that could be mistaken for food or beverage.

  • When preparing alternatives, mix only what is needed for the job at hand and mix them in clean, reusable containers.

  • If you use sponges to clean any part of your home, make sure they are pure cellulose sponges that are not treated with a synthetic disinfectant. Most sponges sold in U.S. supermarkets these days are impregnated with triclosan or other synthetic disinfectants and are easy to distinguish by their packaging which claims "kills odors" or "resists odors."

    • It is easy to keep a pure cellulose sponge germ-free by boiling them in a pot of water for 3-5 minutes, tossing them in the top rack of the dishwasher with your next load of dishes, or even microwaving them on high for a minute. Pure cellulose sponges can be found in natural food stores and hardware stores.



ALL PURPOSE CLEANERS: Put 2 tbsp. white vinegar and 1 tsp. Borax into a 16 oz. spray bottle, fill the rest of the bottle with very hot water, shake to blend until the Borax is dissolved, and add 1/4 cup of liquid castile soap. (Optional: add 10 - 15 drops of an essential oil, such as lavender, lemongrass, thyme, eucalyptus, rosemary, rose, or clove.) For an even simpler solution, put 2 cups of club soda in a spray bottle.Keep a spray bottle filled with 3 parts water and 1 part distilled vinegar for counter messes and spill cleanup (add a few droplets of bleach to kill germs in the kitchen). ANTS: In a bowl, mix 1 cup Borax, 1 cup sugar, and 3 cups water. Place a loose wad of toilet paper into four different shallow, screw-top jars. Pour the mixture into the jars until it is about 1 in. from the top. Screw the lids on the jars, and with a hammer and nail, make four to eight holes in the lid. Place the jars in areas where you have ants.
BATHROOM SURFACES: Use baking soda or Borax as a scouring powder. For a softer scrub, combine 1/2 cup baking soda with enough liquid soap to achieve a frosting-like consistency. (Optional: add 5 - 10 drops of an essential oil for fragrance.) Use club soda on plumbing fixtures. CAR CLEANER: Combine 1/4 cup vegetable oil-based liquid soap and warm water in a pail.
CAR WAX: Combine 1 cup linseed oil, 4 tbsp. carnauba wax, 2 tbsp. beeswax, and 1/2 cup vinegar in a saucepan, and heat slowly until the wax has melted. Stir, and pour the mixture into a heat-resistant container. After the wax has solidified, rub it onto the car with a lint-free cloth. Saturate a corner of a cotton rag with vinegar, and polish the wax to a deep shine. CARPET CLEANER: Blend 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 cup Borax, and 1 cup cornmeal. Sprinkle the mixture over the carpet and rub with a cloth. Let the mixture rest for several hours or overnight, then vacuum. To remove stains from your carpet, mix 1/4 cup liquid castile soap and 1/3 cup water in a blender until foamy. Spread the mixture on the carpet and let sit for a few minutes, then scrub the stain with a brush or clean rag. Club soda, distilled vinegar, or white wine will remove acidic stains like coffee, wine, or juice. To deal with big carpet spills, pour cornmeal on the spill, wait 15 minutes, then vacuum.
CLOGGED DRAINS: Use a drain catch or screen to keep hair and food from clogging pipes, and periodically pour boiling water down the drain. If you do get a clog, pour 1/2 - 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, then slowly pour 1/2 - 1 cup of vinegar in after it. Cover the drain and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then flush with a gallon of boiling water. For tougher clogs use a plumber's snake. COFFEE MAKER: Run a pot of 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water through the machine. Then run 2 consecutive pots of pure water through it.
DETERGENT: Shave 1 bar of vegetable glycerin soap into a saucepan of 3 - 4 cups of boiling water. Add this mixture to a bucket of 3 gallons of water. Stir. Add one box of washing soda (Arm & Hammer makes it). Stir. Optiona: add 1 box of Borax. Stir. FABRIC FRESHENER: Purchase any herbal extraction or natural floral essence of your choice. Add a few drops to a spray bottle filled with water.
FLEAS & TICKS: Put brewer's yeast or garlic in your pet's food. Sprinkle fennel, rue, rosemary, or eucalyptus seeds or leaves around your pet's sleeping areas. FRUIT FLIES: Make a funnel, soda bottle, oven, glass, or wine trap.
FURNITURE POLISH: Mix 1 tsp. of lemon juice in 1 pint of vegetable oil. Apply a small amount to a clean cotton cloth and wipe wooden parts of furniture. GARBAGE DISPOSAL DEODORIZER: Drop in a leftover lemon rind or two and grind.
GLASS: Use club soda in a spray bottle. (Optional: add 1 tsp. of lemon juice.) Use a few sheets of newspaper or a terry-cloth cotton rag. GREASE: Squeeze some real orange, lemon or lime juice on the grease (lemons work best for surfaces; oranges have a higher sugar content, so while they’re great for dishes, they won’t do well on your stove.) Another tip for tough grease removal: simply add a little soap and an inch or so of water to the offending pot or pan and boil away.
HARD FLOOR CLEANER: Combine 1/4 liquid castile soap, up to 1/2 cup white vinegar or lemon juice, and 2 gallons of warm water in a large plastic bucket. Use with a mop or sponge. MOTHS: Use cedar chips or a sachet with any or all of the following: lavender flowers, rosemary, mint, white peppercorns.
MOLD: Combine 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar with 1 cup water. Spray on mold and do not rinse. You can also treat mold with a spray mixture of 2 tsp. tea tree oil and 2 cups water. OVEN: Sprinkle 1 cup or more of baking soda over the bottom of the oven, then cover the baking soda with enough water to make a thick paste. Let the mixture set overnight. The next morning the grease will be easy to wipe up. When you have cleaned up the worst of the mess, dab a bit of liquid detergent or soap on a sponge, and wash the remaining residue from the oven.
PLANT SPRAYS: To rid your plants of many common pests, gently wipe leaves with a solution of mild soap and water, or mix the solution in a spray bottle and spray leaves and stems. PORCELAIN: Scrub with Borax and baking soda.
ROOM DEODORIZER: Place a small condiment bowl in a hidden corner and fill it with your favorite natural oil: rosemary, lavender, rose, lemon, jasmine. RUG & CARPET DEODORIZER: Deodorize dry carpets by sprinkling liberally with baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes and vacuum. Repeat if necessary.
TILE & LINOLEUM: Soak 5 - 7 green or black tea bags in a big bucket of scalding water overnight. TOILET: Sprinkle baking soda or Borax, or pour white vinegar into the toilet, and let sit for a few minutes. Scrub with a good toilet brush.
WOOD CLEANER: To simultaneously clean wood and keep a healthy luster, add 1/4 cup of olive oil to warm water and mop. You can also just mop with hot water. WOOD POLISH: To polish wood furniture, dab olive oil onto a soft cloth and rub.



The Seventh Generation Guide to a Toxin-Free Home.pdf

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