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Switch to Natural Cleaning Products

by Deborah Mitchell
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Natural cleaning products offer environmentally sound, cost-efficient alternatives to the toxic and potentially lethal household cleaning products used in many homes today. Use of these natural options is especially critical as most traditional cleaning products eventually contact the air, water, and/or soil, where they can cause significant and irreparable harm to animals, plants, drinking water, and food supplies.

The average American uses about 40 pounds of toxic household cleaning products each year. These cleaning 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, among other health issues.

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. In fact, 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. For example:

  • 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 (sodium hypochlorite), available alone and in detergents and other products, 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.

Natural cleaning products can be substituted for many of the toxic cleaners on the market. All you need are a few inexpensive ingredients and information on how to put them together.

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Protect the environment and your family’s health by switching to natural cleaning products. Today.

Basic Ingredients and Uses

  • Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) neutralizes acid, softens fabrics, as well as deodorizes, cleans and polishes metals and plastics.
  • Borax deodorizes, prevents mold and mildew, and removes stains.
  • Cornstarch cleans windows and carpets, and polishes furniture.
  • Isopropyl alcohol disinfects.
  • Lemon juice deodorizes, cleans glass, and removes stains.
  • Mineral oil polishes furniture.
  • Vinegar removes mildew, grease, and wax; deodorizes; cleans windows, brick, and stone.
  • Washing soda (sodium carbonate decahydrate) removes grease, and cleans laundry.

Natural Cleaning Products You Can Make 

  • Air freshener: Place shallow plates of vinegar in rooms to absorb odors; sprinkle ½ cup borax in the bottom of trash cans or diaper pails to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold that cause odors.
  • All-purpose cleaner: Place 4 tablespoons baking soda in 1 quart warm water and shake well.
  • Disinfectant: Mix ½ cup borax into 1 gallon of hot water.
  • Drain cleaner: Pour ½ cup baking soda down drain, add ½ cup white vinegar, and cover the drain. Wait 15 minutes and then pour 1 gallon of hot water down the drain.
  • Metal cleaner and polish: For stainless steel, use undiluted white vinegar; for tarnished copper, boil the item in a pot of water with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup white vinegar.
  • Oven cleaner: Moisten oven surfaces with water and sprinkle baking soda on them. Scrub with steel wool.
  • Toilet bowl cleaner: Mix ¼ cup baking soda and 1 cup vinegar, pour into toilet, let set for 5 minutes, then scrub with brush.

Instructions on how to make these and other natural cleaning products can be found online.

What else can you do?

  • Dispose of hazardous household cleaning products responsibly. For information on proper disposal in your area, contact your local or state department of solid waste disposal or household hazardous waste. The Environmental Protection Agency offers some general information as well.
  • If your community doesn’t have a household hazardous waste collection program, encourage business and community leaders to organize one.
  • If your place of employment uses toxic cleaning supplies, talk to management about switching to environmentally safe products or to a cleaning service that uses such products.
  • Support companies that make or sell natural cleaning products, such as Seventh Generation, Sun & Earth, Better Life, and Mrs Meyer's, among others.

When you choose to use natural cleaning products, you help keep our global home a bit cleaner and safer for this generation and those to come.

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