Every day, we’re confronted with one gross household mess or another (some of us more than others; here at my house it’s more like every five minutes). Positive Health Wellness When my housemate began a holistic cancer therapy regimen four years ago, one of the biggest rules was “no toxic cleaning products”. Every suspicious chemical was rooted out of every broom closet and undersink cabinet. I say “suspicious chemical,” because it’s easy to forget that everything surrounding us is a chemical. Including plain old water. The health issue lies in the fact that certain chemicals are far more dangerous to your body’s wellbeing than others. Many very common cleaning products are known to contribute to “Sick Building Syndrome.”
There are many and varied reasons for avoiding the use of mainstream commercial cleaning products in your home. Health is my foremost reason for doing so, and since the environmental and financial motivations should be obvious, I’ll concentate on toxicity here. Having sickened myself on several occasions as a result of ill-advised cleaning practices, it’s also pretty near and dear to my heart.
Of the multiple characteristics which determine a particular cleaning product’s level of hazardousness, the biggest offender is a class of chemicals known as Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. These compounds are emitted from your cleaning product into the air, in the form of vapors. Exposure (both short-term and prolonged) can cause headaches, respiratory problems, nausea, and other problems (some VOCs are known to be carcinogenic). According to the New York State Department of Health, common items contain such nasties as benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde. The method of applying these cleaners also depends on how much you’re affected by them- aerosols are the worst, as they are dispensed in such a way that ultrafine chemical particles are spewed into the air (and subsequently, your lungs!)
My grandmother has told many stories of her youth in the West Virginia mountains during the 1920s. They used no fancy commercial cleaning products; just a host of multipurpose household staples. Now in her 90s, she still uses many of the same methods in keeping a fastidiously clean home. Baking soda was always her go-to chemical, and I find that it has become mine as well.
Baking soda might well be the most versatile chemical I keep in the house. I use it for just about everything; dishwashing, laundry, deodorization (it’s the only substance I’ve ever found that was able to absorb and neutralize cat spray, a vile substance which resists nearly every cleaning product and curse leveled at it). Other common items in the arsenal include: white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, borax, salt, grapefruit seed extract, and tea trea oil. I use a few prepared consumer products, like Dr. Bronner’s castille soap and Aubrey Organics’ Earth Aware. I’ve found that I can accomplish about 90% of my cleaning needs with these items alone.
Here are some ways I like to use them:
· Multi-purpose Cleaner- Mix two teaspoons each of baking soda & borax, one teaspoon Dr. Bronner’s (or any vegetable-based soap), and two tablespoons of vinegar in a quart-sized spray bottle of water.
· Sink, Tub, & Tile Cleaner- Make a paste of baking soda and Aubrey’s Earth Aware, or veggie dish soap. This also works great for scrubbing coffee stains off of china.
· Toilet Cleanser- Apply a paste of vinegar and borax to stains in bowl. Let sit about 20 minutes, then scrub with a bowl brush.
· Silver Polish- Plain old garden-variety toothpaste. Yeah!
· Mold/Mildew Remover- Borax + hot water.
· Fabric (Blood)Stain Remover- hydrogen peroxide followed by cold water (and salt, optional).
· Upholstery Spot Cleaner- saturate soiled area with club soda, and then sprinkle liberally with salt.
· Burnt Stainless Steel Pans- Boil clean water in pan for awhile to loosen contents, and then drain/scrape out as much burnt matter as possible. Sprinkle liberally with baking soda, and then slowly pour vinegar over the soda. Scrub with plain steel wool & more soda/veggie soap as needed.
· Furniture polish- Mix one part vinegar (or lemon juice) with three parts vegetable oil (like olive oil) and apply with a soft cloth.
· General Disinfectant/Freshener- You can add a few drops of tea tree oil or grapefruit seed extract to water (with or without a splash of optional rubbing alcohol).
· Pet Odor Remover- Take a fresh quart bottle of hydrogen peroxide. In a larger container (with room for foaming!), add one cup of baking soda & 1 teaspoon of veggie dish soap. Use immediately.
Sometimes, you may have to break out the hard stuff to get the job done. But for most basic household cleaning operations, these should do the trick. Besides being healthier for you and your wallet, these methods are healthier for the earth.