The following first appeared in AlterNet.
Most store-bought cleaners contain chemicals that can cause not just eye and skin irritations but even cancer, asthma and birth defects. They can also be accidentally ingested by children and pets.
According to the EPA, household cleaners can contain an array of hazardous chemicals, “including carcinogens, persistent bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals, endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that may pose risks to human health and the environment.”
But these products aren’t just dangerous inside the home. “Cleaning products are released to the environment during normal use through evaporation of volatile components and rinsing down the drain of residual product from cleaned surfaces,” the agency says. The nitrogen in window cleaner, for example, forms dangerous nitrates that pollute groundwater.
And it’s not just the chemicals in the cleaners that are a problem: The plastic containers require oil to produce and when the product runs out, that container ends up in a landfill, where it can take 1,000 years to degrade, all the while leaching out more harmful chemicals. When you look at their entire lifecycle, it’s clear there’s nothing clean about these toxic “cleaners.”
Thankfully, nature has provided us with all the necessary ingredients to keep our homes spic and span without killing wildlife, the environment or ourselves. Just use these six natural non-toxic ingredients — most of which you probably already have in the kitchen — for a spring cleaning that’s better for your health and for the air, soil, water, plants, and animals around you.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade — or a perfect nontoxic household cleaner. A natural bleaching agent and deodorizer that will give your home a fantastic fresh scent, natural lemon juice also cuts through grease, removes stains, gives hard surfaces a beautiful shine and even eliminates mold and mildew. Dilute some lemon juice with water to clean stains on cutting boards and kill germs. Dip an old toothbrush in lemon juice to remove grout. Add some salt and you’ve got an effective cleaner for metal grills and a polisher for chrome. Use a halved lemon dipped in salt to brighten copper cookware. Soak plastic food containers in lemon juice overnight to remove smells. Put diluted lemon juice in a spray bottle to keep your kitchen countertops clean and smelling great. Who needs toxic chlorine bleach for the laundry when you can just add a cup of lemon juice to your load for bright colors, white whites and a lemony fresh scent? The list of things that can be cleaned by lemons is impressive.
2. Olive oil
Not just for cooking, olive oil is a great natural cleaner and polisher. Add some salt and you can scrub pots and pans. Rub it into leather to get scratches out. Add some lemon juice or vinegar and you’ve got a great natural wood polisher. The citric acid in lemon juice makes it perfect for dissolving tarnish. Use a cotton cloth to buff stainless steel and brass to prevent streaks and corrosion and get a brilliant shine. Plus, you can use it to lubricate all your kitchen appliances, from blenders and grinders to any cookware with movable parts — or even fix a squeaky door. And before you start your springtime gardening, spray some olive oil on your garden tools to reduce dirt buildup. With all this value (not to mention its culinary, health and beauty applications), it’s no wonder that for the ancient Minoans, olive oil represented wealth.
3. White vinegar
The natural acidity in white vinegar makes it a great natural antifungal and antibacterial. In addition to being a fantastic non-toxic degreaser, it eliminates soap scum. Put on a white cotton glove and dip your fingers in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and hot water and suddenly cleaning Venetian blinds and piano keys is a breeze. Dip a cotton cloth in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and olive oil to remove water rings from wood tabletops. To clean and brighten rugs and carpets, dip a push broom in a solution of 1 cup white vinegar and 1 gallon of water. Use the same solution to clean brickwork. To get rid of tough odors like cigarette smoke, leave a bowl of vinegar in the room overnight. There are over a hundred different ways you can use white vinegar around the house.
4. Baking soda
You probably know that an open box of baking soda in the fridge absorbs odors. But in addition to being an effective deodorizer wherever you want to get rid of stinky smells, it’s also an effective antiviral agent and surfactant that eliminates grease and grime. Use it as a scouring powder to clean countertops, sinks, tubs, bathroom floors and your outdoor grill. To unclog drains, pour some baking soda down the drain, and then slowly pour in some white vinegar until it foams. Flush with hot water and repeat until the drain is clear. To keep carpets and rugs fresh, sprinkle on some baking soda and vacuum after 15 minutes. Keep your combs and hairbrushes clean by soaking them in some water with a teaspoon of baking soda. And make your tile floors sparkle with a mop and a half cup baking soda in a bucket of warm water. There are so many uses for baking soda around the house you’ll want to have some handy at all times.
5. Club soda
For a safe and effective window cleaner, fill up a small spray bottle with club soda and use a soft cotton cloth (a clean T-shirt will do the trick). If you need to cut through grease, add a little lemon juice. As an added bonus, club soda is a handy stain remover and polisher. You can also water your indoor and outdoor plants with club soda once a week: they love the minerals in the soda, which helps them grow. To keep your precious gems sparkly, soak them overnight in a glass of club soda. Plus, the carbonation in club soda makes it an ideal rust remover. For cleaning cast-iron cookware, pour in some club soda while the pan’s still warm so the food particles don’t stick. With these and more surprising household uses, it’s clear that club soda isn’t just for drinking.
You wouldn’t pour salt in a wound, but pour it in white vinegar and you’ve got a powerful cleaner with a deodorizing effect. A solution of salt and club soda will clean and deodorize the inside of your fridge. For wine spills on cotton or linen, blot out what you can and pour salt on the stain to suck out the rest. Then soak the fabric in cold water before throwing it in the wash. Mix some salt into lemon juice to remove mildew and rust stains. To brighten colored curtains or washable fiber rugs, wash them in a saltwater solution. Use a cloth dipped in the same solution to brighten rugs and carpets. Use it by itself for a soft but effective scouring agent. With over 14,000 uses, salt is probably the world’s most versatile mineral.
There are other excellent natural cleaners out there, like the vegetable-based castile soap, but these six will do just fine. Not only are they non-toxic and environmentally friendly, they are probably in your kitchen right now. If you want to get really fancy, add some essential oils like lavender or tea tree oil into any natural cleaning solution for an antimicrobial effect that smells great.
So for a healthy, easy, inexpensive and eco-friendly spring cleaning, gather these six ingredients, a few spray bottles, a mop, a bucket, some sponges and cotton rags — and a little bit of elbow grease.
Do you have any tips for a natural and healthy spring cleaning? Leave them in the comments!