Non-toxic, homemade cleaning solutions for everything (including the kitchen sink).
Over the span of your house-cleaning years, volatile organic compounds released from cleaning products can build up in your system, causing a variety of respiratory illnesses ranging from lung disease to adult-onset asthma, according to the American Lung Association. More immediate household chemical reactions can also cause dizziness, skin irritation, vomiting, fainting and even death.
For instance, if you accidentally combine ammonia and bleach you can release highly explosive compounds such as nitrogen trichloride or toxic inhalants such as chlorine gas. Or, if you're repeatedly exposed to phenol, frequently found in furniture polish, you can sustain injuries ranging from dermatitis to central nervous system ailments such as seizures.
And don’t forget the risk of household chemical poisoning to children and animals.
According to a 2010 study by the New York State Department of Health, women who worked cleaning jobs while pregnant had an increased risk of having a baby with birth defects, and it's no wonder. United States law doesn't require manufacturers to list all of the ingredients in their consumer cleaning products — not even the “green” ones. So some all-purpose cleaners, which use sudsing agents such as diethanolamine and triethanolamine, form skin-absorbable carcinogens when they come in contact with certain preservatives. Others contain preservatives such as bronopol that release formaldehyde, another known carcinogen, while you clean. And if you flush, rinse or trash your cleaning products containing nitrogen, phosphorus or ammonia, the chemicals can leach into the water supply and harm livestock and young children by restricting the transportation of oxygen in their bloodstream. So what's a clean freak who doesn’t want to harm herself or others to do?
Well, years before the invention of toxic household cleaners, our grandmothers still had clean houses. (I remember my granny, who lived by a railroad track, used vinegar and water to clean her soot-dirtied windows — safe enough for even the little ones running around her home to drink.) And while we like to think that we have become more sophisticated when it comes to cleaning — like adding the word “disinfecting” to our products — maybe we need to take a step back to look forward.
This year, "spring clean" the chemical-free, old-fashioned way for a lemony-sweet home that's both clean and safe.
The three most commonly used natural household cleaning agents are baking soda, lemon and white vinegar. Add some salt, club soda, liquid castile soap, beeswax, hydrogen peroxide, olive oil and cornstarch to your arsenal and your cleaning supplies are complete.
Here are a few common household cleaning dilemmas and how to tackle them using just these homemade, non-toxic cleaning solutions.
Mix ¼ cup of white vinegar with one gallon of hot water and clean as usual. Or combine 2 Tbsp. of liquid castile soap with 2 cups of water in a spray bottle and use that on countertops. For windows, wipe with coffee filters — they leave no paper residue.
To remove mold from tile grout in the bathroom, mix one part hydrogen peroxide with two parts water in a spray bottle. Spray the mold and let the mixture sit for at least one hour before rinsing.
Stinky drains and garbage disposals
Pour ½ cup of baking soda into the drain followed by ½ cup of vinegar. The fizzing action will clean the drain in about 10-15 minutes. Rinse with clear water.
Scuff marks and carpet stains
Scuff marks can be removed from floors with a sprinkle of baking soda and water, plus a little elbow grease. To tackle stains on upholstered furniture or carpet, use hydrogen peroxide. Fill a spray bottle with peroxide and spritz the stain. Then sprinkle on some cornstarch to absorb the liquid and lift the stain. Brush off the cornstarch or vacuum it up when dry. Note: peroxide is a bleaching agent, so test a small spot for colorfastness first.
Burned-on food in the oven
Oven cleaner can be made by mixing ¾ cup of baking soda with ¼ cup of water into a paste. Spray the oven with diluted liquid castile soap and then apply the paste mixture to the inside of the oven and let it sit overnight. Scrape the paste mixture off with a spatula or putty knife and then give the oven a spray with an all-purpose, equal parts vinegar-and-water mixture. If there are still hard-to-remove spots, take half of a lemon, sprinkle it with baking soda and use it as a scrubber. Note: Salt makes the perfect “scrubbing agent” when baking soda isn’t quite enough.
Use olive oil and a soft rag to polish wooden furniture or wooden kitchen cabinets. Or try beeswax. The wax adds a protective coating.
Spray down your shower with a mixture of 4-5 Tbsp. of lemon juice in a quart of water (or just rub a cut lemon directly on the shower tiles). The citric acid in the fruit cuts soap scum and freshens your bath.
Keep a spray bottle of the above lemon juice mixture on hand for sanitizing cutting boards, the top of the stove, counters in the kitchen and bathrooms.