Natural Home Cleaning Products

by Jennifer Beam

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In the past few years, we have seemingly become an antibacterial, disinfectant-crazed society and we throw a lot of money at the concept of protecting our homes from germs. Yet, we may be wasting our money as some research now indicates we may be causing more harm than the germs we seek to destroy. Many expensive cleaning products can emit harmful chemicals into our home, compromise indoor air quality, and pose potential health risks.

Some of the chemical compounds included in basic household cleaning products carry associated health risks that might surprise you. Even the ones that claim to be non-toxic are not necessarily safe. The long-term effects of certain products have not been thoroughly tested and the government only regulates warning labels based on immediate and acute health risks, not long-term chronic ones. In other words, if a product is harmful if swallowed, will burn skin or eyes on contact or emits vapors that damage mucus membranes, there must be a warning label stating as much. However, a product that potentially poses long-term risks does not have to carry a warning.

Nearly every variety of household cleaning product has a disinfectant version. However, experts believe that we may have compounded the original problem in the home by overusing products that kill bacteria-causing germs. Many believe that over use has led to the development of more resistant strains of bacteria and underexposure to certain germs might be compromising our children's immune systems.

If the environmental and health risks associated with commercial cleaning products are not enough to convince you to look for alternatives, saving money should be. Anti-bacterial, disinfecting cleaners can be expensive, especially if you purchase different ones for every job. The actual expense might outweigh the benefits and there are many alternatives to expensive commercial products that will effectively and safely clean your home.

Surface Cleaner

It seems as if society has forgotten that old-fashioned soap and water actually cleans. Rather than spraying chlorine bleach or ammonia based products on kitchen and bathroom surfaces, consider the following alternatives.

  • Mix one tablespoon of Ivory or natural dish soap with hot water in an 8-ounce spray bottle. Spray surfaces and wipe with a damp, clean cloth, rinsing as needed.
  • Mix 1-2 tablespoons of borax with a tablespoon of vinegar in 16 ounces of water. Shake the bottle well, spray surfaces and wipe dry with a clean cloth. (Add 1 tsp. of tea tree oil to help prevent mildew.)

Glass Cleaner

  • Mix 1/3 cup of vinegar to 2/3 cup of water for cleaning glass. For particularly grimy or greasy windows, you can mix equal parts of isopropyl alcohol and water. Both versions are extremely cheap to make and alcohol will act as a disinfectant when needed.

Bathroom and Heavy Duty Cleaner

  • To cut through grime, mix 1/4 cup of vinegar with 1 cup of water and add up to a tablespoon of borax. Mix well in a spray bottle and clean surfaces as you would with commercial cleaner. (Add 10 to 20 drops of citrus oil to create scent if desired.)

Abrasive Cleaner Alternative

  • Create a thick paste with baking soda and vinegar. Works well on stainless steel. Just rub and rinse.
  • A similarly thick paste made with baking soda and lemon juice works well on other metal surfaces such as brass or copper.

Laundry Detergent Alternative

  • You can create inexpensive powdered laundry detergent by mixing equal parts baking soda with borax. Store in an airtight container, using approximately one-half cup per regular load.

Air Freshener Alternative

  • For a spray freshener, dilute citrus or lavender oil in water and place in a spray bottle with a fine mist setting. Lightly mist the air, but avoid wetting fabrics and upholstery.
  • To recreate the warm cinnamon smell of popular air fresheners and candles, mix one cup of applesauce with 1 1/2 cups of cinnamon, roll out onto wax paper to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into small squares or even decorative shapes with miniature cookie cutters. Air dry for 48 hours or until hardened. This is a particularly moist mixture, but dries out nicely. Place dried pieces in a bowl or jar, mixed with marbles or river rock for color.

Trying some of these alternatives to expensive, toxic commercial cleaning products can prove to be both budget and environmentally friendly. You can purchase most of the ingredients in any grocery store. Borax is most frequently found near the cleaning and laundry products, while lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar are usually found near baking supplies.

Even if you don't want to replace all of your cleaners with homemade versions, consider gradually phasing in a few homemade mixtures as your routine products need replacing. Also keep in mind that disinfectant surface sprays can be used safely if they are used sparingly, but you should still avoid breathing fumes.

Jennifer is a freelance writer based in Ohio who has written numerous health-related articles for print and web-based publications. She has also contributed to several regional parenting magazines and websites on a variety of family topics.

Take the Next Step:

  • Never overspend for store-bought cleaners again. Use The Dollar Stretcher's Guide to Homemade Cleaners to find frugal, effective recipes for keeping your entire house and laundry clean and fresh.
  • Find more about cleaning with essential oils.
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