Lovely ads on television trumpet: "Bring a spring breeze into your home! Spray a little air freshener and wildflowers magically bloom!" In reality, many of the readily available household cleaning products and chemicals have nothing to do with spring breezes and wildflowers; they're not only unnecessary, but can be dangerous as well. Fortunately, less-harmful alternatives, plus elbow grease (the ultimate green cleaner) work just as well.
Air fresheners contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and phenol, which can cause skin irritation on contact, ranging from mild reactions to severe hives. Phenol can also cause severe reactions including convulsions, coma, and circulatory collapse. Chemical based air fresheners are highly toxic.
- Simmer your own air freshener on the stove. Just use low heat and check them often, so they don't boil dry.
- Cut two lemons into quarters then cover with cold water.
- For a crisp effect, drop six sprigs of fresh mint into four cups of cold water.
- For a delicious Christmas-y smell, combine five cloves, two cinnamon sticks, and four cups of cider. This one just might make you yearn for gingerbread!
Bleach is a strong corrosive and can burn the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. Ingestion of bleach can cause pulmonary edema, vomiting, and coma. Mixing bleach and ammonia or acidic cleaners like vinegar produces extremely hazardous fumes. Bleach is an ingredient in many cleaning and laundry products--you might be surprised how many.
- To whiten or remove stains on laundry, try hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide works extremely well for bloodstains.
- For ink stains, soak the item in milk overnight, then launder as usual. You can also try soaking in vinegar or make a paste of cream of tartar and rub into the stain.
- Borax is a less toxic alternative to try than bleach or chemical containing stain removers.
Mold and mildew removers
These products can contain bleach and the chemicals sodium hypochlorite, a corrosive that can burn the skin and eyes, and formaldehyde, a highly toxic chemical and known carcinogen.
- For mold and mildew removal mix a solution of two teaspoons tea tree oil (available at health food stores) to two cups of water and keep in a spray bottle. Spray onto mold or mildew. Don't rinse. The strong smell fades in a couple of days. This solution will also remove musty smells from cloth items and clothes. Soak clothes for a few hours, then wash normally. What can't be soaked can be sprayed and then aired for a few days until the fragrance of the tea tree oil subsides.
- For mold and mildew on non-porous washable surfaces, try vinegar or a solution of borax and water.
DO Try This at Home
Common ingredients in drain cleaners include lye, hydrochloric acid, and trichloroethane. These chemicals are very dangerous eye and skin irritants. Lye can cause severe damage to the esophagus and stomach if swallowed. Hydrochloric acid and trichloroethane can damage the liver and kidneys.
- Pour one cup of regular baking soda down the drain and follow with three cups of boiling water. Follow with a cup of vinegar if it's still clogged. Using vinegar directly after baking soda may work. When the two mix, a foam will bubble up out of the drain.
- If all else fails, you may need to purchase a plumber's snake.
Phenol, nitrobenzene, and petroleum distillates are chemicals we can do without. Furniture polish containing these chemicals is highly flammable and extremely toxic.
- A soft cloth, a bit of mayonnaise, and a smidge of elbow grease will give your furniture a chemical free glow.
- Cool tea will also do the trick. Dampen your dusting cloth with the tea and polish as usual.
Oven cleaners have caustic chemicals and can cause severe burns to eyes and skin. Oven cleaners cause extreme damage when swallowed. And no one likes the fumes!
- Make a thick paste with baking soda and a little hot water. Dab the mixture onto dirty spots. Wipe clean. For crusted on grime, leave the baking soda paste on overnight before wiping.
- When only commercial cleaners will do, limit your use and follow instructions on warning labels. Labels that say "Poison" or "Danger" are the most dangerous, but labels that say "Warning" or "Caution" are also hazardous and should always be handled with extreme care.
- Baking Soda: 500 Fabulous, Fun and Frugal Uses You Probably Never Thought Of lives up to its billing. Everything you ever wanted or might need to know about baking soda.
- Natural Cleaning for Your Home: "Recipes" for using natural ingredients like baking soda, vinegar and glycerin to clean everything in your house the nontoxic way.
- Clean and Green: The Complete Guide to Non-Toxic and Environmentally Safe Housekeeping is a little manual full of ideas for replacing chemical cleaners with natural alternatives.
Donna Stone is a freelance writer and home educates her four children.