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Healthy Cleaning Products

Healthy Home 2008, Spring 2008

Most conventional cleaning products are inexpensive and easy to use. Unfortunately, many contain chemical compounds that are dangerous to breathe and touch and that can contaminate soil and water once washed down the drain. But with a little knowledge and some willingness to experiment, you can find less-toxic alternatives that work for everyday cleaning and even tougher jobs.

It's also worth rethinking your idea of what "clean" means. Many of us associate fragrance or bleach with sanitation because we're so used to the odor of the chemicals in commercial cleaning agents. Yet a truly clean house smells air-fresh, not odor-laden. And be aware that many manufacturers of "unscented" cleaners use chemical fragrance to mask the scent of the active ingredients in their products. So while your laundry detergent might not smell like roses, it may be scented to smell unscented.

When it comes to germs, anyone who's taken high-school biology knows that microorganisms, including beneficial ones that live inside us, are omnipresent. Yes, we want to eliminate E. coli from countertops and bathroom fixtures; yes, we want to minimize the spread of viruses. But studies have shown that unless someone in your home is severely immunosuppressed, all you need is soap, warm water, and a little scrubbing to keep your family members from getting an infectious disease (see Antibacterials.)

Even homemade or gentle store-bought cleaning products can be irritating, so always wear rubber gloves while cleaning and ventilate the area whenever possible. Also, test a new cleaner in a discreet spot before using on a big area. Label homemade cleaning solutions clearly and keep them out of the reach of children.

Curb your instinct to reach for the most powerful cleaning product; for example, don't use a bleach-laden wipe on the kitchen countertop if a clean, soapy sponge will do. When working with any cleaning product, use only what you must to get the job done, and not a drop more. Don't drown that spot in stain-removing solution. Don't saturate the sponge with dishwashing liquid, either. If you find yourself going through bottle after bottle of cleaner, consider cleaning less frequently. You don't need to overclean to maintain your family's health. In fact, you might keep everyone healthier by cleaning weekly and spot-cleaning dirtier areas as needed. If you have a task that requires you to use a particularly toxic product, wear protective clothing (rubber gloves and a mask), and ventilate the area well. When you're finished, follow the manufacturers disposal guidelines, or keep the product in the basement or garage until your community's hazardous waste disposal day.

More Careful
Commit to using less-toxic cleaners, which you'll find at health-food stores, many grocery stores, or online. Unfortunately, there is no government equivalent of "organic" in the world of cleaning products. Read labels to be sure of what you're buying (especially if you're prone to allergies). Look for manufacturers that spell out everything clearly on the label. A long list of ingredients in small print is often an indicator that the manufacturer is using more chemicals you're better off avoiding. Experiment with different brands to see which ones work for you. Even less-toxic cleaners can be unsafe and aggravate allergies and chemical sensitivities. Downplay these risks by opening a window (or, at the very least, running a fan) while you're working with cleaning products.

Most Careful
Use homemade cleaners whenever possible. Water is often effective on its own. Cold water is all you need to rinse off bowls used for flour when baking, or to wipe up many spills. Likewise, warm water is adequate for cleaning most floors, and hot water works for a sink or a toilet seat. When more cleaning power is needed, look in the kitchen. Baking soda and salt are mild abrasives. Distilled white vinegar and lemon juice are acidic, so they can neutralize alkaline substances such as soap scum; they are also gentle bleaches. Add a few very basic ingredients like liquid soap and borax, a naturally occurring mineral, to your cleaning cupboard, and you can tackle every room in the house. Keep in mind that while modern cleaning products are designed so you don't have to do anything but wipe, a little scrubbing is preferable to breathing in a lot of nasty fumes.

Comments (8)

  • shugirl 22 Mar, 2010

    i did not know googone had a whole cleaning line thanks.

  • thespicychef 27 Dec, 2008

    I love Borax too. Try this for a healthy cleaning tip. A half a sink full of warm water, 1/4 cup of Borax, 10 drop of lavender oil, and a couple drops of your favorite organic liquid soap. This works great on my faux wooden blinds. I have them in my kitchen so they collect a good bit of grease and dust. This mixture made them look brand new, and bright white like I just bought them!

  • TigerLily16 12 Dec, 2008

    I love to use cleaning products by Googone. They have a whole line of cleanin products that cover nearly anything you can think of. Plus, they have one of the most amazing stain removers that I have ever used. Removes stains safely and effectively from nearly any type of fabric and material. You can even get free shipping on their products if you order online from

  • KimmyT 9 Sep, 2008

    Just remember...even natural products can be dangerous. Borax is naturally occurring, but ingesting it, inhaling it, and prolonged skin contact can cause health problems.

  • mainergirl 3 Aug, 2008

    I am a huge fan of Dr. Bronner's castille soap. I really love the peppermint, but love the others, too. It's biodegradable and cuts through dirt really well. I have a bottle with a pump in the washing area - I put about 70% Dr. Bronner's/30% water. One squirt is all I need for most things - a little goes a long way. It's good for in the bath, washing machine, dishes, general house cleaning, etc. This is what we bring camping, too.

  • Jenny5775 6 Jul, 2008

    I have used Shaklee products for years now. They are 100% natural and bio degrable products. I love them. They clean great and smell fabulous. Check them out at Even Oprah loves them.

  • Twigger 18 Jun, 2008

    No need to buy the expensive rinse agent for your dishwasher. Just add distilled white vinegar. Won't leave any residue on dishes or glasses. Everything will come out sparkling!

  • TULIPAN 19 May, 2008

    Excellent article that besides of making us save money, it make us be healthier. I recommend you to use lemon halves and coarse salt to clean the wood cutting boards.