Use non-toxic cleaners

Use non-toxic cleaners
Common cleaning products, disinfectants and air fresheners are creating a toxic environment at home. Try natural alternatives and live longer.

Toxic chemicals in the home impact our health, causing ailments that range from respiratory ailments to cancer. A US EPA study on indoor air quality found that the use of common cleaning products result in levels of several Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that are on average two to five times higher indoors than outdoors. During (and for several hours immediately after) certain activities such as paint stripping, levels may be at 1,000 times the background outdoor levels. Natural non-polluting alternatives are available to replace many common cleaners and some products such as paints, paint strippers, and other solvent-based products. Solvents should be used with extreme caution and with adequate time and ventilation for the toxic chemicals to leave the indoor space before you go back into it.

How to do it now!

Replace toxic cleaning products with non-toxic (or low-toxic) alternatives. Stock up on a few safe, simple ingredients that can be used in most cleaning situations. Soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, borax, and a coarse scrubbing sponge can take care of most household cleaning needs. Of course, you can buy ready-made chemical and toxin free cleaning products, but be sure you know what you are looking for and that the manufacturing company is ethical and trustworthy.

For general household cleaning, the following suggestions will save you money, reduce toxic chemicals in your home and prevent their flow-on effect in the broader environment.

In the kitchen

Replace the petroleum-based surfactants, phosphates and other toxic chemicals found in basic detergent with an old-style soap (made from coconut or olive oil) and add the essential oils that delight your nostrils.

Home-made dishwashing blend

  • 1 litre liquid Castile soap
  • 24 drops lemon essential oil
  • 10 drops mandarin essential oil
  • 8 drops citrus seed extract

Mix in a plastic squirt bottle and shake before each use. Change the blend of essential oils (and seed extracts) to suit.

When washing greasy dishes add half a cup of vinegar or lemon juice to the wash.

Simple sink cleaner

  • 1/4 cup bicarbonate soda
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 3 drops lavender, rosemary, or any citrus essential oil

Mix all ingredients. Rinse sink with hot water, wash with sink cleaner, rinse again with hot water. Probably using half this mixture would be adequate.

Herbal degreaser

Useful for greasy stove tops, floor patches or BBQs. Use the dishwashing blend and add hot water plus a few drops of rosemary, lavender, or citrus essential oil.

Greasy, dirty floor cleaner

  • 3-4 litres hot water
  • 2 tablespoons of pure soap flakes
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 20 drops of eucalyptus, tea tree or peppermint essential oil

Combine ingredients and mop the floor. Rinsing is not necessary.

Citrus floor cleaner

  • 3-4 litres hot water
  • 2 tablespoons pure liquid soap
  • 15 drops sweet orange essential oil
  • 8 drops lemon essential oil or 1/2 cup lemon juice

Combine in a bucket and mop! No rinsing is necessary.

Microwave cleaner

A simple cleaner that will deodorise as well as clean.

  • 1/4 cup bicarbonate soda
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • thyme or lemon essential oil

Mix into a paste and apply to all areas of microwave with a cloth or sponge. Wipe and rinse well, leave the door open to dry in the air. Wash the microwave's glass plate with the dishes.

This recipe is capable of cleaning an oven: you just need some hot water and soapy suds.

There is really no need to use bleach or disinfectant in the bathroom or toilet. After all, you do not eat off the surfaces! If you feel you must use bleach use one that is free from chlorine to reduce the risks.

In the bathroom

Mould and mildew prevention formula

  • 2 cups water
  • 8-10 drops of citrus seed extract
  • 2 teaspoons tea tree essential oil
  • 4 drops juniper essential oil

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Spray and leave on affected areas to rest for a few hours, then wipe off. Respray and leave without rinsing.

Whitening scouring powder - The combination of borax and citrus peel kills germs and removes stains.

  • 1 cup bicarbonate soda
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/8 cup borax
  • 1/4 cup grated lemon, orange or grapefruit peel (the amount of grated peel
    you add is optional; just use what's available). You could add some citrus or rosemary essential oil as an alternative.

Combine all ingredients in a plastic container, shake and sprinkle over the area to be scrubbed, then rinse.

In the laundry

Washing in cold water will prevent clothes shrinking as well as some colours from running. It is also best for delicate garments.

With store-bought washing powder the usual recommended capful is almost twice as much as you need for an average load. Excess detergent can build up in pipes and can actually trap dirt in clothes. Using less detergent is cheaper, easier on the environment and gentler on your clothes.

Add vinegar to a load as a fabric softener. Vinegar will also reduce soap residue and break up grease and oil, and is a natural bleach.

Basic laundry liquid for top-loaders (makes 30gms)

  • 2 tablespoons glycerin
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup bicarbonate soda
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 10 drops essential oil of choice

Combine all ingredients in a heavy plastic container, such as an old ice cream container, and mix well. Depending on the load size and dirtiness use a quarter of a cup to half a cup.

Hard-water washing powder for top-loaders - Normal washing powders cannot work as efficiently with hard water. In this formula vinegar and borax are used to soften the water.

  • 1 cup soap flakes
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1/2 cup borax
  • 2 cups vinegar
  • 10 drops essential oil of choice.

Combine the soap, washing soda and borax in a heavy plastic container and mix well. Combine the vinegar and essential oil in a separate container or bottle. Use half a cup of soap mixture for a load and add half a cup of vinegar mixture during the rinse cycle.

In general

Cockroaches. A mixture of equal parts borax and sugar placed in jar lids under the cupboards and the refrigerator can help with keeping cockroach numbers down. Keep well away from children and pets.

Cleaning silver. Boil two-three inches of water in a shallow pan with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate and a sheet of aluminium foil. Totally submerge silver and boil for 2-3 minutes more. Remove silver from the pan and wipe away tarnish with a clean cotton cloth. Repeat if necessary.

Wall cleaner.This formula will safely clean painted walls and wallpaper (provided it is washable wallpaper).

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 6 drops of your favourite citrus essential oil

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake before each use. Lightly spray where needed and wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Note: Although these ingredients are of an organic origin they can't all be used with complete impunity. Always be careful with some essential oils and with borax. Keep them away from your eyes and certainly keep them away from small children and pets.

Learn about the effect of household chemicals on your health. The following sites list common chemicals found in household products that can damage your health.

Additional Resources

  • Tri Nature - an Australian company, makes an excellent hospital-grade Sphagnum moss disinfectant that can be used to clean all surfaces; it's also a handy first-aid product. It's sold in a concentrated form; the user dilutes it. Tri Nature also sell a recyclable, durable spray bottle.

Why is this action important?

Having poisonous chemicals in the house creates a likelihood of you absorbing some of their toxins over time. This can lead to respiratory problems, sore eyes, irritated skin and even cancer. As these chemicals leach out into the environment they persist and accumulate in soils and waterways and can make their way into the food chain.

Many toxic household cleaning products don't list their ingredients on the container; they only give you a number to call if poisoning should occur and rarely warn of possible adverse health implications from use.

This topic is a large one, but here are some headline toxins found in common cleaning products and the ailments they can cause.

ActivityCommon toxic ingredients
Dishwashing liquid naphtha, chloro-ortho-phenylphenol, diethanolamine, petroleum-based surfactants (dishwashing liquids are a leading cause of poisonings in small children)
Automatic dishwashing detergent phosphates (trisodium phosphate, luminum phosphate, etc), chlorines
Furniture polish naphtha
Drain cleaner trichloroethylene
Disinfectants naphtha, formaldehyde
Toilet bowl cleaner naphtha
Mould & mildew cleaner formaldehyde
Air fresheners naphthalene, formaldehyde
Carpet & upholstery shampoo perfluoro-octane sulfonate, tetrachloroethylene
Some of the effects of these chemicals on your health
Chemical / toxinEffects
Naphtha, Naphthalene damages eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system, liver, kidneys
Diethanolamine damages eyes, skin, respiratory system
Chlorine damages eyes, skin, respiratory system
Sodium Hydroxide damages eyes, skin, respiratory system
Boric Oxide damages eyes, skin, respiratory system
Trichloroethylene damages eyes, skin, respiratory system, heart, liver, kidneys, central nervous system; can cause liver and kidney cancer
Benzene damages eyes, skin, respiratory system, blood, central nervous system, bone marrow; can cause leukaemia
Dichloroethylene damages eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system, liver, kidneys; can cause liver and kidney tumours<
Formaldehyde damages eyes, respiratory system; can cause nasal cancer
Perchlorethylene damages skin, liver
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) damages skin, eyes, liver, reproductive system; can cause cancer of the pituitary gland and liver, leukaemia
Ethyl acetate damages eyes, skin, respiratory system
Sourced from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) - Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.