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Non-toxic household cleaners: limiting your exposure to chemicals
Growing up, it was common to walk into the bathroom or kitchen and smell bleach. It was such a common household product that I was shown how to “safely” use it when I was in sixth grade to clean the bathroom.
Thankfully, when we know better, we do better and that will not be the case when it comes to teaching my children how to clean, they will know how to properly use non-toxic household cleaners. The risks of using conventional cleaners like bleach far outweigh the benefits so my children will be using a different approach when it comes to cleaning.
A little about conventional cleaning products:
There are many conventional cleaning products on the market and most contain several ingredients with nasty effects. These side effects often range from “minor” lung and skin irritation all the way up to causing cancer. Not exactly what you want to hear about the products most of our kids are exposed to on a daily basis.
Bleach is one of the most common cleaning products and can be found in most cleaners.
It’s advertised as the best way to kill germs and whiten clothes but what all of those cute commercials with flowers floating in the air leave out is how potent and toxic it can be.
Bleach is considered a chlorine-based corrosive substance and is especially harmful to infants, young children and pets due to their immune systems which aren’t as strong as an adults. Serious side effects of bleach residue (what is left behind after rinsing) can include respiratory problems, skin burns, damage to the nervous system, asthma flares, extreme headaches, migraines, and vomiting. Regular use has even been connected with a fatal lung-disease called COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
And it isn’t just toxic to people- it’s also toxic to animals and the environment.
I think most of us can agree we would rather our children not be exposed to such a potent cleaner.
The Best Way to Clean
Now you may be thinking “If bleach is in most cleaning products, and I should avoid it- what can I use?”
Thankfully, there are easy do-it-yourself (DIY) cleaners that have been shown to be just as effective as bleach and other conventional cleaning products as long as they are prepared the day you use them.
Since I’ve made it a priority to live a non-toxic lifestyle, I have been able to clean my house top to bottom using only 6 non-toxic ingredients but, here’s the kicker, I don’t worry about my home being completely sterile and free of germs anyway. Even with young children.
Bring On the Germs!
We live on a farm with pigs, ducks, donkeys, and rabbits so I know my children are exposed to plenty of germs. They play in the rain, splash in the mud, and chase the ducks around then they come in and we clean them up.
Why don’t I worry about bacteria and other germs?
Because when children have healthy immune systems and a good diet, bacteria and other germs have actually been shown to increase a child’s immune system and decrease their risk of allergies and asthma. Studies have even shown that children exposed to bacteria tend to be smarter.
6 Non-toxic household cleaners to replace to harmful chemicals
The 6 ingredients you can use to clean your home top to bottom are baking soda, Borax, castile soap, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and tea tree essential oil.
Baking soda is naturally present in all things it helps maintain the pH balance necessary for life.
It is a mild, natural abrasive great for cleaning dirt and grease allowing both to easily dissolve in water for effective removal. Baking soda is often used to whiten clothes and teeth and is great for scouring
Dr. Bonner’s liquid Castile soap is highly concentrated, effective, and good for the environment. “Authentic Castile soap is made of plant oils, based on recipes invented long ago. Oils are mixed with an alkali—sodium hydroxide for solid soap and potassium hydroxide for liquid.”
My biggest tip with Castile soap is to dilute correctly- check out this list of 18 uses with their correct dilutions on Lisa Bonner’s page.
Hydrogen peroxide is an antimicrobial that works by oxidizing the cellular component of cells. Oxidizing disrupts important cellular structures of bacteria- without those structures bacteria cannot thrive. This article even shows that there are advantages to spraying soft surfaces like sofas in hospitals with hydrogen peroxide including “the ability to thoroughly apply disinfectant on objects with irregular surfaces that might be difficult to reach with a cloth.”
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Essential oils weaken the cell walls of germs. With no cell walls, germs basically melt apart making essential oils very effective non-toxic household cleaners.
Tea tree essential oil is my favorite but there are plenty of other essential oils that are just as effective as cleaners. Also, I did say there were only five ingredients- not 10 or more. Other essential oils you could use are basil, bergamot, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, orange, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, and thyme or any combination of those listed. Here’s a list of the best anti-viral essential oils!
If you are new to non-toxic living then yay and welcome! If you are not new then you may have seen some controversy over the safety of Borax. Borax is made of Boron which is an essential mineral the body actually needs to function correctly but, just like with most things, in excess it can be harmful.
Some people go as far as ingesting Borax which I will not do, but I am very comfortable using it as a cleaner.
Due to it’s pH balance and the acetic acid content, vinegar makes a great cleaner. However, as much as I love cleaning with vinegar, it is important to know it should not be directly mixed with hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, or Castile soap. You should also never mix with bleach as it can create extremely toxic fumes (hopefully you won’t use bleach anymore after reading this article anyway).
When vinegar is mixed with hydrogen peroxide it forms peracetic acid which is corrosive and extremely irritating to the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin. You can use both ingredients when cleaning but to avoid mixing you should spray the vinegar solution first and let it sit for at least a minute and wipe it off. Then spray with hydrogen peroxide and let it sit for at least a minute and wipe it off.
It’s important to note that while vinegar and baking soda are both great non-toxic household cleaners on their own, together they are not. When vinegar and baking soda are mixed, the result is merely salt water. A great science experiment for the kids – but not such a great cleaner.
When vinegar and Castile Soap are mixed together, the vinegar will actually separate the soap and the two cleaners will cancel each other out. For more information, you can read Lisa Bonner’s article on it here.
Take the Leap
Making the switch to non-toxic cleaners can seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be.
This is a guest post from Deja Cronley; a Registered Nurse turned Blogger. She fell in love with natural living four years ago and has dedicated herself to educating others about organics + using non-toxic household cleaners. She loves Crossfit, the beach, and playing with her kids. Read more about organic, non-toxic living at DejaVuOrganics.com.