Consider the many household cleaning products you use and become exposed to every day, including products to clean windows, countertops, toilets, furniture, and more. These products often contain more toxic chemicals than you might imagine. Over 80,000 chemicals have been registered in America, and every year about 2,000 new ones appear in numerous products you use every day, including cleaning products.
Toxic Ingredients in Your Household Cleaning Products
“Environmental toxins abound,” says Mark Hyman, MD, in The Blood Sugar Solution. “These contribute to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. We have to worry about not only what we eat but also the burden of plastics, metals, and pollutants that have been shown to poison and slow our metabolism and lead to weight gain.”
Their many potentially problematic ingredients include fragrances as well as ingredients like the carcinogens formaldehyde and chloroform, which research shows can contribute to problems including cancer. Others, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were banned by most countries several decades ago, yet their lingering effects continue to accumulate in our environment and our bodies.
Oftentimes, manufacturers spend time and money to conceal dangerous ingredients as safe or innocuous. That proves especially true with household cleaners, many of which contain ingredients that have not been thoroughly tested.
“Government agencies and independent research institutions have not adequately evaluated the safety of numerous substances found in cleaning products,” says the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
How Toxins Impact Your Health
These toxins impact your body acutely and cumulatively. If you spill oven cleaner onto your skin, the acute burn can feel like misery and potentially warrant an emergency room visit, but it isn’t usually life-threatening. More damaging is the “silent” buildup of toxins that accumulate over time in your body, which wreak havoc in ways you may not realize.
“You may not notice the exposure, but over time, you can measure the synthetic chemicals in your blood, urine, and hair to determine what has entered your body from the environment,” says Sara Gottfried, MD, in Younger. “Sometimes the original toxin is the worst part. Other times, it’s the toxin’s metabolites, substances produced when your liver chemically alters the original toxic compound into even worse chemicals.”
Gottfried says these bathroom, laundry room, and kitchen chemicals “bind to your hormone receptors, bio-accumulate, and cause an assortment of health symptoms.” Among those problems, says the EWG, include cancer, allergies, reproductive abilities, accidents like burns and poisoning, and asthma.
“It is surprisingly easy to minimize the effect of these toxins in our day-to-day life by doing a little research and switching some of your old, toxic products for new, healthier versions,” says Gottfried.
Going Green: How to Minimize Toxins in Household Cleaners
Among its benefits, Justine Harrington notes in an article about green cleaning products that switching can influence your children. Green cleaning products promote better health and are also a starting point for discussing environmentalism and the impact everyday products create.
One great source is the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, which lets you research over 2,500 products to find your greenest choices, decode technical ingredients, manufacturer updates, and more. Looking for green, organic, or environmental friendlier cleaning products is great, but take that one step further: employ a do-it-yourself mentality and make your own household cleaners.
You’ll save money and make a more positive environmental impact. You’ll also improve your health since these products contain fewer toxic chemicals.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about green living is that it’s wildly expensive, time-consuming, or difficult to achieve,” writes Harrington. “This simply isn’t the case — rather, using renewable resources can actually be more cost-effective than not!”
Ways to Replace Toxic Household Cleaners
Everything from the air you breathe to the food you eat to the products you clean your house with can create a toxic overload. But you have more control than you might realize to minimize your toxic load, and optimizing cleaning products is a great place to start. If you’re ready to “green up” your household cleaning products, we have some amazing low-toxic alternatives that are simple, affordable, and will leave your house sparkling.
Natural Alternatives to Bathroom Cleaners
- Tiles: Steam the bathroom to loosen the dirt. Mix baking soda and lemon juice to form a paste. Rub the paste into the grout using an old toothbrush or your fingers. Leave for a few minutes or longer if they are very dirty, then wipe off with a damp cloth.
- The toilet: Wipe the outside of the toilet first using a solution of warm water and dishwasher soap. Then clean the lid — don’t forget the inside of the lid. Clean the rim using the same solution. To clean the bowl, use a good quality natural cleaning solution. If the bowl is very stained, take ¼ cup of borax and ⅓ cup of white vinegar. A Journal of Environmental Health study found that vinegar has similar antimicrobial effects as an over-the-counter chemical disinfectant. Pour the mixture of borax and vinegar into the toilet bowl and leave overnight. In the morning, brush and flush.
- The bath and basin: Clean with bicarbonate of soda and a damp cloth. This will also remove odors so there’s no chemical smell. To make your taps sparkle, clean them with white vinegar, but be sure to rinse them thoroughly with warm water or the vinegar may eat the plating.
- Showers: Clean the tiles as previously instructed. To clean the grimy film off the door, use white vinegar, rinse, and shine dry.
Natural Alternatives to Kitchen Cleaners
- Cleaning your oven: Use four teaspoons baking soda and one teaspoon borax. Mix to a paste with a little water. Rub onto the oven, then wipe off with a damp cloth.
- Microwaves: Place a lemon cut into two inside the microwave. Microwave on high for two minutes. Remove the lemon and wipe away the grease and grime.
- Drains: Put one tablespoon baking soda and one cup of white vinegar down the drain. Pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain. It will bubble and foam and sometimes spit back some dirt and slime. If it is very badly blocked, repeat this a few times.
- Dishes: Place two teaspoons of white vinegar into your rinse water to sterilize and give sparkle to your dishes.
- Cutting board: To remove odors from a wooden chopping board, rub with dry mustard powder, then brush off.
Natural Alternatives to Stain Removal
- Red wine: Cover the spill immediately with salt (plain salt will do) or baking soda. Wash as normal. If the spill is on a carpet, vacuum when the salt is dry.
- Salad dressing: Apply corn flour or cornstarch to absorb the grease. If an orange spot remains, blot (don’t rub) with white vinegar until the stain disappears. Wash as usual.
- Chocolate: Soak for 30 minutes in cold water then wash as usual.
- Curry: Squeeze lemon juice over the stain. Wash as normal.
- Mud: Allow to dry. Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over the patch then vacuum.
- Candle wax: To remove candle wax, place a piece of brown paper over the spilled wax then iron until the paper has absorbed all the wax.
- Air freshener: Use two cups cold water, one teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (to neutralize the acid smells), one tablespoon lemon juice (to neutralize the alkaline smells), and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Place all in a spray bottle and spray!
Natural Alternatives for General Cleaning
Windows: Take a bucket of warm water. Add one part white vinegar to four parts water. Clean windows with a sponge. Buff with newspaper. Alternately,mix water and corn flour to a milky consistency. Use a cloth to clean and shine. You can also mix a quarter cup of white vinegar into a bucket of warm water. Wash windows with a soft cloth. Buff to a shine.
General cleaner: Mix one cup white vinegar and cup water in a spray bottle. Spray and wipe. The odor will evaporate when it is dry. To remove stubborn marks, warm the mixture first. White vinegar can kill up to 92 percent of bacteria.
Making these simple changes in the way you clean will dramatically minimize your daily toxin exposure. Ultimately, you have a say in purchasing household cleaners.
These and other homemade alternatives to potentially toxic household cleaning products can minimize your toxic load while saving you money and potentially your health.
Manufacturers spend big money to make cleaning products look “green,” organic, environmentally friendly, or otherwise safe when they actually contain potentially harmful chemical ingredients. Just like with food, don’t go by what the front label says; flip the product around and read its ingredients.