Anyone who says they love cleaning their house is probably either lying or crazy, right? Unless you’re the type of person who enjoys getting on your hands and knees to scrub behind the toilet, cleaning is likely near the bottom of your to-do list. However, we all have to put in regular effort to maintain our homes. Using pleasantly fragranced household cleaners is one way many take the edge off of this task.
While giving our kitchen and bathrooms a pine or floral fragrance may seem appealing, there are health risks to using many scented cleaning products. Unlike the rigorous testing and quality control that occurs when food passes through an FDA inspection, toilet bowl cleaners, surface sprays, and more may not be as safe as they seem.
Can using these products, even sparingly, make a difference when it comes to our health? If using your usual cleaners isn’t an option, how can you keep your home germ-free? Keep reading to learn more about the dangers of common household cleaners, and gain some tips and tricks for substituting with all-natural products.
The Dirty Truth About Common Household Cleaners
If you’ve used one cleaning product, you’ve used them all—whether they boast a fresh scent or feature scrubbing bubbles so you don’t have to, they’re all relatively the same. While the word “chemical” sometimes comes up when talking about these products, we rarely think about what’s within the fancy packaging and visually appealing bottles.
One of the more concerning ingredients in household cleaners is an element of fragrances called phthalates. These compounds are in most artificial fragrances, and are also used to make plastic items, like shower curtains, soft and flexible. Unfortunately, many household cleaners don’t list phthalates on their packaging, but if something contains a fragrance, you can bet they’re in there.
Why do companies use phthalates if they’re harmful to our health? Despite the EPA and Department of Health and Human Services labeling them as carcinogenic, there isn’t enough of a clear link between phthalates and health issues to ban them outright. Some members of the European Union have done so, but the United States is apparently waiting for more definitive information.
Aside from these fragrances, most cleaning products contain at least one of the following ingredients, all of which are harmful to varying degrees:
- Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
- Sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach), which can cause severe damage to nearly any part of your body that it contacts. It’s also responsible for kidney and liver damage, and causes more poisoning exposure than any other household product.
- Ammonia, which can be fatal if swallowed. It also causes throat, lung, and skin irritation, and can also cause blindness.
- Hydrochloric acid, which can create dangerous fumes if concentrated and is fatal if ingested.
Change is Hard, Even with Legislation
The above ingredients are just a few of the dozens found in household cleaners. Despite the warnings about how dangerous these chemicals are, they’re still regularly included in products. If a food item were to reach the general public and found to be unsafe, the Food and Drug Administration would intervene. Such is not the case with household products.
In fact, the last major piece of legislation to address these concerns was the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016. This set of guidelines was a much-needed update to the original rules passed in 1976 through the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Unfortunately, neither of these documents does enough to address concerns about the chemicals in household products. The Toxic Substances Control Act requires manufacturers to keep detailed records of any chemicals they use, import, or export, but it doesn’t focus on the negative health effects that these items can cause.
Healthy Alternatives to Commercial Cleaning Products
Individuals committed to keeping their homes clean while leaving toxic chemicals on supermarket shelves may feel as if they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Thankfully, there are a variety of options to help you clean without exposing yourself to any health-damaging products. Here are the 7 best all-natural cleaning products we’ve found:
1. Brewed black tea
Thanks to tannic acid naturally found in black tea, you may never need a degreasing chemical again. Cleaning mirrors, stovetops, or anything else that’s particularly grimy is easy with a strong pot of black tea. After it cools, use a sponge or cloth to clean a variety of surfaces. Black tea will help make hardwood floors sparkle and keeps your windows streak-free.
2. Baking soda and water
Sometimes a mess around the home needs an abrasive cleaner to really do the job. Creating your own baking soda paste is an easy and chemical-free way to do so. Depending on the surface you’re cleaning, you may want to experiment with ratios, but typically three parts baking soda to one part water works just fine. Let this paste sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then scrub with a brush or simply rinse away.
3. Diluted vinegar
Many of us rely on a spray cleaner to handle cleansing our home, so if harsh chemicals aren’t an option, what can we use? Mix equal parts of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and shake until it’s completely combined. The degreasing properties of vinegar work great in the kitchen and can even tackle stubborn mold and mildew in the bathroom.
4. Citrus-based cleaners
For natural options, many people buy products labeled as using citrus ingredients. However, these items may still contain a range of chemicals. Instead, harness the cleaning power of citrus by making your own. Using dried orange or lemon peels, create a concentrate by soaking them in rubbing alcohol, then strain the liquid and let it sit for one week. Mix this with water or vinegar for extra cleaning power!
5. Cornstarch and vinegar
Carpets, upholstery, and clothing can be especially difficult to keep clean. Fighting a set-in stain often makes us feel that we have to resort to harsh chemicals. However, the natural absorbency of cornstarch makes this kitchen item great for drawing out oily or greasy stains. Sprinkle cornstarch on the affected area and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Use a brush to work it in a bit, then vacuum the area. Mixing equal parts cornstarch and vinegar also helps spot treat smaller spills.
6. A wet cloth or sponge
Nothing beats using water to clean messes, especially if they’re small or aren’t particularly sticky. Having some element of abrasiveness is key to making your cleaning job go smoothly, so opt for a textured sponge or washcloth. A small amount of liquid hand soap or dish soap also offers more antibacterial properties.
7. Dish soap
If you made a list of household cleaners in order of most toxic to least, dish soap would be near the bottom. Depending on the area of your home that you’re trying to clean, vinegar or water may not cut it, and the sudsy action of dish soap can go a long way. Use it to fight mineral build-up in the bathroom, grease in the kitchen, or mix with baking soda for an overnight deep cleaning of your oven.
When it comes to keeping our homes clean and fresh, you don’t need a wealth of products for each room or surface. Many of the items above are ideal for any mess you encounter, so try a few and see what works best.
Remember, our health and wellness include more than just what we eat for lunch or how often we exercise. The chemicals we expose our skin and lungs to can play a major role in medical issues down the line, or even immediately if accidentally ingested. Take some time to consider how frequently you want to use these products.
For some, throwing away every chemical they own makes sense, while others take a more gradual approach to eventually changing out their cleaning products. Choose the best option for you, but keep in mind that transitioning over to natural and effective home cleaning items is the best way to keep you and your family safe and healthy.
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