HOUSEHOLD CLEANING PRODUCTS

by Sharon McDaniel

Levels of pollutants in indoor air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, can be from 2 to more than 100 times higher than outdoors due, in large part to irritating volatile organic chemicals, or VOCs, that evaporate from home cleaning products.

However, when looking for alternatives there are a multitude of “green” products and one must be alert to the fact that just because a product says it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s nontoxic. It is advisable to look on labels for specific, gentler ingredients that also perform effectively. These include grain alcohol as a solvent, detergents based on coconut or other plant oils, and plant oil disinfectants such as eucalyptus, rosemary or sage. Fabric can be softened by adding 1/4 cup of baking soda to wash cycle. A quarter cup of white vinegar will also soften, with the added bonus of eliminating static cling. To remove stains, try soaking fabrics in water mixed with borax, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar.

For cleaning windows, fill your own spray bottle with water and either 1/4 cup white vinegar or one tablespoon lemon juice to cut grease. Safer commercial glass cleaners are made by Aubrey Organics, BioShield, Earth Friendly, Naturally Yours and Seventh Generation.

Less toxic products include Ecover and Seventh Generation laundry and dish soaps, Aubrey Organics and Vermont Soapworks all purpose household cleaners and Bioshield and Naturally Yours dishwasher detergent.

For drains, a plunger or snake plumbing tool should first be used to bring up as much of the clog as possible to give a cleaning product room to work, or hopefully eliminate the need for one altogether. Earth Friendly and Naturally Yours drain cleaners use enzymes, rather than caustic chemicals, to dissolve obstructions.

Coat oven surfaces in a paste of water and baking soda and let stand overnight, then scrub off. Among commercial products, try EnviroSafety’s plant-based Multi Purpose Cleaner. For toilets try AFM SafeChoice Safety Clean or Ecover Toilet Cleaner.

Polish furniture with a mixture of one teaspoon olive oil and a cup white vinegar, or look for solvent free products that use mineral or plant oils, such as Earth Friendly or Hope’s Lemon Oil.

For air fresheners opening the windows and ventilating is, of course, the most desirable, but when this is not possible try filling a pretty bowl with baking soda to remove odors. Cedar blocks or sachets of dried flowers/herbs, provide gentle scents, but avoid any potpourri that lists unspecified “fragrance” on the label as this could mean synthetic chemicals, including phthalates. Look for products scented with essential plant oils, such as lemon, verbena or lavender.

Most of these products can be found in supermarkets, natural foods, hardware and home improvement stores. Some products, such as Naturally Yours 888-801-7347, are available only through phone order.

For quick reference, here is a shopping guide:

http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc/102/cleaningssc

And some links:

http://www.afmsafecoat.com/

http://www.ecos.com/

http://www.ecover.com/Default.aspx?nc=y

http://www.hopecompany.com/index.html

http://www.seventhgeneration.com/

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by Melissa Thomas

Green Laundry Detergents – Non Toxic:

ECOVER is the best “green” laundry detergent to use. Their product originated in Europe and is organic, non-toxic and biodegradable. Their packaging is also recyclable.

Related Links:

http://www.ecover.com/us/en/About/

http://www.ecover.com/us/en/Products

http://www.ecover.com/us/en/News/Details.htm?ID=161

http://www.ecover.com/us/en/About/biodegradation.htm

http://www.ecover.com/us/en/News/Details.htm?ID=158

http://www.greenwaymaid.com/natural-house-cleaning-products.php

http://www.greenwaymaid.com/natural-green-cleaning.php

http://www.sciencebase.com/science-blog/green-laundrydetergents.html

http://www.seventhgeneration.com/our_products/laundry.php

http://www.ecover.com/us/en/Products/Laundry/Delicate+Wash.htm

http://www.ecover.com/us/en/News/

http://www.eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm

http://www.seasidenaturals.com/

Important Shopping Suggestions for other Household Cleaners

ALL-PURPOSE CLEANERS:

Some all-purpose cleaners contain the sudsing agents diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA), which can react with nitrites (an often undisclosed preservative or contaminant) to form nitrosamines – carcinogens that readily penetrate the skin. Skin also easily absorbs nerve-damaging butyl cellosolve (also known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether), present in some cleaners. Fumes from ammonia-containing cleaners may cause respiratory irritation. Sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite (bleach) are highly caustic, and sodium hypochlorite should never be mixed with any product containing ammonia or acids, or toxic gases will result. To prevent chemical accidents, it’s best to simply avoid.

Most household cleaning needs can be met safely and inexpensively with a sturdy scrubber sponge and simple ingredients like water, liquid castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s), vinegar, lemon juice, or baking soda for scrubbing grease and grime. Listed below are a number of all-purpose cleaners that are gentler on human health and the environment. While eco-friendlier cleaners are becoming more widely available in conventional grocery and home stores, most can be found only at natural foods stores or must be ordered by mail.

AFM SafeChoice Super Clean, www.afmsafecoat.com 1-800-239-0321

Aubrey Organics Earth Aware, www.aubreyorganics.com

BioShield Vinegar Cleaner, www.bioshieldpaint.com

Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile (Liquid) Soaps, www.drbronner.com

Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, www.drbronner.com

Ecover All-Purpose Cleaner, www.ecover.com

Ecover Multi-Surface Cleaner, www.ecover.com

1st EnviroSafety Cleaner/Degreaser, www.1stenvirosafety.com

Naturally Yours Gentle Soap – Our House Works Sanitizing Surface Cleaner www.ourhouseworks.com

Seventh Generation All Purpose Cleaner www.seventhgeneration.com

Shaklee Basic H, www.shaklee.com

Vermont Soapworks Liquid Sunshine www.vermontsoap.com

BATHROOM and TOILET BOWL CLEANERS:

Corrosive ingredients in toilet bowl cleaners are severe eye, skin and respiratory irritants. Some toilet bowl cleaners contain sulfates, which may trigger asthma attacks in those with asthma. And bathroom cleaners containing sodium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite (bleach), or phosphoric acid can irritate lungs and burn eyes, skin and, if ingested, internal organs. Mixing acid-containing toilet bowl cleaners with cleaners that contain chlorine will form lung-damaging chlorine gas. Your safest best is to avoid both ingredients.

Soap and water, or baking soda for scrubbing soap scum and toilet bowls, work for most bathroom cleaning needs. Scrubbing shower tiles with a toothbrush of baking soda-water paste will help remove mildew and its stains. For tougher toilet jobs, pour one cup of borax and 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar or lemon juice into the bowl. Let sit for a few hours, then scrub with a toilet brush and flush. Or look for these safer, plant-based bathroom, shower and toilet cleaners at natural foods stores. Some are only available by mail order.

AFM SafeChoice Safety Clean, www.afmsafecoat.com

BioShield Toilet Bowl Cleaner, www.bioshieldpaint.com

Bon Ami Cleaning Powder, www.bonami.com

Earth Friendly Shower Kleener, www.ecos.com

Earth Friendly Toilet Bowl Cleaner, www.ecos.com

Ecover Toilet Cleaner, www.ecover.com

Naturally Yours Basin, Tub and Tile Cleaner

Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner www.seventhgeneration.com

Seventh Generation Bathroom Cleaner www.seventhgeneration.com

Seventh Generation Shower Cleaner www.seventhgeneration.com

ENZYME CLEANERS:

Enzymes are naturally occurring proteins produced by all living organisms to speed up chemical reactions. Enzyme cleaners make use of these naturally occurring enzymes to break down the proteins in specific targets: Protease enzymes work on protein stains, lipolases fat or lipid stains, and amylases starch- or other carbohydrate-based stains. Allergy sufferers should avoid using enzyme cleaners on carpets, as the enzymes remain in the carpet fibers after cleaning and subsequent vacuuming can lead to prolonged exposure. Some enzyme cleaners still contain the same harsh surfactants, chemicals and preservatives found in standard cleaners, so be sure to read the label carefully.

Bi-OKleen’s Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator $8.39/32-oz. bottle www.drugstore.com

GLASS CLEANERS:

Some window cleaners contain nerve-damaging butyl cellosolve. Many contain ammonia, which may irritate airways and will release toxic chloramine gases if accidentally mixed with chlorine-containing cleaners.

Plain water is just as effective as some commercial glass cleaners. Or fill your own spray bottle with water and either 1one-quarter cup white vinegar or 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to help wipe away greasy fingerprints and other harder-to-remove spots. The safer glass cleaners below may be found at natural foods stores or ordered by mail.

Aubrey Organics Liquid Sparkle www.aubreyorganics.com (800) 282-7394

BioShield Glass Cleaner www.bioshieldpaint.com (800) 621-2591

Earth Friendly Window Kleener www.ecos.com (800) 335-ECOS

Naturally Yours Glass & Window Cleaner (888) 801-7347

Our House Works Shiny Surface Cleaner www.ourhouseworks.com (877) 236-8750

Seventh Generation Glass & Surface Cleaner www.seventhgeneration.com

DRAIN CLEANERS:

Chemical drain cleaners are among the most dangerous of all cleaning products. Most contain corrosive ingredients such as sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite (bleach) that can permanently burn eyes and skin. Some can be fatal if ingested.

Prevent drains from becoming blocked in the first place by capturing hair and other drain-clogging particles with inexpensive metal or plastic drain screens, available at home improvement and hardware stores. Regularly collect and dispose of hair that collects around shower or sink drains, and do not allow large food scraps to wash down the kitchen sink.

When clogs occur, use a “snake” plumbing tool to manually remove blockage, or try suction removal with a plunger. If you purchase a chemical drain cleaner, choose one of the two below that use enzymes, rather than caustic chemicals, to eat away gunk. Earth Friendly is available in natural foods stores; Naturally Yours must be ordered by mail. Like chemical cleaners, these are most effective on drains that are only partly clogged.

Earth Friendly Earth Enzymes Drain Opener www.ecos.com (800) 335-ECOS

Naturally Yours Enz-Away (888) 801-7347

OVEN CLEANERS:

Lye and sodium hydroxide, which are corrosive and can burn skin and eyes, are ingredients in many oven cleaners. Aerosol spray oven cleaners are easily inhaled into lung tissue.

Prevent spills from being baked onto the oven floor by lining it with aluminum foil, and by cleaning them up before they have had time to dry and cook. To remove grease and charred food residues without resorting to caustic chemicals, try soaking oven surfaces overnight in a mixture of water, baking soda, and soap, then scrubbing off with baking soda and a soapy sponge. Or a paste of washing soda and water may do the trick, but be sure to wear gloves when working with washing soda.

If you choose to buy a commercial cleaner, try any of the scouring powders and creams below.

SCOURING POWDERS and CREAMS:

Some scouring powders contain silica, which is harmful when inhaled, as the abrasive scrubbing agent. And some are made with chlorine bleach, which may irritate skin and airways and will form hazardous gases if mixed with ammonia or acidic cleaners.

Baking soda effectively scours away most grime on tubs, showers, toilets, and countertops. For cleaning up grease, cleaning expert Annie Berthold-Bond recommends applying a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of washing soda, 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap, and 2 cups of hot water with a spray bottle. Wear gloves when working with washing soda, though. Or try the brands below. Bon Ami can be found in grocery stores; look for the others at natural foods stores.

Bon Ami Cleaning Cake www.bonami.com

Bon Ami Cleaning Powder www.bonami.com

Earth Friendly Cream Cleanser www.ecos.com

Ecover Cream Cleaner www.ecover.com

Seventh Generation Cream Cleaner www.seventhgeneration.com

FURNITURE POLISHES:

Skin contact with furniture polishes can cause irritation, and many brands contain nerve-damaging petroleum distillates, which are flammable and dangerous if swallowed. Some formulations may contain formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen. Aerosol spray furniture polishes are easily inhaled into lung tissue.

For dusting and polishing, combine a mix of 1/2 cup white vinegar and 1 teaspoon olive oil (or less, if this ratio leaves your wood furniture too oily). Or look for solvent-free products that use plant oils as the active polish. Look for Earth Friendly at natural foods stores, or order by mail.

Earth Friendly Furniture Polish, www.ecos.com (800) 335-ECOS

METAL POLISHES:

Metal polishes may contain nerve-damaging petroleum distillates or lung-irritating ammonia, potentially irritating eyes, skin or airways during use.

Instead, try scrubbing silver with toothpaste to remove tarnish. For copper, dissolve salt in white vinegar or lemon juice and rub on with a cloth; rinse with water. Un-lacquered brass may be scrubbed clean with a paste of 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup white vinegar, and 1 cup flour. Or try these less-toxic brands below, which may be found at hardware, home improvement or grocery stores.

Our House Works Minerals and Metals Cleaner www.ourhouseworks.com (877) 236-8750

Twinkle Copper Polish www.twinklepolish.com

Twinkle Silver Polish www.twinklepolish.com

One old-fashioned method of polishing silver involves placing tarnished items in warm water with aluminum foil, salt, and baking soda. However, in Buy Smart, Buy Safe, Philip Dickey of the Washington Toxics Coalition warns that this mixture gives off hydrogen sulfide gas, low levels of which can cause eye and throat irritation, coughing and shortness of breath.

DISH SOAPS:

Most mainstream dishwashing detergents are petroleum-based, contributing to the depletion of this non-renewable resource and to our nation’s dependence on imported oil. Look for plant-based detergents instead. Opt for colorless liquids: Dyes can be contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic and lead, and may penetrate the skin during washing and leave impurities on dishes.

Powdered detergents for automatic dishwashers can contain phosphates, which overnutrify rivers and streams, causing excessive algae growth that deprives fish of oxygen. Those made with chlorine can release steamy chlorinated chemicals into the air when the dishwasher is opened at the end of the wash cycle.

These eco-friendlier brands below can be found at natural foods stores or ordered by mail.

Bio Pac Dishwashing Powder http://www.bio-pac.com (800) 225-2855

BioShield Dishwasher Concentrate www.bioshieldpaint.com (800) 621-2591

Cal Ben Seafoam Destain www.calbenpuresoap.com (800) 340-7091

Cal Ben Seafoam Dish Glow www.calbenpuresoap.com

Earth Friendly Dishmate www.ecos.com

Ecover Dish Liquid www.ecover.com

Ecover Washing-Up Liquids www.ecover.com

Ecover Dishwasher Tablets www.ecover.com

Naturally Yours Gentle Soap (888) 801-7347

Naturally Yours Dishwashing Detergent (888) 801-7347

Our House Works Dishwasher Complete www.ourhouseworks.com

Seventh Generation Dish Liquids www.seventhgeneration.com

Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Powder www.seventhgeneration.com

Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel www.seventhgeneration.com

Shaklee Basic-D Automatic Dishwashing Concentrate www.shaklee.com

DISINFECTANTS and ANTIBACTERIALS:

Disinfectants are EPA-regulated pesticides that kill bacteria. Although they temporarily kill germs on surfaces, they cannot kill germs in the air, and they do not provide long-lasting disinfection. Some disinfectant cleaners were found to contain alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) in tests conducted in 1997 by the Washington Toxics Coalition. APEs are suspected hormone disruptors that don’t readily biodegrade, threatening fish and wildlife when they go down your drain. And triclosan, the active ingredient in most antibacterial soaps, was detected in 57.6% of stream water samples from across the U.S., according to a May 2002 study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

It’s sensible to try to eradicate some food-poisoning bacteria, such as Salmonella and E.coli, but society’s sometimes excessive fear of germs is leading to serious global consequences. Coupled with overuse and misuse of antibiotics in medicine and in livestock, rampant use of antibacterial soaps and other germ-killing products is contributing to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to a 2000 World Health Organization report. As a result, physicians are losing one of their most important tools in fighting infectious diseases, as bacteria that cause illnesses such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, ear infections, meningitis, and Staph infections grow increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment. (See “Who’s to Blame When Antibiotics Don’t Work?” from The Green Guide #71)

Unless you have a compromised immune system or illness that may make you especially vulnerable to infection from microbes and bacteria, you probably don’t need a disinfectant for most household needs. Household surfaces can be adequately cleaned using hot, soapy water and a little elbow grease. To avoid food-borne illness: Wash all foods thoroughly before preparation, and be sure to soak leafy greens, rinsing at least three times. Cook meat and eggs thoroughly (no rare beef or over-easy scrambles). Eat only fresh fish, and thaw frozen meats in the refrigerator. Wash all cutting boards, dishes, knives and other surfaces that touch raw meat or eggs in hot, soapy water before using on other foods that will not be cooked. Refrigerate foods within two hours of cooking.

Earth Power’s Power Herbal Disinfectant is hospital-grade and EPAregistered and contains only herbal extracts, deionized water, and denatured alcohol. However, it does not kill all food-borne pathogens.

Power Herbal Disinfectant, www.earthpower.com

AIR FRESHENERS:

Because they can trigger allergies and potentially cause other health problems, we recommend against the use of synthetically fragranced air fresheners, particularly from aerosol spray bottles. Aerosol sprays produce tiny droplets that are easily inhaled and absorbed into the body, and their propellants, usually butane and propane, are flammable.

Fragrances can provoke asthmatic or allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. But aerosol air fresheners may also be linked to other, less obvious health effects. In a September 1999 study in New Scientist, researchers at Bristol University recommended caution in using aerosols and air fresheners, after finding that they might be making pregnant women and children sick. In their survey of 14,000 pregnant women, they found that in homes where aerosols and air fresheners were used frequently, mothers suffered from 25% more headaches and 19% more depression, and infants under six months had 30% more ear infections and 22% higher incidence of diarrhea. Another worry is that small children might be tempted to taste air fresheners that smell like fruit or candy. In 2000, 9,887 of the 11,935 reports of hazardous exposures to air fresheners received by U.S. Poison Control Centers involved children under six.

To clear out odors, improve ventilation by opening windows and using fans. Baking soda is good at removing odors, and spritzes of lemon or any citrus fruit freshen air. Wooden cedar blocks, pure essential oils, or sachets of natural dried flowers or herbs (such as aromatic roses, lavender, and lemon verbena) provide gentler fragrance. Read labels: Look out for potpourri that lists “fragrance” as an ingredient, and especially avoid deodorizer blocks that contain paradichlorobenzene, a carcinogen, as a moth repellent.

Aroma Naturals essential oil aromatic room mists www.aromanaturals.com

EcoDaySpa Natural Palm Wax candles www.ecodayspa.com (626) 969-3707

Greenridge Herbals’ aromatherapy soy candles www.greenridgeherbals.com (866) 250-HERB

Lavender Green www.lavendergreen.com

Molly’s Herbals www.fiascofarm.com/herbs

The Scented Room – Provence Potpourri www.scentedroom.com

Vermont Soy Candles www.vermontsoycandles.com

SWIFFER CLOTHS:

Swiffer dry cloths are made of polyester and polypropylene and work well to pick up dust and grime from most household surfaces. Swiffer wet cloths, however are treated with propylene glycol n-propyl ether and may irritate skin and aggravate known skin conditions.

Swiffer Dusters www.swiffer.com

Other Green Products:

http://www.howardnaturals.com/products.asp

Other Sources:

http://www.vitaminglobal.com/ecover-belgium-m-67.html

Links to find ways to shop for other products:

www.thegreenguide.com/reports/product.mhtml?id=15

Links on Health:

http://www.nowfoods.com/index.php/natural-foods-minerals-vitaminssupplements-anti-oxidants/Home/cat_id/1494

http://www.nowfoods.com/index.php?action=itemdetail&item_id=100939&F=1

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Take the Ecological Earthprint Quiz:
http://www.earthday.net/footprint/index.asp

Inspired?

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