I had such a great time talking with attendees at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, this past weekend about how to make green cleaners. As always, I learned a new trick or two, and I promised everyone that I would recap our conversation here for easy access. Today let’s talk about natural germ killers and virus fighters—and quash for good the notion that only harsh and harmful chemicals can do this work.
Scientists fear that antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan actually may encourage drug-resistant stains by selecting bacteria resistant to them and cross-resistant to antibiotics. “After years of overuse and misuse…bacteria have developed antibiotic resistance, which has become a global health crisis,” Tufts University School of Medicine researcher Stuart B. Levy reports in “Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern.” “The relatively recent increase of surface antibacterial agents or biocides into healthy households may contribute to the resistance problem.”
Registered as a pesticide, triclosan has a chemical formulation and molecular structure similar to some of the most toxic chemicals on earth—including dioxins and PCBs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that it is a health and environmental risk. And you don’t need it.
Common rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide can be used to safely disinfect utensils and cutting boards—even those used for raw meat. A 1996 study found that hydrogen peroxide, when combined with an equal amount of vinegar, kills salmonella and e-coli. These liquids evaporate quickly so they don’t stick around to kill benign bacteria or promote resistance.
I use hydrogen peroxide to remove mold from the grout between the shower tiles (it’s miraculous!) and to clean my counters and tabletops. Just put some on a warm wet dishrag to wipe down surfaces or put it into a spray bottle. I also like to add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to my whites when I wash them, as a safe alternative to bleach—the most common poison for children under 6—which has been banned from my home for decades. Hydrogen peroxide is also a great spot cleaner for clothes that have been soiled with blood or other proteins. Rub it directly on the spot, let it sit for a minute, rub again and rinse with cold water.
Tea tree oil is a bit expensive, but it’s your big gun when it comes to fighting bacteria, funguses and some viruses. Clinical research has found that it is also effective against many antibiotic-resistant bacteria. To use it, I add 20 drops to 2 cups of water, 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap and 2 tablespoons white vinegar in a spray bottle. This is great to have on hand in the bathroom and kitchen, where germs tend to congregate.
And finally, consider grapefruit seed extract when you need some germ-fighting muscle. Generally considered a health supplement that’s taken internally, this broad-spectrum antibiotic substance made from seeds (and sometimes the peel and leaves) of grapefruits and grapefruit trees is more powerful as a cleaning disinfectant than standard hospital preparations. To make a disinfectant spray, add 30 to 40 drops of grapefruit seed extract to 1 quart of water and shake.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about making your cleaning experience divine by adding essential oils.