Mother Earth Living

Cheap Cleaning Tricks: Choose a Nontoxic Cleaner

Take control of the chemicals in your house by choosing a nontoxic cleaner, or making your own cleaning products.
By Allison Martin
February/March 2012
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Make your own green cleaning supplies with these natural, nontoxic ingredients.
Photo by Joe Lavine


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We all want to revel in a fresh, squeaky-clean home; we just don’t want to share the hearth with unsafe chemicals. Conventional household cleaners, while intended to help us improve our homes, can actually undermine our health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that cleansers, disinfectants and air fresheners, among other products, can contribute to indoor air pollution. They list negative health effects that range from eye and respiratory tract irritation to headaches, dizziness and even cancer.

Some Chemicals to Avoid

Many commercial chemicals are irritants, are derived from petroleum or are hormone disruptors. Ammonia and monoethanolamine (a chemical that helps break up grime), for example, are petroleum-based and irritate the respiratory tract. Phthalates, or synthetic fragrances, are hormone disruptors. Formaldehyde, used in some furniture polishes and aerosols, is a carcinogen, neurotoxin and central nervous system depressant.

Nasty stuff, right? Fortunately, you can avoid ill effects from harsh chemicals like these. If you have a little extra time, whip up your own natural cleaners from simple ingredients such as those listed in this article. If you are not inclined to mix your own natural cleaners, there are plenty of nontoxic products on the market.  

Nontoxic Cleaning Ingredients

WASHING SODA, or sodium carbonate, is traditionally used to boost the effectiveness of your laundry detergent. It is a strong base, which makes it good for powerful cleaning, but it means that while handling it, you must wear gloves. Washing soda is similar to baking soda, but is more alkaline, and caustic. It can neutralize stubborn stains, but doesn’t give off harmful fumes.

VINEGAR is a wonderful all-natural grease cutter. Remember to use distilled white vinegar instead of apple cider or other vinegars to avoid any possibility of stains. The acidity in this food-grade cleaning staple makes it effective for banishing mold, bacteria and viruses.

ESSENTIAL OILS are the distilled essences of plants. The concentrated oils, often collected laboriously from steam-distillation, retain active compounds of the plants from which they came. In Natural Home & Garden's All-purpose Cleaner and Disinfectant, lavender (Lavandula spp.) and tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) essential oils are used. Lavender essential oil is used in aromatherapy as a calming agent and to relieve headaches brought on by stress. It is also antiseptic, and can be used to disinfect your countertops. Tea tree essential oil contains compounds that are naturally antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. It has a pleasant, distinctive odor.

Tip: Remember to label your homemade cleaners vigilantly so you know what you have.

Cleaning with Essential Oils: Oil Buying Tips

Know your terms: “Fragrance oil,” “nature-identical oil” or “perfume oil” aren’t the same as 100 percent pure essential oil. They may be combinations of essential oils and chemicals, or just plain chemicals.

Check the container: Avoid oils in plastic bottles or with rubber eyedropper bulbs in the top. These can degrade and contaminate the oil. Look for small (4-ounce or less) dark or opaque glass bottles.

Read the label: Look for the correct botanical (Latin) name to ensure you’re buying the right oil.


Managing Editor Allison Martin insists on cleaning the floors with a few glugs of vinegar in a bucket of water—no measuring required. 


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