A Green Clean: Homemade Cleaners to Detox Your Home

Keep toxins out of your home and save money with safe, effective homemade cleaners.

| July/August 2009

  • Lemon’s citric acid content cuts stubborn grease and makes your home smell fresh.
    Photo by Joe Lavine
  • DIY Lemongrass Dust cloths offer the convenience of disposable furniture wipes without the guilt of contributing to the landfill
    Photo by Joe Lavine
  • Lemon’s citric acid content cuts stubborn grease and makes your home smell fresh. A natural abrasive, salt is perfect for cleaning grungy ovens and soaking up fresh carpet stains.
    Photo by Joe Lavine

Nothing feels as comforting and welcoming as a tidy, well-tended home. But a clean home isn’t necessarily a healthy one. As you peruse the cleaning aisle’s furniture polishes, air fresheners, carpet deodorizers and stain removers, you may realize that a full product arsenal could contain literally hundreds of chemicals and include dozens of safety warnings—not to mention cost a small fortune. Fortunately, you can create nontoxic, inexpensive counterparts to nearly every conventional cleaning product with items found in your pantry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that conventional cleaning products make a significant contribution to indoor air pollution. In one study conducted at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, researchers found that the chemicals in everyday household cleaners can trigger the onset or worsening of asthma. Children with asthma can experience respiratory symptoms in a newly cleaned home. At least one study also suggests a possible link between prenatal exposure to low doses of common cleaning chemicals and attention deficit disorder or even autism in children.

Exposure to these everyday products can also affect your heart. Results from the Detroit Exposure and Aerosol Research Study, which were recently presented at a scientific session of the American Heart Association, showed that people exposed to pollutants—including household cleaners and air fresheners—experienced a narrowing of blood vessels and an increase in blood pressure.

Even seemingly benign products can cause health problems. Glass cleaners often contain ammonia, an eye irritant that can cause headaches and lung irritation. Disinfectants often harbor phenol and cresol, two petroleum derivatives that can cause dizziness and fainting. The polishes that make our floors and furniture shine include nitrobenzene, a carcinogen and reproductive toxin that can also cause short-term shortness of breath and nausea.



Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are toxic chemicals released by common cleaning products that can remain suspended in the air for days after use. Able to cross the blood-brain barrier and placenta, VOCs can depress the central nervous system; irritate the eyes, nose and throat; and reduce pulmonary function. Long-term exposure can contribute to a variety of cancers.

The good news is that you don’t need to rely on these toxic chemicals for a spotless house. You can power through most household dirt with inexpensive and effective homemade cleaners. Plus, you can customize your cleaners with bacteria-busting essential oils. 






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