Green Your Clean: Non-Toxic Alternatives {Part 2}

Detox Your Cleaning Supplies

Signal Words – Warning Labels On Household Cleaners

Going Green SeriesThe first step when looking for household cleaners is to read the labels. We already know what won’t be on most labels, but will be in conventional cleaners anyhow, so what can we look for besides ingredient lists?

Signal words and warning labels like “poison,” “danger,” and “caution,” only really apply to immediate health risk, but they do show how toxic these products are and you can be certain these do not belong in your home, especially around children or pets.

  • Poison – highly toxic, and can cause injury or death if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.
  • Danger – highly toxic, flammable, poisonous, or corrosive.
  • Caution or Warning – typically toxic, corrosive, reactive or flammable. Read individual label for more specifics.
  • Corrosive – chemical that destroys tissue.
  • Irritant – cause injury or inflammation upon contact.
  • Sensitizers – cause allergic reactions and chronic adverse health effects that become evident only after continuing exposure.
  • Chronic Health Hazards – include effects ranging from sterility and birth defects to cancer.
  • Use As Directed – It means just that, use as directed or run the risk of short or long-term damage to your health.
  • Non-toxic, Natural, Environmentally friendly – These labels are not independently verified or regulated. Companies are virtually free to use these labels with nothing to back up their claims.

So what can you look for?

Household Cleaning Products - Toxic?

Now on to the good stuff. What you CAN do to make a difference in reducing the risk of exposing your family to the toxic chemicals used in household products. One of the most difficult things once you are armed with all this information about the hidden toxins in conventional cleaners is knowing what is safe to use.

  • Companies that list all ingredients, either on their product or at the very least on their website.
  • Plant-based ingredients, instead of petroleum-based.
  • Eco-labels with meaning like: phosphate free, chlorine free, no solvents, no phosphates, no neurotoxins, etc.
  • Third-party certification, however know that this is an expensive process and many wonderful small companies are unable to obtain it at this time.
  • Any hazard warnings and avoid anything labeled with “caution,” “danger,” or “poison.” Watch for anything else you want to avoid, like “corrosive,” “may cause burns,” or “vapors harmful.”
  • Try to understand the hidden meaning behind ingredients. For example, “derived from coconut oil” often means a synthetic SLS/SLES (both are easily absorbed into the skin where they then become a hormone disruptor, both increase the penetrability of any other toxic chemicals you may be exposed to, and both can be contaminated with dioxane-a known carcinogen).

Take a look at what you already have and decide if there is anything that you would still be comfortable continuing to use. If you choose to get rid of any cleaners, most must be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of as such. Contact your city to find out how to dispose of any cleaners you don’t want in your home.

Homemade, Safe and Non-Toxic Cleaner Recipes

Eco-Friendly Drain Cleaner - Unclog Your Drain Naturally

I recognize that there may be store-bought cleaners that are safe and effective, but even some that claim to be eco-friendly are simply greenwashing. Certainly not all, but definitely some. This has been a source of frustration for me and other green bloggers because, (1) we clean our houses too, at least sometimes, and (2) readers trust what we say and it is incredibly disappointing to support a brand that is less than our expectations.

Because of this, my best advice is to make your own. It is not as difficult as you might think and will certainly save you money! If you choose store-bought cleaners, go back to the things to look for above to make your best choice.


Bob’s Red Mill Baking Soda. Baking soda is an important ingredient for so many homemade cleaners. I recently learned that another well-known brand tests on animals, but Bob’s Red Mill does not. I love the company anyway and would recommend any of their products.

Vinegar and Apple Cider Vinegar. Vinegar is a disinfectant and is able to clean just about anything you would want to clean (just don’t use it on marble). It even kills weeds!

Castile soap. My favorite is Dr. Bronner’s and you really can find tons of use for it! Buy in the largest container possible or bulk to minimize packaging waste.

Liquid soap. Vinegar and castile soap do not work well together, but liquid soap (which is really a detergent) and vinegar can work wonders together. Sal Suds is a great option from Dr. Bronner’s or a liquid dish soap.

Essential oils. These are optional and can be added to any recipe. Some are valued for the scent while others have special antibacterial or antifungal properties.

Wool Dryer Balls. These are excellent to use in a clothes dryer in place of dryer sheets. Make your own or find an Etsy shop.

Cleaning Cloths. Rags, old t-shirts, or Skoy cloths are all good options to clean with.


Everything is based on vinegar, baking soda, and sometimes liquid castile soap. When in doubt, just break it down to these ingredients with varying ratios. Be sure to not ingest any of these cleaners, even if they are mostly food, and always stop if there is an allergic reaction (essential oils can cause reactions in some people).

All-Purpose Cleaner

  • All-Purpose Cleaners can be used for just about everything, including floors!
  • Combine 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar or 1/2 tsp liquid castile soap and 3/4 cup warm water into a spray bottle. Shake to blend.
  • For bigger jobs: 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar or 1/4 cup liquid castile soap and 2 gallons of warm water in a bucket. Stir to blend.
  • Alternatively, put lots of orange peels in a large jar. Cover with water and brown sugar and let sit for a few weeks to 3 months. Put into a spray bottle with equal parts water. Use with a clean cloth or mop.

Soft Scrubber
  • Combine 1 cup of baking soda with enough Sal Suds (or dish soap) to make the consistency like a frosting, stirring consistently. Add a couple drops of essential oil as needed. Scoop mixture on a cleaning cloth or scrub brush and be sure to rinse thoroughly.
  • Use the directions for the soft scrubber, but add a little extra liquid soap for a better consistency. Put in a squeeze bottle for easy application.
  • Follow with a vinegar rinse.


  • A slightly damp cloth, making sure to not kick up the dust, but get it all on your cleaning cloth or rag. Easy peasy.

Glass/Window Cleaner

  • Combine 1 cup warm water with 1/4 cup white vinegar and 2 tbsp lemon juice into a spray bottle. Shake to blend. Spray and wipe with a clean, dry cloth or newspaper.
  • Alternatively use just apple cider vinegar to get the cleaning properties of vinegar with a nice scent.
Microwave Cleaner

  • Put a bowl of water in the microwave with some slices of lemon or a few tablespoons. Microwave on high until the water boils, let sit, then open the door and wipe down with a damp cloth.
Dish Soap
  • Combine 1 part liquid castile soap to 2 parts water with an optional 1 tbsp of washing soda to make about 2 cups.

Dishwasher Detergent

Laundry Detergent

  • Still working on the best recipe, but most recipes call for grated bar soap or liquid soap (Dr. Bronner’s has both), 1/2 cup of washing soda, and 1/2 cup borax (with which you must be careful around children and pets).
  • Use 1/2 cup vinegar as a rinse aid.

Crayon Mark Remover

  • Rub area with toothpaste and a damp cloth. For use on walls, floors, counters, cabinets, and furniture.

Hand Wash

  • 1 part Liquid castile soap to 5 parts water. I love to put this in a foamer to make it last even longer.
  • Tea tree oil is antibacterial and antifungal. Put 10 drops of tea tree oil to 4 ounces of liquid castile soap into a pump container.

Furniture Polish

  • Put a few drops of essential oil into warmed coconut oil. Make just enough to use once. Apply a small amount to a clean cloth or use your bare hands to wipe wooden furniture.
  • Alternatively mix equal parts vinegar and water with a few drops of liquid castile soap. Apply with a clean cloth.

Unclog Drains

  • For regular maintenance and pesky clogs, dump a cup of baking soda down the drain followed by 1/2 cup of vinegar. Cover drain immediately and let the reaction do the trick. Finish with a kettle of boiling water. Take proper precaution if you have plastic pipes.

Fruit Flies in the Garbage Disposal

  • Freeze vinegar in ice-cube trays, put them down the disposal and run it.


Have any green cleaning tips to add?


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Green Your Clean: Non-Toxic Alternatives {Part 2} — 24 Comments

  1. Hi Brenna,
    I discovered you last week through Lori (at Groovy Green Livin’) post for the Green Moms Carnival. So glad I did!
    These are basically the cleaners I use too – they work great. Interesting that you are having trouble with dishwashing det. and laundry det. – me too! I gave up for a while, but am back at it.
    The only cleaner I would add is Hydrogen peroxide. I put a spray top on a bottle and use it for extra disinfecting where needed. I usually spray the Hyrodrogen peroxide, then straight vinegar and let it sit (on non-porous surfaces only, no granite or marble). It is supposed to kill E. Coli.
    Kristina (The Greening of Westford) recently posted..Pit Stain Remover That Actually Works!

  2. I’ve been using soap nuts to make my own laundry detergent and have been pleased with it. There are several ways to use them – I boil mine in water and then add essential oils. It’s not good with stains so I pretreat with Bio Bac when necessary.

    • Oh, soap nuts! I have heard wonderful things about them and originally had both soap nuts and Biokleen in this post. I took them out because I never ended up trying the soap nuts and, while I do think Biokleen is safe, they do not list ingredients and that frustrates me.

  3. You have covered the my basics.. and then some.
    I stopped buying cleaners years ago. None of them are necessary. You can get almost every job done with good old vinegar and baking soda.
    The one thing I still struggle with is making my own hand soap and dish detergent. I make my own bar soap, but it’s so hard to get the correct viscosity with liquid soap without any additives like gums, etc.
    Sarah recently posted..Ten Spring Easter Gifts Made in USA

  4. Amazing- as usual! About the “caution” part. I just bought dishwasher liquid called “Green Shield Organic” and all the ingredients look great (Organic soap nuts, organic coconut oil, organic lemongrass, organic Aloe, organic lemon peels, organic acetic acid, citric acid, organic guar acid, organic acacia gum, xanthan gum, salt), I feel like eating it! oh and it is certified organic USDA. But it does say “caution: keep out of reach of children”. I think they must have to put that so they don’t get sued or somehitng if a kid does ingest it and gets sick. What do you think? :)
    Good Girl Gone Green recently posted..Pretty in Pink and Yellow

  5. I won’t even buy the “Eco” varieties of cleansers. When I read the labels, I don’t know what all the ingredients are … they might be safe but I haven’t investigated them … mostly because I’m quite happy with the safe, homemade versions. I will say that I was given some “safe” cleansers and wasn’t pleased with them at all … not because they didn’t clean but because whatever was in them gave me a headache. For me, that’s a sure sign that, no matter what the label says, I don’t want it. I NEVER get headaches from vinegar and baking soda. I also use Hydrogen Peroxide … both for cleaning and for my laundry. Great stuff! It’s also super for getting dirt and “stuff” out of a cut or to help get a splinter out of one’s finger. Thanks, as always, for such a great post … and for doing the homework for us. You make it easy on us! :-)
    Small Footprints recently posted..Meet & Greet Monday (#MtaGt)

  6. Home cleaning tips are most moms concern that’s why I had bookmark your post and send it over my mom’s email. I know that she will be really glade to read it and for sure would suggest the same thing to her friends. It was been the most educative post about cleaning remedy that I had read so far.
    Akhira recently posted..tea tree oil acne treatment

  7. Clean home is really a good place to stay and relax. Most mom did it every weekends and my mom is really a good example of it. Our home smells fresh and clean every time she clean it up. Moms are really the best :)
    Rainieha recently posted..the truth about hpv vaccines

  8. Hi Brenna! I love hearing young people becoming so knowledgeable about toxins. I lost my sister and a dear friend to cancer when they were only 51. My best friend lost her brother, 56, Another friend lost her husband last year, 46. I’ve totally converted my home through a company I started shopping with a year and a half ago. No more asthma, no more headaches, lots more energy, no more joint pain, stress is improving, add is improving. They’ve been making safe, green, non-toxic products for 27 years. And the best part is they’re less expensive than anything in stores. And they just keep giving back to the world in so many ways. If you’d like to know more, let me know! I’m on Facebook: Judy Drtina Menendez.

  9. Pingback: Clean House - Toss the Toxins and Make Your Own Household Cleaner - Toni SouthToni South

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