Detox Your Cleaning Supplies
Signal Words – Warning Labels On Household Cleaners
The 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?
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
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!
Liquid 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.
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.
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 Cleaners can be used for just about everything, including floors!
- Combine 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar, 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, 1/4 cup liquid 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.
- Combine 1 cup of baking soda with enough liquid castile soap to make the consistency like a frosting, stirring consistently. Add a couple drops of essential oil as needed. Scoop mixture on a sponge and be sure to rinse thoroughly.
- Use the directions for the soft scrubber, but add a little extra liquid castile 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.
- Combine 1 cup warm water with 1/4 cup white vinegar and 2 tbsp lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon liquid castile soap 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.
- 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.
- Combine 1 part liquid castile soap to 2 parts water with 1 tbsp each of vinegar and washing soda to make about 2 cups.
- I haven’t found a good recipe yet, but I will be trying this one from Amanda at The Eco-Friendly Family.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Freeze vinegar in ice-cube trays, put them down the disposal and run it.
Have any green cleaning tips to add?