Safer household cleaning products

More than 85,000 synthetic chemicals are in commercial use today in common household cleaning products. Through prolonged explosure, they are known to cause cancer and damage to the brain and the nervous and reproductive systems.

Unfortunately, the damage from chemical solvents doesn't end at homethey often get poured down drains and end up in the water system. Despite advances in water treatment facilities, traces of chemicals from our household cleaners are still found in fish, plants and other wildlife.

Cleaners, for instance, may contain phenols (airborne irritants that may have long-term detrimental effects on humans). Disinfectants, room deoderizers, and pest sprays often contain known carcinogen Naphthol (or Naphthalene).

The recently released Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: Pest repellants and disinfectants found that 47 percent of Americans age 6-59 have a moderate to significant trace of Naphthol in their body.

But there's little need to use (and dispose of) an arsenal of cleaning products when safer alternativesnatural cleanerswork just as well, and can be purchased at local stores (examples of brands to look for include Ecover, Seventh Generation, and Dr. Bronner's).

Natural cleaners are so simple and effective, they can even be made easily at home using ordinary household products. Here are some useful recipes:

All-purpose cleaner:
2 teaspoons borax
1 teaspoon soap or baking soda
Mix with 1 quart of water

½ cup of borax
½ gallon hot water

2 parts cornmeal
1 part borax
Sprinkle and leave on for 1 hour, then vacuum. For spots, use ½ white vinegar and ½ water

Undiluted vinegar for lime deposits

3 tablespoons vinegar
1 quart water

Clothes storage:
Cedar chips (do not use mothballs)

Once a week, pour ¼ cup baking soda, then ½ cup vinegar. Wait 20 minutes, then pour 1 gallon boiling water.

Furniture polish:
Murphy's Oil soap

Scouring powder:
Bon Ami is a safe choice

Use phosphate-free for laundry and dishes. Also use scent-free products, since many people are sensitive to chemicals used in perfumes.

Five basic ingredients for healthy home cleaning:

  • Baking sodaCleans and deodorizes; softens water to increase sudsing and cleaning power of soap; acts as a scouring powder
  • Boraxa natural powder that cleans and deodorizes, disinfects, and softens water
  • SoapBiodegrades safely and completely and is nontoxic. Sold as liquid or in bars. Insist on soap without synthetic scents, colors or other additives, such as pure glycerin soap.
  • Washing sodaCuts grease and removes stains, disinfects. Available in pure form as sodium carbonate.
  • White vinegarCuts grease and freshens

Source: Greenpeace


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Back to main Health & Home


  • Natural Resources Defense Council's Toxic Chemicals and Health page
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: Pest repellants and disinfectants
  • The U.S. EPA's Integrated Risk Information System information on exposure risks by chemical.
  • Environmental Defense health impacts of more than 7,100 chemicals used in the U.S.


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