Greener ways to clean

On Wednesday, I divulged how many typical American cleaning products actually are quite toxic. Since cleaning products leave a residue on surfaces, it’s important that you and your family aren’t exposed to harsh chemicals. 

I did promise healthier solutions. The good news is you can find healthier cleaning products either by buying specific kinds or making your own.

Healthier commercial choices

When cleaning with store-bought products, try to use fewer sprays and scrubs – the fewer products you use leaves fewer chemicals in the air and on the surfaces you and your family touch. Steer clear of anything containing bleach or ammonia. And reduce the use of aerosol disinfectants, cleaners, and sprays. 1

Today, consumers can get a general idea of a cleaning product’s toxicity by EPA-regulated labels. “Danger” indicates the highest hazard, “Warning” indicates a moderate hazard, and “Caution” indicates the lowest hazard. The labeling severities are based on the amount of product needed to kill a person – or cause serious harm to eyes or skin. 2

Don’t believe a company’s green claims without doing some research first. Companies have the freedom to make any claim they want. A package may claim “natural,” “nontoxic,” “eco-friendly,” or “organic,” but it may not mean anything. Currently there are no standards in the United States to define these terms, so don’t trust every label. Labels that say “phosphate free” or “contains no phthalates” are much more specific.

Some ecologically safe companies include Shaklee, Seventh Generation, Ecover, and Watkins. Method also offers a lot of safe products. The tried but true Barkeeper’s Friend and Bon Ami cleaners are incredibly safe, as well as Fels Naptha soap and Borax.

Homemade cleaners

If you’re looking for safe and thrifty cleaning products, look no farther than the shelves of your own kitchen pantry and medicine cabinet. With just a few basic and affordable ingredients – soap, water, baking soda, salt, white vinegar, lemon juice, Borax, washing soda, rubbing alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide – you can make natural cleaners to tackle about any cleaning task.


Vinegar is incredibly effective as a disinfectant and deodorizer. I had to get used to cleaning with a vinegar smell – and remind myself that other generations of hard-working clean freaks had different scents they associated with a true clean. Fortunately, the vinegar odor disappears once dry.

  • When doing laundry, vinegar works as a fabric softener by gently removing any detergent residue; just add half a cup to the rinse cycle. Incidentally, the vinegar leaves no scent.

Baking soda

In my experience, baking soda works wonders. As a natural abrasive, it gently scrubs surfaces while deodorizing.

  • In the bathroom, sprinkle baking soda on a wet sponge to clean your sink or bathtub. Rinse with a little vinegar to remove any of the soda’s residue. Sprinkle the baking soda in your toilet, scrub with a brush, and then rinse with vinegar.
  • In the kitchen, mix baking soda with lemon juice or vinegar for an effective scrubbing paste. Or, dilute one part vinegar with one part water for an all-purpose cleaning spray.
  • To clean stainless steel, use baking soda and vinegar.
  • To easily remove crusty foods stuck in pots, boil water in the pot along with baking soda; if all the food doesn’t come off the first time, try once more.

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a nontoxic disinfectant.

  • In the laundry room, hydrogen peroxide can act as a bleaching agent. It cleans and disinfects surfaces, and it also whitens laundry – be sure to dilute it in water before adding it to a load of laundry, though.

Other natural cleaners

  • A mixture of Borax and water will disinfect surfaces.
  • Mildew in tile grout disappears by spritzing on rubbing alcohol.
  • You can scrub a dirty sink – or a pan with caked-on food – with salt.

Pros and cons

One of my favorite things about cleaning with natural products is that I don’t gag from the fumes. My home has a pleasantly clean smell, and detergent odors don’t send me into a fit of sneezing. Now I notice chemical scents when I walk down the cleaning aisle of any store. It seems funny to me – I used to think that the cleaning aisle of the supermarket was the freshest smelling part of the store, but now the smells are harsh and unnatural.

Using homemade products does have drawbacks. Frequent and thorough cleaning is recommended. Natural cleaners work very well, but they don’t have quite the super power the harsh chemicals do; if I don’t clean frequently, I have to add more elbow grease. And finding the extra time to make the cleaners and scrub a little harder also is difficult if you’re exceptionally busy.

Like all things in life, there’s a trade off. For me, I would rather spend a little extra time and save both the health of my family along with some extra money.

Talk back

For those who already clean with homemade products, what recipes work best for you?

Find out how to make healthy choices that honor God and happen to help the environment at


1.  “For Your Home: Household Cleaners.” The Naked Truth Project. Consumer Products Guide. 2.  “Safer Cleaning Products. Fact Sheet.” Philip Dickey. Washington Toxics Coalition.

Photo credit
© Benjamin Miller/

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