DIPLO DIY: Non-Toxic Home Cleaning

I’ve been talking about this to many friends and have actually convinced some colleagues of my husband to try it out. My household cleaning arsenal is basically composed of baking soda, vinegar, water and sometimes lemon. It’s so much simpler, so much better for the environment and more importantly it’s good for us, for DiploDog and for our future children. It is SO much cheaper as well. Win-win for everyone don’t you think? 

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First let me tell you why I decided to go non-toxic and natural for our home. TD’s brother (let’s call him DiploBro) had a cat. The cat died because of liver failure. Guess why? DiploBro’s wife is also super OC and like me she hates bad smells and germs. She sprays everything with Lysol. According to the vet this was what caused the liver failure. Pets are so much smaller than us and the effect of the chemicals that we use in our home is magnified on their little bodies.

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  • When you spray Lysol around your home, it doesn’t disappear into thin air. It falls on surfaces
  • Our skin actually absorbs 80% of what it gets into contact with (if I recall correctly…tama ba @ocmominmanila?), besides that when you spray in the kitchen, traces of the chemicals will also fall on dishes that are drying, hanging cooking utensils, etc. which come into contact with our food.
  • Cats and dogs lie on the floor which is a recipient of a lot of toxic chemical residue from our cleaning
  • Cats/dogs lay around the floor, lick themselves, eat their food on the floor (i.e. raw hide bone or treats).

spraygloveynessvia Inhabitat Green Home 101

This also got me thinking that if Lysol did that to the cat then I’m sure we are also absorbing all these toxic home cleaners over long periods of time and are also being affected (even if the effects are not as obvious and immediate as it is in small children and pets). DiploBros wife is constantly sick and has large mass in her repro system. I am no doctor and I can’t say the exact connection, but in my gut I know there is considering how much of that stuff she sprays all over her house daily. When she travels she even brings a can of Lysol in her luggage.

If Lysol is hazardous to our health, how about all the other commercial cleaners out there that haven’t been studied?

Please don’t ask me for references/studies/proof (though I am sure they are just a google away) because it basically didn’t take much more convincing for me to convert to non-toxic home cleaning. I figured if I use items that we use for cooking, then it is less likely to kill me or the people and pet I love in the long run.Makes sense right?

Besides my maid is happy to report that the non-toxic cleaners work better than the commercial ones and that the vinegar solution doesn’t leave any smell AT ALL! Even I was pleasantly surprised by this! =)

GOOD TO KNOW:

  • For people living in Indonesia who may wanna try this out, their local vinegar is 4 TIMES more acidic than regular vinegar so make sure to place only 1/4 of the amount in the formulas.
  • Be sure to use mop with a plastic handle, NOT METAL, because the vinegar solution will eat through your handle. We lost ours! True story.

Below is our non-toxic home cleaning bible reposted from eartheasy.com.

Homemade Substitutions

There are many inexpensive, easy-to-use natural alternatives which can safely be used in place of commercial household products. Here is a list of common, environmentally safe products which can be used alone or in combination for a wealth of household applications.

  • Baking Soda - cleans, deodorizes, softens water, scours.
  • Soap – unscented soap in liquid form, flakes, powders or bars is biodegradable and will clean just about anything. Avoid using soaps which contain petroleum distillates.
  • Lemon – one of the strongest food-acids, effective against most household bacteria.
  • Borax – (sodium borate) cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors.
  • White Vinegar - cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up.
  • Washing Soda – or SAL Soda is sodium carbonate decahydrate, a mineral. Washing soda cuts grease, removes stains, softens water, cleans wall, tiles, sinks and tubs. Use care, as washing soda can irritate mucous membranes. Do not use on aluminum.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol – is an excellent disinfectant. (It has been suggested to replace this with ethanol or 100 proof alcohol in solution with water. There is some indication that isopropyl alcohol buildup contributes to illness in the body. See http://drclark.ch/g)
  • Cornstarch – can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs.
  • Citrus Solvent – cleans paint brushes, oil and grease, some stains. (Citrus solvent may cause skin, lung or eye irritations for people with multiple chemical sensitivities.)
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP) – a mixture of soda ash and phosphoric acid. TSP is toxic if swallowed, but it can be used on many jobs, such as cleaning drains or removing old paint, that would normally require much more caustic and poisonous chemicals, and it does not create any fumes.

Formulas

Combinations of the above basic products can provide less harmful substitutions for many commercial home products. In most cases, they’re also less expensive. Here are some formulas for safe, alternative home care products:

  • Note: These formulas and substitutions are offered to help minimize the use of toxic substances in your home, and reduce the environmental harm caused by the manufacture, use and disposal of toxics. Results may vary and cannot be guaranteed to be 100% safe and effective. Before applying any cleaning formulations, test in small hidden areas if possible. Always use caution with any new product in your home.

Make sure to keep all home-made formulas well-labeled, and out of the reach of children.

All-Purpose Cleaner:

Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, etc.

Another alternative is microfiber cloths which lift off dirt, grease and dust without the need for cleaning chemicals, because they are formulated to penetrate and trap dirt. There are a number of different brands. A good quality cloth can last for several years.

Air Freshener:

Commercial air fresheners mask smells and coat nasal passages to diminish the sense of smell.

  • Baking soda or vinegar with lemon juice in small dishes absorbs odors around the house.
  • Having houseplants helps reduce odors in the home.
  • Prevent cooking odors by simmering vinegar (1 tbsp in 1 cup water) on the stove while cooking. To get such smells as fish and onion off utensils and cutting boards, wipe them with vinegar and wash in soapy water.
  • Keep fresh coffee grounds on the counter.
  • Grind up a slice of lemon in the garbage disposal.
  • Simmer water and cinnamon or other spices on stove.
  • Place bowls of fragrant dried herbs and flowers in room.
Bathroom mold:

Mold in bathroom tile grout is a common problem and can be a health concern. Mix one part hydrogen peroxide (3%) with two parts water in a spray bottle and spray on areas with mold. Wait at least one hour before rinsing or using shower.

Carpet stains:

Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray directly on stain, let sit for several minutes, and clean with a brush or sponge using warm soapy water.

For a heavy duty carpet cleaner, mix 1/4 cup each of salt, borax and vinegar. Rub paste into carpet and leave for a few hours. Vacuum.

Chopping block cleaner:

Rub a slice of lemon across a chopping block to disinfect the surface. For tougher stains, squeeze some of the lemon juice onto the spot and let sit for 10 minutes, then wipe.

Coffee and tea stains:

Stains in cups can be removed by applying vinegar to a sponge and wiping. To clean a teakettle or coffee maker, add 2 cups water and 1/4 cup vinegar; bring to a boil. Let cool, wipe with a clean cloth and rinse thoroughly with water.

Deodorize:

Plastic food storage containers – soak overnight in warm water and baking soda

Carpets – sprinkle baking soda several hours before vacuuming

Garage, basements - set a sliced onion on a plate in center of room for 12 – 24 hours

Dishwashing Soap:

Commercial low-phosphate detergents are not themselves harmful, but phosphates nourish algae which use up oxygen in waterways. A detergent substitution is to use liquid soap. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of vinegar to the warm, soapy water for tough jobs.

Disinfectant:

Mix 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar and 3 cups hot water. For stronger cleaning power add 1/4 teaspoon liquid castile soap. Wipe on with dampened cloth or use non-aerosol spray bottle. (This is not an antibacterial formula. The average kitchen or bathroom does not require antibacterial cleaners.)

To disinfect kitchen sponges, put them in the dishwasher when running a load.

Drain Cleaner:

For light drain cleaning, mix 1/2 cup salt in 4 liters water, heat (but not to a boil) and pour down the drain. For stronger cleaning, pour about 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, then 1/2 cup vinegar. The resulting chemical reaction can break fatty acids down into soap and glycerine, allowing the clog to wash down the drain. After 15 minutes, pour in boiling water to clear residue. Caution: only use this method with metal plumbing. Plastic pipes can melt if excess boiling water is used. Also, do not use this method after trying a commercial drain opener–the vinegar can react with the drain opener to create dangerous fumes.

Fabric softener:

To reduce static cling, dampen your hands, then shake out your clothes as you remove them from the drier. Line-drying clothing is another alternative.

Floor Cleaner and Polish:
  • vinyl and linoleum: mix 1 cup vinegar and a few drops of baby oil in 1 gallon warm water. For tough jobs, add 1/4 cup borox. Use sparingly on lineoleum.
  • wood: apply a thin coat of 1:1 vegetable oil and vinegar and rub in well.
  • painted wood: mix 1 teaspoon washing soda into 1 gallon (4L) hot water.
  • brick and stone tiles: mix 1 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon (4L) water; rinse with clear water.
  • Most floor surfaces can be easily cleaned using a solution of vinegar and water. For damp-mopping wood floors: mix equal amounts of white distilled vinegar and water. Add 15 drops of pure peppermint oil; shake to mix.
Furniture Polish:

For varnished wood, add a few drops of lemon oil into a 1/2 cup warm water. Mix well and spray onto a soft cotton cloth. Cloth should only be slightly damp. Wipe furniture with the cloth, and finish by wiping once more using a dry soft cotton cloth.

For unvarnished wood, mix two tsps each of olive oil and lemon juice and apply a small amount to a soft cotton cloth. Wring the cloth to spread the mixture further into the material and apply to the furniture using wide strokes. This helps distribute the oil evenly.

Laundry Detergent:

Mix 1 cup Ivory soap (or Fels Naptha soap), 1/2 cup washing soda and 1/2 cup borax. Use 1 tbsp for light loads; 2 tbsp for heavy loads.

Lime Deposits:

You can reduce lime deposits in your teakettle by putting in 1/2 cup (125ml) white vinegar and 2 cups water, and gently boiling for a few minutes. Rinse well with fresh water while kettle is still warm.

Marks on walls and painted surfaces:

Many ink spots, pencil, crayon or marker spots can be cleaned from painted surfaces using baking soda applied to a damp sponge. Rub gently, then wipe and rinse.

Metal Cleaners and Polishes:
  • aluminum: using a soft cloth, clean with a solution of cream of tartar and water.
  • brass or bronze: polish with a soft cloth dipped in lemon and baking-soda solution, or vinegar and salt solution.
  • chrome: polish with baby oil, vinegar, or aluminum foil shiny side out.
  • copper: soak a cotton rag in a pot of boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup white vinegar. Apply to copper while hot; let cool, then wipe clean. For tougher jobs, sprinkle baking soda or lemon juice on a soft cloth, then wipe. For copper cookware, sprinkle a lemon wedge with salt, then scrub.
  • gold: clean with toothpaste, or a paste of salt, vinegar, and flour.
  • silver: line a pan with aluminum foil and fill with water; add a teaspoon each of baking soda and salt. Bring to a boil and immerse silver. Polish with soft cloth.
  • stainless steel: clean with a cloth dampened with undiluted white vinegar, or olive oil. For stainless cookware, mix 4 tbs baking soda in 1 qt water, and apply using a soft cloth. Wipe dry using a clean cloth.
Mold and Mildew:

Use white vinegar or lemon juice full strength. Apply with a sponge or scrubby.

Mothballs:

The common mothball is made of paradichlorobenzene, which is harmful to liver and kidneys. Cedar chips in a cheesecloth square, or cedar oil in an absorbant cloth will repel moths. The cedar should be ‘aromatic cedar’, also referred to as juniper in some areas. Cedar chips are available at many craft supply stores, or make your own using a plane and a block of cedar from the lumberyard.

Homemade moth-repelling sachets can also be made with lavender, rosemary, vetiver and rose petals.

Dried lemon peels are also a natural moth deterrent – simply toss into clothes chest, or tie in cheesecloth and hang in the closet.

Oil and Grease Spots:

For small spills on the garage floor, add baking soda and scrub with wet brush.

Oven Cleaner:

Moisten oven surfaces with sponge and water. Use 3/4cup baking soda, 1/4cup salt and 1/4cup water to make a thick paste, and spread throughout oven interior. (avoid bare metal and any openings) Let sit overnight. Remove with spatula and wipe clean. Rub gently with fine steel wool for tough spots. Or use Arm & Hammer Oven Cleaner, declared nontoxic by Consumers Union.

Scouring Powder:

For top of stove, refrigerator and other such surfaces that should not be scratched, use baking soda. Apply baking soda directly with a damp sponge.

Shoe Polish:

Olive oil with a few drops of lemon juice can be applied to shoes with a thick cotton or terry rag. Leave for a few minutes; wipe and buff with a clean, dry rag.

Stickers/Pricetags on walls:

To remove, sponge vinegar over them several times, and wait 15 minutes, then rub off the stickers. This also works for price tags (stickers) on tools, etc.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner:

Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 cup vinegar, pour into basin and let it set for a few minutes. Scrub with brush and rinse. A mixture of borax (2 parts) and lemon juice (one part) will also work.

Tub and Tile Cleaner:

For simple cleaning, rub in baking soda with a damp sponge and rinse with fresh water. For tougher jobs, wipe surfaces with vinegar first and follow with baking soda as a scouring powder. (Vinegar can break down tile grout, so use sparingly.)

Water Rings on Wood:

Water rings on a wooden table or counter are the result of moisture that is trapped under the topcoat, but not the finish. Try applying toothpaste or mayonnaise to a damp cloth and rub into the ring. Once the ring is removed, buff the entire wood surface.

Window Cleaner:

Mix 2 teaspoons of white vinegar with 1 liter (qt) warm water. Use crumpled newspaper or cotton cloth to clean. Don’t clean windows if the sun is on them, or if they are warm, or streaks will show on drying. The All-Purpose Cleaner (above) also works well on windows. Be sure to follow the recipe, because using too strong a solution of vinegar will etch the glass and eventually cloud it.

Paint Brush Cleaner:

Non-toxic, citrus oil based solvents are now available commercially under several brand names. Citra-Solve is one brand. This works well for cleaning brushes of oil-based paints. Paint brushes and rollers used for an on-going project can be saved overnight, or even up to a week, without cleaning at all. Simply wrap the brush or roller snugly in a plastic bag, such as a used bread or produce bag. Squeeze out air pockets and store away from light. The paint won’t dry because air can’t get to it. Simply unwrap the brush or roller the next day and continue with the job.

Fresh paint odors can be reduced by placing a small dish of white vinegar in the room.

Rust Remover:

Sprinkle a little salt on the rust, squeeze a lime over the salt until it is well soaked. Leave the mixture on for 2 – 3 hours. Use leftover rind to scrub residue.

UPDATE: The 2 items below were not from eartheasy.com but things we practice at home that I wanna share with you.
Deodorizer:

I place a clear vase of charcoal in each bathroom. Charcoal absorbs all the smells. The best thing about this is that it’s both decorative and functional.

I don’t like the smell of commercial deodorizers and cleansers anyway and it is not good for asthma. I also use essential oils and candles as scents if every I am in the mood for it, but not often. I like the clean smell of nothing (the lack of scents)! =P

Insect killers/repellents:

I wrote about this before, I don’t use sprays anymore for cockroaches because we use Baygon 24 hour roach killer cockroach baits. And we don’t really have a problem with mosquitos because we usually prefer to live in condominiums (the higher elevation from the street and vegetation usually means less (or even the no) pesky mosquitos and bugs. But if I do need something I use:

  • Citronella candles and sprays for mosquitos (mosquito repelling lotions/citronella scented oil on my skin if needed)
  • Organic ant baits for ants (there is powder and liquid version from True Value). I recommend the liquid form that you place on cardboard paper if you have kids/pets so you can place them away from reach. The powdered version is harder to contain and can be blown away air to your food or eating utensils.

Healthy Home Cleaning Habits

Use Cellulose Sponges

Most household sponges are made of polyester or plastic which are slow to break down in landfills, and many are treated with triclosan, a chemical that can produce chloroform (a suspected carcinogen) when it interacts with the chlorine found in tap water. Instead try cellulose sponges, available at natural foods stores, which are biodegradable and will soak up spills faster since they’re naturally more absorbent.

Best Way to Clean Kitchen Sponges

  1. Wash the sponge with hot water and soap, rinse
  2. You can put the sponge in a small, microwave-safe dish of water
  3. Microwave at 100% power (High setting) for 1 minutes.
  4. It will be HOT when it’s finished. Let it cool in the microwave for a while, or wear a heat-resistant glove, like a silicone oven mitt, to take it out.

* it should be done any time your dishes came in contact with raw meat or poultry, or at least a few times a week.

Be careful:

  • The sponge needs to be wet before microwaving.
  • Keep an eye on the sponge to make sure it doesn’t burn.
  • Do NOT do this for anything metallic (Example: dish scrubbers or steel wool)

Other Tips:

  • Any sponge or scrubber can be soaked in a diluted bleach solution
  • Be sure to squeeze the water out of your sponge after each use,
  • Start over with a new sponge every few weTeks.
  • Always keep two sponges or cloths in your kitchen:

- Dish sponge

- Counter-cleaning sponge *reco – use old dish spong

Exchange Indoor Air

Many modern homes are so tight there’s little new air coming in. Open the windows from time to time or run any installed exhaust fans. In cold weather, the most efficient way to exchange room air is to open the room wide – windows and doors, and let fresh air in quickly for about 5 minutes. The furnishings in the room, and the walls, act as ‘heat sinks’, and by exchanging air quickly, this heat is retained.

Minimize Dust

Remove clutter which collects dust, such as old newspapers and magazines. Try to initiate a ‘no-shoes-indoors’ policy. If you’re building or remodelling a home, consider a central vacuum system; this eliminates the fine dust which portable vacuum cleaners recirculate.

Keep Bedrooms Clean

Most time is spent in the bedrooms. Keep pets out of these rooms, especially if they spend time outdoors.

Use Gentle Cleaning Products

Of the various commercial home cleaning products, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and oven cleaners are the most toxic. Use the formulas described above or purchase ‘green’ commercial alternatives. Avoid products containing ammonia or chlorine, or petroleum-based chemicals; these contribute to respiratory irritation, headaches and other complaints.

Clean from the Top Down:

When house cleaning, save the floor or carpet for last. Allow time for the dust to settle before vacuuming.

Last word:

  • Make sure that you use the correct container for your non-toxic cleaning solutions. Using the wrong one can lead to toxins from the plastic containers to leach into your solution and also cause it to be hazardous to your health. Click here to read more about how to protect yourself from plastics’ toxicity.
  • Be wary of products that claim to be green. Click here to read why.
  • Enjoy making your household green and I promise you this is what your shelf will look like!


Related eye-opening reads:

Lovely comments

  1. Jenn says

    This is SO awesome love it – am printing everything out and making it my project for the weekend.

    No idea why my help at home is so resistant to going natural she feels like things wont get clean, which has resulted in her sneaking that nasty bleach into my bathroom (even worse – the kids’ bathroom) DAILY. grrrr. I think they’re so brainwashed by TV Ads that they’re never gonna believe me. Tips on how you got your help to convert?

    THANKS for the guide, love, and specially for putting it all in one place for easy printing and reference.

    • says

      Most welcome sweety. Hahaha that’s why I don’t buy bleach! (I’m actually puzzled at how my maid makes our white items white, when our water as you recall is brown!) My maid had no choice because she didn’t have any supplies aside from the ones I started using before she arrived. She tried it then she liked it. Hmmm… I wish I could be more helpful on the tips. If you don’t buy bleach, does your maid buy and sneak it in?! Also I must confess, that we are not yet 100%, bec of the laundry soap since there is a problem sourcing ingredients here but I’m happy that we’re continuously working towards non-toxic cleaning whenever possible.

      Oh I also bought different spray containers (from ACE or in your case True Value) and mixed the first batch of cleansers with her. Then we labelled the different containers “glass,” “all purpose.” And whenever there is a first time job, I always try it myself first. I.e. we recently had to take out oxidation from aluminum (i’m posting about it next week) and I mixed the water with cream of tartar and showed her that it worked, then I let her have a go at it. Usually she is just so amazed and delighted that normal kitchen stuff can do the job that I don’t have a problem convincing her any more. Hope you found these useful sweety!

  2. says

    Whoa.. This is quite the list..! Will have to print it out for further study later. :D Thanks for doing all the difficult research and summarizing.

    I’m loving the tips you put up in your blog!

  3. says

    Like everyone else here, I would have to print this out, too!! It’s so helpful! How scary the Lysol could be so harmful! I can’t imagine having that in my house. What a great report, DipWife! Thanks!

    • says

      Baking powder is usually made with baking soda and 2 other components, and acid and filler, (Click here to read more about it) so I am not sure how the other 2 ingredients will react with the other components of the solutions recommended in this post. I think it is better that you use pure baking soda because we also don’t know how the different materials you are cleaning will react to the other component of the baking powder, especially in solutions wherein no acid is needed.

      Also baking soda is 4 times stronger than baking powder so you would waste a lot of baking powder if you used it and we aren’t sure of the results. As this article mentions it’s just easier to pick up a box of baking soda.

  4. says

    We have a well and our whites get yellow because of it. Do you have any suggestions on how we can get our whites white again without using bleach. I would be forever grateful for any suggestions.

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