I not so long ago set up home with my fiancé and for the first time had to fend for myself with regards to cleaning the house and washing etc. Regardless of continuing to follow a rawfood diet I fell into the supermarket shopper trend of buying the best value for money cleaning products that promise the least work. However, now I have settled into my new environment (bearing in mind I not only moved out of home, I also moved out of the country) I like to think I am now a fairly experienced ‘housewife’. I am well aware that some pollutants are hard to avoid especially when they are in the air we breathe, so unless I am living in the mountain tops of Greece I am unlikely to be able to avoid them, however there is a huge list of chemical substance that I can easily avoid within my own environment, in other words around my home.
There is a hint of spring in the air and the phrase ‘spring clean’ comes to mind, many people take this opportunity to clear the clutter in their homes or ‘spring clean’ their bodies via fasting. I am taking this opportunity to spring clean my environment, and myself of as many chemicals as possible. For the last couple of months or so I have been experimenting and trying all sorts of alternative cleaning products. But, and this is a big but, instead of heading to my local health food store and spending lots of money which I don’t have on organic natural products, I decided I would rather spend my money on good quality food and set my mind onto finding and making my own natural products with cheap and effective ingredients easily found in my local supermarket. This is part one of my chemical free adventure, here I will be talking about cleaning products around the home and sharing tips and recipes for a clean and safer home environment. The second part will be looking into cosmetics and toiletries and will be presented in next month’s issue of this newsletter.
When I go to the supermarket and go down the cleaning aisles I am overwhelmed with different shaped and coloured bottles all claiming to be the best at what they do with less effort and for less money. Disappointingly my local supermarket has more variety of these deadly products then fresh fruit and vegetables. Regardless of what i use when it comes to cleaning my house the way I like it, no matter what I use I still have to use lots of elbow grease to get the sparkly clean results I like. So what are these so-called cleaning products doing for me? Basically they are adding to the pollution in my life and slowly poisoning me and the people around me.
The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ is very well known, but did you know that you are also what you digest and absorb? Ingestion, inhalation and absorption are the three ways that these hazardous substances may enter the body. Most household products may not be directly ingested via the mouth but they are certainly absorbed through inhalation and the skin, the largest organ of the body. The toxins these hazardous products contain release gases and vapors which pass directly through the lungs and into the blood stream. The skin also absorbs toxins from these products, which contain irritants or corrosives, by injuring the skin thus allowing absorption. Some hazardous chemicals can even be absorbed without causing any damage to the skin.
The bottom line is that conventional cleaning products contain dangerous ingredients, including neurotoxins, carcinogens, allergens, central nervous system depressants, heavy metals, and other agents that cause or contribute to cancer, respiratory problems, reproductive abnormalities, allergic reactions, and behavioural problems, among other issues.
When I pick up a bottle of window cleaner for example, not only do I have trouble translating the ingredients from Greek to English but I also know that what is in this product is not good for my health or for the environment and water system it sooner or later will end up in.
These products have a huge impact on the environment. Household cleaning products make their way into the environment through various routes: they are flushed down toilets, poured down sinks, sprayed into the air, thrown into the trash, and dumped onto the ground, thus releasing their toxins into the environment and contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer, polluting groundwater, contaminating the soil, and harming plant and animal life.
Cleaning your house can be a chore, I certainly don’t look forward to doing it, but it shouldn’t compromise your health. Taking care of your health goes hand in hand with taking care of the environment – including the environment in your home. There are many companies dedicated to natural chemical free cleaning products. They are a more environmentally sound, cost-efficient alternative to the toxic and potentially lethal household cleaning products used in many homes today. In addition to the tons of natural cleaning products on the market there are a number of ‘make your own’ type books and websites sharing helpful tips and recipes for making your own cleaning products from common household ingredients, of which the most common are vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, potatoes, tea tree oil and baking soda.
The focus of this article is to point out the dangers of chemicals used in standard products and to offer tried and tested alternatives. The following information is intended to help you make an informed decision about what you choose to use for yourself and your family to clean your homes.
Chemicals such as ammonia, chlorine, formaldehyde and sulfuric acid are just a few of the most commonly used chemicals found in store bought cleaning products. Lets take a look at some of the ways they endanger our health as well as pollute the environment.
After world war II there was an abundance of chlorine, so, in the name of profits it was added to the water supply and many other products. Chlorine is said to be the number one cause of breast cancer and can be lethal. Scientists wont even handle chlorine without protective gloves, facemasks, and ventilation, yet it can be found in most conventional cleaning products, including dishwasher detergents and is widely used in swimming pools. The effects of this harmful substance are intensified when heated such as in the shower.
Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite), available alone as bleach and added to detergents and disinfectants among other things is corrosive thus irritating or burning the skin, eyes, respiratory tract and may cause pulmonary edema or vomiting and coma if ingested. It contributes to hazardous water pollution, and is particularly toxic to fish, killing or poisoning them beyond being edible. Chlorine can bind with organic compounds in water to form organochlorines, which break down slowly in the environment and accumulate in the fatty tissues of wildlife.
Formaldehyde is in almost all cleaning products, including laundry detergents, air fresheners and furniture polish. It is a potential human carcinogen and a known cancer-causing agent in animals. It is also an irritant to the eyes, nose, throat and skin and may cause nausea, headaches, nose bleeds, dizziness, memory loss, and shortness of breath.
As well as formaldehyde furniture polish also contains napthas and mineral spirits which are neurotoxins and considered hazardous waste. Mineral spirits break down very slowly and contaminate air and water. Mineral spirits are also associated with skin and lung cancer. In addition phthalates are found in furniture polish and disrupt hormone function and can cause genetic defects in both animals and humans.
Ammonia is found in disinfectants and window cleaner the vapour is irritating to the eyes, respiratory tract and skin.
Laundry detergents contain ammonia as well as phosphorus, enzymes, naphthalene, phenol, sodium nitilotriacetate and countless others. These chemicals can cause rashes, itches, allergies, sinus problems and more. The residue left on your clothes, bed sheets, etc. is absorbed through your skin.
Oven cleaners are one of the most toxic products people use. They contain lye and ammonia together, which eat the skin; the fumes also linger and affect the respiratory system. Not to mention the residue that is intensified the next time the oven is turned on.
With all these harmful substances finding their way into our system what are the alternatives?
All you need are a few inexpensive, easy to find ingredients and information on how to put them together. It doesn’t take any extra time or effort to use natural or homemade household cleaners but doing so can save money, your health and the environment.
Here are some down-to-earth, nontoxic suggestions for cleaning your home naturally with basic household ingredients, for a clean, safe home that doesn’t expose your family and guests to toxic chemicals. You probably have all the ingredients to hand, and they are safe to use. The basic ingredients are vinegar, lemon and baking soda.
Lemons have antibacterial and antiseptic qualities making them perfect for use as a cleaning alternative. Lemon juice can help naturally clean some of the toughest jobs.
Here is a list of things that lemons are useful for:
- Rubbing lemon onto a wooden chopping board will clean and deodorize onion and garlic smells and disinfects bacteria.
- Use lemons to clean sink faucets and remove lime scale build-up.
- Lemon juice can also dissolve soap build-up and hard water deposits.
- Mixing lemon juice and water in a spray body will produce a lovely air freshener.
- Lemon juice can also be added to a wash cycle for fresh smelling laundry and to brighten whites.
- Applying lemon juice directly to stain spots can also clean ink and other stains from clothes.
Vinegar is another multiple use product. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer. However brown malt vinegar is not suitable, use distilled white vinegar made from grains or grapes.
Here is a list of uses for vinegar:
- Great for cleaning the kitchen sink and leaving it sparkling and fresh.
- Vinegar removes mildew and hard water accumulation from almost any surface, including windows, tiles and dishes.
- Great as a window, glass and mirror cleaner.
- It can be added to your laundry to brighten clothes.
- A great rust remover. Let the rusted item sit in vinegar for a few hours before scrubbing.
- Apply directly to remove stains on clothes, or spray smelly socks or armpit areas of tops before putting in the washing machine.
- Removes grease from walls.
- Perfect with baking soda for unblocking drains; pour baking soda down the drain and then add vinegar and let it fizz up for a couple of minutes. Wait a further 10 minutes and then rinse down with hot water.
- Removes hard water build-up from the shower head. Boil the shower head in vinegar and water to unblock the holes and remove hard water build-up.
Other useful natural cleaning products:
Baking soda or bicarbonate of soda naturally deodorizes and neutralizes acid. It can be used to clean all sorts of surfaces. Use it in place of harsh abrasive cleaners or as a carpet freshener by sprinkling it onto smelly carpets; leave it for about 20 minutes and then vacuum. It also cleans, brightens and polishes aluminium, chrome, jewellery, plastic, porcelain, silver, stainless steel and tin. In addition it can be added to a wash load to soften the fabric and remove most stains (*With the recipe given below for washing detergent there is no need for an extra softener).
Cornstarch can be used to make furniture polish. It can also be sprinkled onto carpets and vacuumed up for a shampooed effect.
And now for my tried and tested tips, recipes and advice.
Firstly, I must point out that I don’t have the luxury of a dish washer or a tumble drier, which on occasion I regret, but most of the time I am happy to line dry my clothes and hand wash my dishes. Going back to basics is actually better for the environment and means using less water and energy. We don’t even have a bath, but showering again uses less water. I also still use my oven or stove every other day or so, (my partner still eats cooked food), so the best advice is simply do not use it, however if like me it still features in your food preparation the trick is to make sure to wipe it down once it is cool enough to do so. This prevents any build-up of dried food and means hardly any, if any scrubbing later.
Putting together a few of my own cleaning products took no time at all, and putting them into squeezy bottles or spray bottles means I didn’t even notice the difference when cleaning my house. I put together a few basics, i.e. laundry detergent, a general cleaner, polish and window cleaner. With these to hand I am ready for action when that time of the week rolls by.
General Cleaner – Use to disinfect surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. It can be used for surface cleaning of countertops, tables, cupboard doors, bathroom tiles, bath tubs and practically anything.
250ml vinegar, the juice of 1 lemon and 500ml water. Put it in a spray bottle and give it a good shake before use.
*Both the lemon and the vinegar disinfect and the lemon gives it a nice smell too.
Floors – For carpets, every month or so sprinkle with corn flour or bicarbonate of soda, leave for about 20 minutes before vacuuming up, both will deodorise the carpet and freshen up the colours. For kitchen and bathroom tiles or laminate flooring, vacuum or sweep the area and then use 1 glass of vinegar with about 4 litres of hot water in a mop bucket. If you have wooden flooring you should spritz the floor with vinegar and then dry mop.
Toilet basin – Pour vinegar inside the toilet and use a scrub brush to freshen, clean and neutralise. Baking soda can also be used to help remove water deposits.
Bathtubs & Showers – Use a squeegee to scrape water off of tiles and glass shower doors to prevent dry water spots. Rinse out the bathtub after using it to prevent grime build-up or dry soap rings. To clean both the shower area and bathtub use the general cleaner given above, it can also be used to spray shower curtains daily to prevent mould and mildew build-up.
Clean stainless steel faucets in the kitchen and bathroom with vinegar to keep them shiny and clean them of water deposits.
Glass, Mirrors and wooden furniture – Commercial glass cleaners and polishes leave a residue, therefore to remove the residue first steep 2 regular teabags in about a litre of hot water. When it has cooled to room temperature put it in a spray bottle and clean all surfaces with this first to remove furniture polish residues and wax build-up from window cleaners, dry with a cotton cloth and it will look like new again.
Glass cleaner – For glass, mirrors and windows vinegar is excellent, you can either use it straight up or dilute it with a little water. Use newspaper instead of kitchen paper to rub it around the surface, it works a treat.
Wood furniture – To make a natural furniture polish, combine 1 part lemon juice with 2 parts olive oil, I used 1/3 glass lemon juice and 2/3 olive oil. My wood furniture has never looked so lovely and shiny. A little goes a long way, start with a small squirt and work it outwards in circular movements.
Odour control – You can put vinegar in small shallow dishes in the bathroom to neutralise any bad smells or dilute lemon juice with some water and put it in a spray bottle to mist the air.
I really love nice smells and in fact got a bit carried away with a commercial air freshener at one point; as a result I constantly had sores in my nose. It wasn’t until I started researching this article that I realised why. Commercial air fresheners mask smells and interfere with ones ability to smell by releasing nerve-deadening agents or coating nasal passages with an oil film, usually methoxychlor, a pesticide that accumulates in fat cells and over-stimulates the CNS.
Standard air fresheners can also contain volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) such as butane and pentane, which contribute to the formation of ozone in the lower atmosphere, a major contributor to air pollution.
For me the vinegar in a dish idea didn’t compensate for a fragrant air freshener so I decided to take it one step further and created my own air freshener. The idea actually came from a deodorant recipe. It is really effective in my bathroom and with only 2 sprays any previous smelly business is evaporated.
- 250ml blossom water or rose water
- 1 cup dried lavender buds
- 1/4 cup dried thyme
- 5 drops lavender oil
- 3 drops Tea tree Oil
- 1 glass of water
Cover herbs with the blossom or rose water and allow to steep for about a week. Strain and add the water and essential oils pour into spray bottle for easy use. Voila!
*Rose water is a by-product of the production of rose oil. Most people are familiar with rose water or rose oil as an addition to fragrances and in body and facial creams. It is considered to have anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties. Blossom water in the Mediterranean is made from orange blossom using the same process as rose water. Both smell delicious.
The most popular use for rose and blossom water is in Asia and the Middle East as an ingredient in sweet treats. They can both be found in large supermarkets in either the baking section or in the Asian or Mediterranean sections. They can also be purchased from local Asian or Mediterranean supermarkets.
Natural Laundering – Clothes can easily be cleaned with bright results without the use of harsh detergents or anything that can irritate the skin or harm ones health. Most commercial detergents are petroleum based and contain additives such as bleach, phosphates, POP’s, DDT and fragrances, which can all be hazardous causing health problems such as allergies and asthma.
Here is my recipe for a natural laundering detergent, my laundry comes out clean and smelling very neutral and fresh. It is also very soft; therefore no need to use a fabric softener.
In the blender put:
- 2 peeled lemons
- about 1.5 inches of peeled fresh Ginger
- 1.5 tbsp of dried rosemary
- About 9 drops of tea tree oil
- 9 tbsp rose or blossom water
- About 3 glasses of water to blend (750ml)
Blend the ingredients well and let sit for an hour or so to let the smells mingle. Then strain the liquid and you are ready to go.
Add about 150ml to each load either directly in the drum with the clothes or in the tray (most standard washing detergents come with a cup/ball which you are required to fill with detergent and add straight to the machine, this normally fits a maximum of about 150ml, ideal for this). The above recipe should yield about 4 loads worth.
Tips for pre-treating specific stains
Blood – Soak the area with cold water and gently scrub the stain out using a scrubbing brush or rubbing the material together.
Sweat – The above recipe has dealt with my partners very smelly feet and his smelly gym clothes (bearing in mind he eats a standard diet and doesn’t use deodorant). However for extra reassurance you can spray vinegar on the armpit area of clothes or on socks before washing.
Oil stains – A paste of salt and a little water should be added to the stain before washing.
Grease stains – Sprinkle area with baking soda, cover with a rag and then iron it.
Wine, chocolate, fruit and ketchup and any other food stains – Need to be treated with a salt paste and then washed in hot water.
Washing Machines account for about 60% of the average household’s water consumption. Most modern washing machines now have an energy efficient function which will cut down on electric bills and conserve water.
*You should not overfill your machine; the laundry needs room to circulate to clean well.
Tumble dryers take up 5-10% of the average home’s energy. The best alternative is good old fashion line drying. It will save you money, the clothes will smell fresh from the sunshine and they wont be static. If it is winter or you live someplace like England where there is limited sunshine, you can line dry where possible and use a drying rack indoors when line drying is not possible. Find a place which has good air circulation and is not damp like the bathroom, you could put the rack close to a radiator, alternatively if you have central heating you can spread your clothes over the radiators.
When you choose to use natural cleaning products, you help keep our global home a bit cleaner and safer for this generation and those to come. Feel free to share this information with as many people as possible; together we can make a difference.