If you are trying to be eco-friendly one of the ways you can make a change is with your cleaning products. We need cleaners around the home, yet a lot of the household cleaners we use get flushed down the sink without much thought for the affect that the mix of chemicals and biologicals will have on our waterways. Toxic chemicals affect the health of many marine life, animals and us humans. The biologicals, like added nutrients, in some cleaners promote the growth of some organisms like bacteria and viruses (e.g. algal blooms). So, we need to consider changing to safer and more environmentally friendly cleaners, but you can’t do that without knowing what cleaners to avoid. This means checking the ingredients.
What to avoid
Surfactants: These are the components that create the bubbles when added to water. The problem with some of these surfactants is that they are toxic to animals and humans, and even insects which influences the pollination of plants and population growth of some species. Certain surfactants pose a health hazard and some Surfactants such as these need to be avoided because of their toxicity.
sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS),
sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS),
sulfates sodium laureth sulfate (SLS)
sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES),
1,4-dioxane, diethanolamine (DEA),
Antibacterials: Many sanitisers and hand cleaners have bacteria killing compounds added e.g. like triclosan. The problem with using such compounds is they change the balance in the ecosystem, allowing in some cases far worse organisms to thrive, like pathogens. Also, they can be a problem for biological water treatment processes, preventing the appropriate breakdown of contaminants in the water.
Bleach: the most commonly used bleach is sodium hypochlorite (liquid bleach) which may be a source of chlorinated volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic fumes. These cleaners produce fumes which are extremely dangerous for anyone suffering from asthma or lung issues, but the toxic gases produced are not safe for anyone or any organism as they effect the respiratory system (nose, throat, lungs and even your eyes), while it kills off both the harmless and the bad bacteria. They are also linked with neurological effects and cancer.
NEVER combine bleach with ammonia, and particularly when getting rid of them, because the mixture results in a lethal gas.
EDCs: These are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. There has been much talk about these chemicals as they have a huge impact on the reproduction of many land and marine animals, as well as humans. Examples of these EDCs are BPA (found in some plastic bottles and dinnerware), phthalate plasticisers (found in some exfoliants and scrubs), and the chemicals in fragrances can be hormone-disrupting. These chemicals accumulate in aquatic environments, becoming toxic to microbes and animals at high levels, attacking the cycle of life in many environments.
Corrosive cleaners: I’m sure at some stage you have had the joy of working with corrosive oven, toilet, bathroom and drain cleaners and thought that you had no other options for cleaning baked on or difficult to clean areas around the home. It crossed my mind that something that can burn the skin, cannot be good if flushed down the sink or thrown into the bin.
What to consider
If a cleaner has any of the following warnings on its label you must think it is not good for you, your family and pets or the environment, and they should be avoided:
"use in a well-ventilated area"
"harmful if swallowed,"
"keep away from children or pregnant women"
“fatal if inhaled”
I can hear you say, ‘But are natural non-toxic cleaners as effective?’. And the answer is YES. Many non-toxic cleaners have been found to be just as effective as the above-mentioned cleaning products at removing dirt, stains and grease from around the home as well as acting as natural sanitisers.
A few natural essentials
Baking Soda – This is a staple in natural cleaning, as baking soda (bicarbonate of soda/soda bicarbonate) is so versatile, hardworking and inexpensive. It also has antiviral.
Distilled White Vinegar - Like baking soda, distilled white vinegar is multipurpose and inexpensive. The acidity in it makes, it a great disinfectant, while removing grease, soap scum, and dirt around the home.
Lemons – a good alternative to vinegar in some cases because of its acidity and for some people, the smell is far nicer than the vinegar smell. So why not pick up a few lemons the next time you do your grocery shopping.
Essential oils – I find eucalyptus fantastic around the home for removing sticky labels from jars and bottles, to sticky grease marks of surfaces. Many essential oils have antimicrobial abilities e.g. tea tree oil, which can be used as a surface disinfectant. Clove oil is another handy disinfectant and it is great when removing mould from your bathroom. Essential oils are wonderful at leaving the place with a beautiful smell but be aware on how to use them as they are concentrated oils. If ingested they can be poisonous, and some can cause allergic reactions.
Salt – another easy to have cleaner and scrub particularly if you have the courser form. Easy to get your hands on, as most households stock it in their pantry.
Soap – look for unscented soap (bar or liquid) that has none of the harsh ingredients as mentioned above. Get from a trusted supplier who cares for the environment and manufactures soap that is biodegradable. You will know it is good, as it won’t suds up as easily as the non-eco brands. Avoid using soaps that contain petroleum distillates.
Olive Oil – great for polishing wood and shining up stainless steel surfaces.
Alcohol – believe it or not Vodka and other forms of alcohol (grain alcohol) are great as cleaner and make excellent disinfectants.
Oxygen bleach - Oxygen bleach (Sodium Percarbonate releases Hydrogen peroxide in water) is an excellent cleaner at removing organic stains on clothes or around the house. It can be used to brighten clothes by soaking or by adding to your washing machine. Spray it to deodorise and disinfect safely in your bathroom.
A few more simple items that will make cleaning a lot easier and can be reused.
Microfiber Cleaning Cloths.
Time (set aside to do the work)
Homemade Cleaning products
Mix equal parts vinegar and water and place into a spray bottle. A few drops of eucalyptus or tea tree oil can be added. It can be used on most surfaces except marble, granite, or stone, as the acidity will etch away at the stone. Stick to soap and water for marble, granite and stone.
Sprinkle half a cup of baking soda into the toilet bowl and then add 8- 10 drops of tea tree essential oil. Next add a quarter cup of vinegar into the bowl and start scrubbing while the baking soda starts to fizz.
First clean the surfaces with a mixture of 4 litres of hot water, 1 tablespoon bicarb of soda and half a cup of vinegar. Then do one of the following:
Combine two cups of water and about 8 -10 drops of tea tree oil and place into a spray bottle. Shake well, spray, and let sit for several hours before wiping.
Oxygen bleach (Hydrogen peroxide) is also good for mould and mildew. Add 1 cup of the MiEco Oxygen bleach powder to 4 litres of water
Mix a quarter teaspoon of clove oil per litre of water and place into a spray bottle. Lightly spray the mouldy surface and leave for 20 minutes before wiping off.Spray again and leave to work.It will take between 24-48 hours for the mould spores to dry and drop off.
Apply baking soda directly to cooktop and with a damp cloth rub. It makes for a great scourer. For difficult stains spray also with your All-purpose cleaner.
Heat the oven to 80°C. Once the oven is warm, spray All-purpose cleaner (above) on the surface and sprinkle with salt particularly onto the affected areas. Turn off the oven and let it cool. Then scrub away the grime with a microfibre cloth or a coconut scrubber. If the dirt is not coming away too easily, you may need to reapply the multipurpose spray and add baking soda instead of salt. Let it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing.
Toss a halved lemon in your rubbish bin to keep it smelling fresh
We know you lead busy lives and often have too many thing to think about, so if making your own cleaning products seems too time-consuming, we have some ready-made alternatives that are safe to use and clean affectively. Check them out.
And we hope this helps make your cleaning round the home easier,
simplifying your eco journey. We would love to hear your thoughts.
Attracta & the earthly passion team