NATURAL CLEANERS Common and inexpensive household ingredients like white vinegar, lemon juice and bread soda are effective and eco-friendly.
Last time I covered how to lighten up your personal care routine to ensure you’re not applying chemicals directly to your skin, which that leads us nicely into a discussion about how to ensure your home is as non-toxic as possible.
According to the EPA, household cleaning products can cause skin and eye irritation, and also release volatile organic compounds that affects air quality for people and pets. Products that are washed down drains can affect the functioning of septic tanks and contaminate our water supplies, as wastewater treatment cannot remove all chemicals we flush or rinse away.
It’s amazing to think that we spend our hard-earned money on a wide array of products marketed to us as specifically formulated for one particular use, when many of the surfaces they are designed to clean don’t require radically different solutions to scrub up nicely. Luckily, there are many ways to dial down the chemicals while still cleaning effectively.
I’m going to mention my grandmother again, as she grew up using mostly elbow grease to get things clean, with the help of some common, and cheap, household ingredients like white vinegar, lemon juice and bread soda (sodium bicarbonate).
White vinegar and lemon juice are both acids that disinfect, and they can be applied directly on most surfaces or diluted with water to make a spray cleaner for counters, sinks and windows or cleaning cutting boards. The vinegar odour dissipates after use, or you can add a couple of drops of essential oils to mask the smell.
Lemon juice also cuts through grease, as does vinegar infused with orange peel; they can be used to clean oily pans or the cooker.
Bread soda (also known as baking soda) is great as a cream cleanser or for scrubbing caked-on food in pans or the oven, and it also is a base that reacts with acids like vinegar to loosen gunk in clogged drains and deal with limescale in toilets.
It is also brilliant for deodorizing, so you can sprinkle it on carpets, let sit and then hoover it up, or put it in a small bowl in cabinets, the refrigerator or any area that has any smell you’d like to get rid of.
Natural solid soap can be grated and mixed with water to wipe down counters, or castile soap, made from natural oils, has many uses – from cleaning floors to washing dishes to doing laundry. Choose eco-friendly washing-up liquid, as many mainstream brands are tough on skin and also quite toxic to marine life. Olive or flaxseed oil are great for dusting and polishing wooden furniture.
One quick note about what to scrub with: most sponges are made from plastic or nylon, so opt for cotton cloths, natural loofahs or coconut scrubbers which can be composted at the end of their lives.
Finally, be sure to air out your rooms on a regular basis year-round to freshen things up, and keep loads of lovely plants around the house to absorb carbon dioxide and other airborne toxins.
McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.