House Cleaning The Natural Way
Becoming a mother almost three years ago inspired and propelled me to take this whole less toxic lifestyle more seriously. I want to give my daughter the best I can in terms of the tools and knowledge she needs to have a good foundation for living a healthy and conscientious life: feed herself properly for optimal health, be a kind and loving human being and live her daily life respecting her body, her environment and the planet that shelters and feeds her!
Where is the link with making our own cleaning products you may wonder? Well, it is a known fact that most commercial and traditionally used household cleaning products contain dozens of chemicals that are classified as being toxic, potentially cancer causing, and are hazardous to not only our health, but the planet’s. A long-term study even revealed that cleaning products were as bad for the lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes a day over 10 to 20 years. Products like air fresheners, bleach, laundry detergent, dish washing soap, carpet, wood and oven cleaners, all contain these toxic compounds. Even products claiming to be “green”, “clean” or “natural” may contain some of these ingredients that pose some sort of health hazard.
And what happens after these products have done their job and disappear down our drains? Some of the chemicals make their way into our waterways and pose a threat to our water quality, fish and other wildlife. See where I’m going with all this? By making better choices in our home, for our health and the planet's I am also teaching her to make these better choices!!
What to Avoid in Cleaning Products?
Unfortunately, in Canada cleaning products manufacturers are not required to list ingredients, nor warnings about chronic health or environmental hazards. We need to learn how to shop smarter and just like with food, we need to read the labels.
Look for products that are designed to be safe for the environment and have an independent, third party eco-certification like EcoLogo, Green Seal, EcoCert. These programs restrict the use of certain toxic chemicals.
In general avoid products that contain the following ingredients:
chlorine, ammonia and ammonium compounds, MEA/DEA/TEA, petroleum based ingredients, phosphates, sodium lauryl or laureth sulfates, terpene, triclosan (often found in antibacterial products), sodium hydroxide (aka lye or caustic soda), silica powder.
Be proactive and research the names of ingredients or chemicals you don’t know. The Environmental Working Group has already done a lot of the research and work for us, when in doubt you can access their website right here. Once you find a brand you feel good about, stick with it and check the ingredient list every once in a while to make sure nothing has changed!
Beware of products with scents, particularly if they list the word fragrances or perfumes on their label. Even if they add the word “natural” to describe them. The ingredient fragrance can mean a cocktail of dozens and even hundreds of different chemical compounds, including phthalates, wrapped up in a simple and attractive word that isn’t regulated and thus doesn’t really have a standardized meaning. Make sure they define what’s in the natural fragrance; ideally you want to buy fragrance-free and add a scent with your own preferred essential oils.
Look for the biodegradable designation (it assesses the environmental fate of chemicals) such as biodegradability test OECD 301 D or E.
The BEST, Cheapest and Safest Solution: Making Our Own Cleaning Products
We can easily rid our home of commercial cleaning products and all the chemicals they contain by simply making our own. Not only is it easy, but also fun! Plus, they will cost at least half the amount of commercial products and be just as effective. The majority, if not all household cleaning tasks can be tackled using a few ingredients you may already have on hand in your kitchen or pantry and are safe enough to eat!
Here are a few of my go-to natural, non-toxic ingredients that I use either alone or combined to make household cleaners that I can feel good about, are safe for my whole family and the environment, but also effective.
Distilled White Vinegar
I have been using distilled white vinegar to clean floors and windows since forever. Somehow, I have always associated this type of vinegar more with cleaning than with food! It can clean, cut through grease, soap scum and mineral deposits, deodorize, kill germs, and remove mildew, odors and certain stains, but also does wonders for laundry by removing static and softening clothes at a fraction of the price than fabric softeners minus all the chemicals! Just avoid using vinegar on marble or granite surfaces. You can use the regular distilled white vinegar you may already have in your pantry, but I also like Eco Pioneer's Concentrated Pure Vinegar which has five times the strength of regular vinegar making it a powerful cleaner, limescale remover and environmentally-safe bleaching agent.
Besides adding a clean, fresh smell to almost anything, lemons are a powerful disinfectant and also whitener because of their acidity. I use it to remove stains from my cutting boards, when mixed with olive oil it can be used to rub onto wood furniture (the natural version of the famous Pledge wood cleaner), or it is great to replace vinegar to get glass and windows streak and water stain free!
Baking Soda & Washing Soda
Baking soda has many virtues. Not only is it a must-have ingredient for anyone who loves to bake, but it is a great ingredient for deodorizing, cutting through grease, scrubbing, lifting dirt, and whitening. Washing soda is baking soda’s cousin, they’re related, both are natural ingredients, but still quite different. Washing soda (aka soda ash or sodium carbonate) is not edible and has a higher pH than baking soda (11 vs 8). This higher pH makes washing soda more caustic (can burn or damage tissues), therefore you will want to be careful or wear gloves when cleaning with it and the higher alkalinity makes it a better choice for the removal of soil and dirt from our homes and laundry. I use baking soda when cleaning my pots and pans, my kitchen or bathroom sinks, when scrubbing my counters, grout or the oven floor, or as a natural carpet freshener. It does a great scrubbing job, doesn’t scratch, is easier to rinse clean and it is edible if ever there’s some residue accidentally left behind or if you have kids and pets. I use their washing soda for tougher jobs or when the item can be easily well rinsed afterwards, such as the bathtub, shower door or the inside of the toilet bowl.
This is the king of all soaps. It is natural, non-toxic, biodegradable, human and environmentally safe, free of any synthetic ingredients and it can lather, moisturize and cleanse! Traditionally, this soap was made in the Castile region of Spain and from olive oil. Today, you can find Castile soap made from other plant-based oils like: coconut, hemp, almond, avocado, as well as walnut. Always make sure to choose one that isn’t made with palm oil, and in concentrated liquid form instead of bar as it is more versatile. You can also use a castile soap that is scented with organic essential oils like my favorite brand The Green Beaver Company. They have a beautiful line of organic liquid Castile soaps that are made with cold-pressed Canadian sunflower seed oil and coconut oil that are certified EcoCert, biodegradable and not tested on animals. Soft enough for all your skin and body care needs, yet powerful enough to clean your entire house!
This is another ingredient you may want to add to your repertoire of home cleaning ingredients. I just started experimenting with them in the last year and love Divine Essence, a local Montreal brand offering mostly Ecocert certified premium quality organic essential oils. All their essential oils are also “chemotyped” by a third party laboratory which ensures authenticity, definite botanical origin and 100% purity, with no dilution, synthetic or mineral oil contamination.
Essential Oil Uses
Did you know that essential oils can do much more than just give off different scents? For instance, lemon, rosemary, lavender, peppermint and cinnamon oils all have antibacterial properties. Tea tree, thyme and eucalyptus oils are great against germs, wild orange oil cuts through grease, while rosemary and cinnamon oils are also antiseptic. Besides fighting germs, tea tree oil is also antibacterial and antiviral making it the perfect natural ingredient for homemade wipes! And I’m just scratching the surface of essential oil possibilities. They also make the best air fresheners! When I want my home to smell nice, I use my Aerium® PRO cold air nebulizer to vaporize and diffuse my favorite essential oil scents. It freshens up my home without the harmful chemicals and can also be therapeutic. Because essential oils are quite potent we only need a small amount, often times a few drops are more than enough. Some essential oils may react to light and air, so when making our own naturally scented cleaning products we should store them in dark amber or cobalt blue colored glass bottles.
And For A Quick, Safe Commercially Available Solution...
And if DIY is just not your thing there are many natural cleaning products on the market nowadays. One of the brands I have used and stand by is Biovert, a local company that locally produces a line of high quality, efficient cleaning products and other housekeeping items (laundry detergent, dish and hand soap) that are respectful of nature, socially responsible and that are safe for our families. They are not tested on animals, certified biodegradable within 28 days and are Ecologo certified to meet strict environmental ingredient specifications and whose effectiveness has been tested to be at least of equal efficiency to the non-ecological competing products.
If you enjoyed this post, here are a few more you may find interesting which are all about living a less toxic life:
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