Natural Ways to Spring Clean

Apr 2, 2024 | Healthy Home

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The air warms, the birds start singing, and the sun rises earlier and earlier… spring is here! With the annual arrival of spring, many folks start to think about spring cleaning. The winter months, especially for those living in the north, are often cold and overcast with long nights. To help toss aside those winter blues, open some windows and get to cleaning! Keeping busy and airing out the house is a great way to refresh your mood and get ready for summer.

Now, one thing that is becoming more and more important in many households is to limit or avoid chemical cleaners. These compounds have been linked to skin irritation, respiratory problems, and fertility issues among others. Public demand for healthier products is increasing, and it’s estimated the market value for sustainable cleaning products will be $111.2 billion (USD) by 2026. For perspective, the projected total market value for all cleaning products in 2026 is estimated at $207.3 billion (USD).

Chemical Exposures Due to Cleaners

In the United States, the laws around cleaning product manufacturing are lax to say the least. Companies can use many different chemicals in their products which have limited safety testing in humans. They are also not legally obligated to disclose all the chemicals used in their products. A few examples of harsh chemicals used in cleaning products are:

  • Sodium hypochlorite – This chemical is used in chlorine bleach and is linked to respiratory problems.
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds – Otherwise known as quats, this class of chemicals has been linked to reproductive issues and harm in animals. These quats can be found in laundry products, sanitizers, and even disinfectants.
  • Acids – These corrosive agents can be used in toilet cleaners, oven cleaners, drain openers, etc, and can cause severe skin and eye damage. Examples are sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds – Otherwise known as VOCs, these can be released from chemical cleaning products. VOCs vaporize at room temperature and have been linked to chronic respiratory problems, allergic reactions, and headaches.

You can learn about more chemicals to watch out for from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Why Natural Cleaning Techniques Are Better

Overall, using natural cleaning products is healthier for your family and the environment. It reduces chemical daily exposures and may even improve health. One French study found using cleaning products reduced the correlation with asthma symptoms. More eco-friendly and homemade products did not seem to cause breathing difficulties. Additionally, using/making natural products also reduces the amount of packaging that has to be thrown out or recycled.

It can be hard to find healthier products to buy. Just because a product labels itself as “green” this doesn’t necessarily mean it is. The term “green” isn’t regulated by any company at this point, meaning green products may be no better than conventional chemical products. This is especially true if the label uses vague terms like “fragrance,” “surfactant,” or “preservative.” This makes it necessary, in some cases, to make things at home.

Non-Toxic Cleaners You Can Make/Use at Home

Choosing to use natural products with fewer chemicals helps create a healthier home. Most cleaning solutions can be made at home using common household ingredients. A lot of households have natural cleaning products sitting right on their shelf. Below is a list of cleaning agents. Recipes using one or more of the suggestions below can be found online via a simple search.

  • Baking Soda – Known as sodium bicarbonate, this white powder is useful for many different applications. It is gentle but slightly abrasive, making it good for scrubbing sinks, pots and pans, ovens, stoves, and tubs. Baking soda can also be used as a deodorizer for the trash can or refrigerator. Due to its abrasive quality, it shouldn’t be used on surfaces that will easily scratch like glass, precious metals, electronics, etc. If you need more scrubbing powder, you can add salt to your scrub as it is more abrasive than baking soda alone.
  • Vinegar – Distilled white vinegar is a great natural cleaning agent. It’s acidic, making it great for rust and hard water stains. Vinegar is also a natural disinfectant and helps eradicate odors due to microbial growth. Use straight distilled vinegar in a spray bottle and mist it in rooms to freshen the air. Please note that cleaning vinegar is stronger than the white vinegar found in the baking aisle. It can contain up to 6% acetic acid and is more concentrated. Use caution if you use cleaning vinegar. Notably, don’t use vinegar on natural stone or rubber surfaces as it can damage those materials.
  • Lemon Juice – Lemons are naturally antimicrobial and have a mild bleaching action. Cut a lemon in half, and you can use it on counters or cutting boards as a cleaner. Let the juice sit on the surfaces for a bit, then rinse clean. It can sit on wood cutting boards longer to help eliminate stains. Lemon juice is also a great degreasing agent. Never use lemon juice on brass-plated items (solid brass is okay) or natural stone counters.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide – Although this is a man-made chemical, hydrogen peroxide is a cheap, easy-to-use cleaner. Hydrogen peroxide is a great pre-treatment for stains when doing the laundry. It works well on grass, wine, or even blood stains. It can also help make white clothes brighter during the washing cycle. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used as a glass cleaner.

Other Tips for a Green Home

Below are some more ways to reduce chemicals in your home. Recipe ideas are attached so you can get some ideas on making your own cleaning solutions if you wish!

  • Window Cleaning – You can of course make window washing fluid using rubbing alcohol, white vinegar, and water. Here’s an example. It’s also possible to clean windows using water and a specially-made cloth that leaves a streak-free shine. These cleaning clothes can often be purchased from your local hardware store, or you can order them online.
  • Washing/Drying Laundry – There are chemicals in most laundry detergents, even the “natural” ones. There are many different recipes out there for making laundry detergent. There’s a great recipe for making natural laundry detergent. This particular recipe is great for general cleaning; it may not work well for those with greasy, oily laundry. To dry your laundry, consider using laundry balls instead of chemical-based fabric softeners. The most natural laundry balls are made from wool, but they can also be made from plastic or rubber. These balls generally shorten drying time, soften clothes, and are reusable time and time again.
  • Dishwasher Detergent – It is also possible to buy healthier options for your dishwashing routine. Choose a soap with simpler ingredients and no added fragrance for hand-washing dishes. If you own a dishwasher, you can make cleaning powder at home using some simple ingredients like citric acid (from lemons for example) and washing soda. Here’s an example recipe.

What if You Don’t Have the Time?

For those of you who are unable to make products at home for whatever reason, there are other options. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a Safer Choice label to help consumers choose healthier cleaning products. In order to receive the label, these products must disclose every chemical used in manufacturing. The product is also independently tested by an outside company to verify the ingredients. Then, the product is checked against a list of safer ingredients. These products also use greener packaging options and maintain a chemical pH in a safer range for consumers. Companies voluntarily go through these steps to ensure better products for public use.

And Don’t Forget…

As always, exercise due diligence when adding cleaning products to your home. The more natural cleaning methods with the least amount of ingredients/chemicals you use, the safer you and your family will be. Finally, no matter what you clean with, be sure to wear gloves and use cleaners in a well-ventilated area. Never mix natural cleaning agents, green cleaners, or conventional products as it can cause a toxic chemical reaction.

For more information on products, you can visit the EWG website mentioned above to find out what your better options are. This site lists cleaning products including detergent and other soaps, and skin care products. You can also reach out to a natural health practitioner for more ideas.

 

References:

  • American Lung Association. 2023. “Cleaning Supplies and Household Chemicals.” https://www.lung.org/clean-air/indoor-air/indoor-air-pollutants/cleaning-supplies-household-chem
  • Bren. N.D. “Natural Homemade Laundry Detergent.” Revised March 10, 2023. https://brendid.com/grade-a-laundry-detergent/
  • Environmental Working Group. 2023. “EWG’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Spring Cleaning” https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/2023/03/ewgs-quick-and-dirty-guide-spring-cleaning
  • National Sanitation Foundation International. N.D. https://www.nsf.org/knowledge-library/importance-safer-choice-mark-cleaning-products
  • Pacheco Da Silva, Emilie, et al. 2022. “Household Use of Green and Homemade Cleaning Products, Wipe Application Mode, and Asthma Among French Adults From the CONSTANCES Cohort.” Indoor air; 32(7): e13078. doi:10.1111/ina.13078
  • Sherwood, Alison. 2023. “Guide to Natural Cleaning.” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ss/slideshow-guide-to-natural-cleaning
  • TruEarth. N.D. “Dryer Balls vs. Dryer Sheets: Which are Better?” https://www.tru.earth/Dryer-Balls-vs-Dryer-Sheets

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