with natural products that don’t present health risks.
In 2010, a study published in Environmental Health linked the regular use of basic cleaning products to breast cancer, suggesting that it could double the risk. An earlier study suggested that cleaning products and air fresheners containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) reduced lung function by 4 percent—yet these dangerous compounds were not listed on the product labels since companies are not required to disclose them.
Other research has indicated that the use of spray household cleaners could increase the risk of developing asthma by nearly 50 percent. A 2012 study noted that 65 percent of exposures to potentially dangerous toxins in household cleaning products were in children less than five years of age.
Fortunately, this is one area where we can take a step back and return to our roots. What did your grandmother use the clean the house? Most likely, it was a homemade cleaning solution that contained none of the potentially dangerous ingredients shown in these studies to be harmful.
The EWG Lists the Most Harmful Cleaning Products
In late 2012, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a list of the most harmful cleaning products you may have in your home today. In their study, 53 percent of products examined contained lung-harming ingredients. Other potentially harmful and even carcinogenic ingredients like formaldehyde and chloroform were found in several cleaners.
Unfortunately, the EWG confirmed that customers are in the dark when it comes to discovering whether or not their cleaners are safe. “Just 7 percent of cleaning products adequately disclosed their contents,” stated the organization in a press release.
Among the EWG’s most harmful products were the following:
- Toilet-bowl cleansing disks, which can be harmful if swallowed. Particularly dangerous for pets.
- Lysol disinfectant toilet bowl cleaner—some of this in the eye can be very damaging.
- Glade air freshener sprays—the warnings on the sprays themselves note they can be harmful if inhaled.
- Spic and Span multi-surface cleaner—contains “nonylphenol ethoxylate,” which is banned in products made after 2012 in California because it can disrupt hormonal function.
- Scrubbing Bubbles antibacterial cleaner—contains DEGBE (butoxydiglycol), a solvent that can irritate and inflame the lungs.
- Mop & Glo multi-surface floor cleaner—contains DEGME (methoxydiglycol) at up to 15 times the concentration allowed in the European Union.
For more on the EWG’s guide to safe cleaners, see their website.
To make safer cleaning options yourself, it helps to have a few basic ingredients on hand. These include:
- Baking soda
- Lemon and lemon juice
- White vinegar
- Washing soda
- Citrus solvent
- Tea tree oil
- Unscented liquid soap (without petroleum products—look for those that say “biodegradable,” “septic-safe,” and/or “non-toxic”)
You can use these products in various mixtures to clean just about anything. We’ll give you some recipes here to get started with. Remember that you can add essential oils like lemongrass, lavender, and others whenever you want a nice scent.
- All-purpose cleaning spray: To clean countertops, mirrors, glass, and other surfaces, mix one part white vinegar and one part water in a spray bottle. Spray, wipe, and you’re done. If you’re dealing with soap scum or mineral deposits, let the solution sit for 5 minutes before wiping clean. You can also try using a stronger vinegar solution.
- Bathroom scrub: Mix your own cleansing paste by using baking soda, a squirt of liquid soap, and a squeeze of lemon or few drops of lemon juice until you have a frosting-like paste. Dip cloth or sponge into the mixture and scrub. This also works well for cleaning ovens.
- Floor cleaner: Mix ¼ cup liquid soap with ½ cup white vinegar and warm water. You can also add some lemon juice or tea tree oil for germ-killing properties. Combine in the sink or a large bucket and mop.
- Disinfectant: To clean countertops and sinks after cooking meat or other potentially contaminated foods, make your own disinfectant by mixing 2 cups water with 3 tablespoons liquid soap and 20-30 drops of tea tree oil.
- Deodorizer: Sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch on the carpet or rug. Leave for 30 minutes and vacuum.
- Dishwasher detergent: Mix 2 cups washing soda, 2 cups borax, and 25 drops grapefruit essential oil. Store in plastic container.
- Wood cleaner: Mix 1 cup olive oil with ½ cup lemon juice and 5 drops of lemon essential oil. Use with a soft cloth.
Do you have other homemade cleaner recipes? Please share them with our readers!
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“Study Links Household Cleaning Products to Breast Cancer,” Fox News, July 20, 2010, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,597142,00.html.
Williams H, et al., “Hazard of household cleaning products: a study undertaken by the UK National Poisons Information Service,” Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2012 Sep;50(8):770-5, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22809171.
Serena Gordon, “Health Hazards in Household Cleaners Exposed,” US News and World Report, July 25, 2008, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/allergy-and-asthma/articles/2008/07/25/health-hazards-in-household-cleaners-exposed.
“Worst Cleaners: EWG’s List of Most Harmful Cleaning Products for Your Home,” Huffington Post, September 10, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/10/worst-household-cleaners-cleaning-products_n_1871420.html.
“The Easiest Green Cleaning Recipes You Can Make At Home,” The Daily Green, http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/green-cleaning-spring-cleaning-460303#slide-5.