The benefits of non-toxic cleaning

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Next up for Spring Cleaning Week:  non-toxic cleaning.  In my book, I recommend a basic three-step process of decluttering, cleaning, and organizing in each area of your home in order to refresh your living spaces.

On Monday, we discussed some tips on decluttering, overcoming obstacles to our most common roadblocks to getting rid of stuff.  Today, we’ll overview the benefits of non-toxic cleaning.

Because let’s face it — cleaning is cleaning.  I don’t need to convince you of the benefits of a clean house.  We’ve all lived it, and I’ll bet you most of us constantly have at least a few areas of our home in need of a good scrubbing (mine does, anyway).

So why bother with going out of your way to clean without chemicals?  There’s a lot of reasons, actually, and most of them align well with a frugal-spirited household. And it’s also really easy to do.

Here are some top reasons for choosing non-toxic cleaning methods over traditional cleaners.


1.  Non-toxic cleaners are perfectly safe around children.

Those child safety locks for cabinets are made for under the sink — that’s the big no-no area filled with chemicals for most households with little ones.  But if you don’t have any chemicals there (or anywhere), then your biggest concern is little Emily making a mess there — again.

It’s also a relief that kids can be around, no problem, when you’re cleaning without chemicals. The toddler and preschooler crowd loves to hang around the parents, so it’s perfectly fine for them to follow you and “help” as you scrub the bathroom counters.  Give them a sponge and a little squirt of your homemade cleaner, and watch them imitate your every move.

2.  Non-toxic cleaners keep the air you breathe clean.


Photo by Katherine Raz

Most store-bought cleaners are full of toxic chemicals.  After all, why would most of them have so many warning labels about not breathing in the fumes?  That can’t be good.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, air quality inside many homes can be two to five times more polluted than the air just outside our homes.  Traditional household cleaners play a huge factor.

3.  Non-toxic cleaners are much, much cheaper.

Most basic cleaning recipes require the same basic ingredients, and they can be found in just about every grocery store.  A simple batch of glass or all-purpose cleaner costs mere pennies. It’s even cheaper when you buy the ingredients in bulk.

4.  Non-toxic cleaners don’t harm the environment.


Photo by Paul Gabriel Pasztor

Conventional cleaners easily seep into our water, and it’s difficult for many water treatment plants to treat a large volume of these chemicals.  Built up over time, and this can affect wildlife and other natural resources God has entrusted us to steward.

Many cleaners are also petroleum-based, which further sucks our natural resources.

How to switch to non-toxic cleaning

I recommend replacing your traditional cleaners as you use them up. But if you really feel weird about keeping these chemicals in your home, go ahead and get rid of them.  Check your city’s website for any “hazardous waste disposal days,” when you can drop off the cleaners and they can dispose of them correctly.

Then, use basic ingredients to create the recipes you’ll need to keep your home clean.
You don’t need nearly the amount or variety of cleaners our culture would have you believe.  A basic all-purpose cleaner, a glass cleaner, and a few other as-needed recipes are all I use.

My e-book has ten recipes for non-toxic household cleaners, along with a complete list of basic ingredients good to have on hand.  But I’ll go ahead share my basic all-purpose cleaner recipe here — it couldn’t be simpler.


Photo by Stacy Bass

All-Purpose Cleaner

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 gallon (1 liter) hot water
  • a few drops of essential oil (optional)

Combine the ingredients, stir, and let cool for a few minutes before pouring into a spray bottle.  Tea tree essential oil has antiseptic properties, making it a winner for cleaners.  But my favorite aromas come from orange, lemon, and lavender essential oils.  Use and enjoy!

For more inspiration on using non-toxic, natural products in your home, I highly recommend reading Stephanie of Keeper of the Home.  She always has such great insight on natural home keeping.

What are your reasons for cleaning without chemicals?  Have a favorite recipe to share?

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Comments

  1. Oh my goodness, seeing that I need to find a “Hazardous Waste disposal day” to get rid of these things really freaks me out! Why am I using these things in my home? Great post, I need to switch over now!
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom´s last blog ..Then There Was the Honeymoon =-.

  2. We switched to non-toxic as soon as we got pets and had our first child. Pets and kids have their noses so close to the ground and other surfaces. They could inhale a lot of toxins that we might not!
    .-= Maya´s last blog ..Time to be alive again! =-.

  3. avatar
    Calliope says:

    @Angela: another option could be to donate them to public shelters,prisons etc.They’ll really appreciate them.
    I, too, made the transition (a total one mind you) 4 years ago and I will never ever ever ever go back.
    Yesterday I started the annual spring cleaning by first cleaning the kitchen from ceiling to floor with just warm water and olive oil soap flakes. You cannot believe the freshness the place smelled after I finished. I love olive oil soap for almost everything around the house

    • Where do you find your olive oil soap flakes? I did a search online and found several sources, but thought you might have a favorite.

      • avatar
        Calliope says:

        I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you since I live in Greece (very far away from you if I’m guessing right!).
        Here, olive oil soap flakes can be found at supermarkets (detergent aisle) and at the stores that sell organic products. I use flakes because they are easier to handle, but I’ve also grated myself whole bars of soaps (natural ones, not fragranced or cosmetic soaps).
        You can use any vegetable based soap with remarkable results. In liquid form they are even more versatile. Try castile soap or coconut soaps

        • Thank you! Yes, here we have Dr. Bronners liquid castille soaps, among others. And there are pure olive oil bars as well, easy to grate, I’m guessing, as they are quite soft. Best to you, Calliope!

  4. I’m working through your e-book (very slowly – 4th day on living room here, but it’s getting done!) and it’s my first real deep cleaning since moving over to more natural cleaners. I feel like my home is even more clean than usual! No funky, lingering smells. No strange buildup or not-quite-clean feeling coating on all my surfaces. Simple vinegar and water is working wonders!

  5. I buy our non-toxic cleaner from Trader Joe’s, and I love both the smell of the oils and the fact that I can understand the ingredients without a Chemistry degree!
    .-= Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool´s last blog ..5 Homeschooling Reads to Encourage You =-.

  6. I mainly switched because of the smell of the chemical cleaners. They gave me headaches. Plus, I knew it was greener/cheaper to switch, so I did.

  7. I really appreciate all the articles on Spring Cleaning and organising the home. I would just like to share a couple of interesting sites with you.
    http://www.housecleaning-tips.com, where Fayola Peters offers details on cleaning house the natural way, and Carole Pagan’s amazing system in her “Secret Confessions of a Clean Freak” cleanfreak.commonsenseliving.com which is invaluable for establishing effective routines.
    While I am not an affiliate of these sites, I wanted to share them with you as I think they help reduce the chore of cleaning house.
    I do enjoy reading the interesting articles here,- they keep me sane!!

  8. I love Basic H2 – it’s organic, green, non-toxic and cheaper than vinegar! I coincidentally posted about it today :)
    http://cleanmama.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-favorite-cleaning-product-basic-h2.html

  9. I am planning to start the spring cleaning this weekend so I will be giving this a try!

  10. avatar
    Katie Kerr says:

    Hi I am just wondering if using the all purpose cleaner recipe you gave will disinfect counters and surfaces?

    • If you’re looking for an all natural cleaner to disinfect (keeping in mind, that we usually end up disinfecting things way too much since our society seems to have an unnatural fear of germs) try using a combination of straight white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. You spray these on to the surface you want to disinfect from two different bottles (don’t mix them in a bottle), let it set a bit, then wipe up. You can also wipe again with water if the smell is too strong for you. I make my own cat food, and therefore handle a lot of raw meat on our counters. This is what we’ve been using for months and it works great. No one has gotten sick from raw meat germs.
      .-= Jen´s last blog ..Lots of Stuff Going on in the Garden! =-.

      • Yes, pretty much what Jen said. :) It gets my surfaces clean. Now as far as disinfecting, I would add a couple drops of tea tree oil to my cleaner for it to do that. But like Jen said, we really don’t need to disinfect much. This is one of the ways so many more people have allergies than they did a few generations ago, and how we even can get sick.

        Just my $.02…

      • Oh…I am so happy to see this! I have been wondering about disinfecting…it’s not often that I need it, but on the infrequent occasions I handle raw meat I do disinfect with a store-bought wipe thing. This sounds like a much better solution!
        .-= Nikki Moore´s last blog ..why we don’t eat much meat =-.

  11. We are slowly switching over. Thanks for the suggestions of different cleaners. I will have to check out Trader Joe’s.
    .-= Rana´s last blog ..Post it Note Tuesday =-.

  12. I’d really like to start using tea tree oil to clean in the bathroom, but I’ve read that it can be harmful to cats — and I have a kitty who loves to stretch out in the cool bathtub. Do you have any information about that? Or perhaps an alternative? Thanks!

    • Yes, I’ve heard tea tree oil can be harmful to cats; you’re right. Thank you for bringing them up — I don’t have cats, so I don’t think of that much.

      Any cat owners out there with suggestions?

      • We have three cats, so we don’t use tea tree oil. For everything in our bathroom we just use some combination of vinegar, baking soda, water, lemon juice and dish soap. If I feel the need to use something extra strong to kill germs in the tub, I just spray on some Hydrogen Peroxide. I don’t have a suggestion for the toilet bowl though, we are currently still using pine-sol (also bad for cats and us). Any suggestions for the bowl anyone?
        .-= Jen´s last blog ..Lots of Stuff Going on in the Garden! =-.

  13. before i sad down to read this post, i just cleaned my bathrooms using conventional cleaners — for the last time! i can still smell the bleach hanging in the air. yuk!
    .-= katherine´s last blog ..meet me in…atlanta? =-.

  14. I haven’t used cleaners from the grocery store for a long time. I used to, but the smell of them would give me splitting headaches.

    Now, I pretty much use vinegar, baking soda, or dish soap (or a combination of those) for everything. Most of those fancy cleaners are totally over kill–they just aren’t necessary.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..Specialization is for insects. =-.

  15. Our apartment has two bathrooms, and neither of them has windows. Plus, the door has to be closed to get to the shower and toilet. Very poor ventilation, and the woozy, light-headed feeling I’d always get after cleaning, led me to look around for alternatives. I use vinegar, baking soda and Dr. Bronners…like many of the others here! I also use a shower spray nearly every day, which keeps it MUCH cleaner and fresher between scrubbings (and I hate those scrubbings):

    1 cup vodka
    3 cups water
    + a few drops of essential oils if you like – lavender is my favorite!

    Just shake it together and spray. The vodka (you can use the super cheap stuff) is a great antibacterial, and I promise, you can’t smell it at all! (I don’t want my shower smelling like a martini bar any more than the rest of you. :) I actually like it better than vinegar. I spritz it all over the shower floor, sides and faucet.
    .-= Nikki Moore´s last blog ..why we don’t eat much meat =-.

  16. avatar
    Mandee Jo says:

    I have to take issue with your homemade cleaner. I’m a chemist and putting vinegar and baking soda together creates a reaction that results in basically water and carbon dioxide(the bubbles you see). Which means you’re essentially cleaning with scented water. When I make a cleaner I use one or the other depending on what I’m cleaning. I use vinegar to clean up soap scum, general dirt(mopping), and glass surfaces. I use baking soda for the toilet, smelly messes, or make a paste of it with soap when I need extra scrubbing power like on stains in the kitchen sink. I’m also very allergic to traditional laundry soaps and use baking soda for my whites and lights, and vinegar for my darks.

    • I knew someone would bring that up, as someone almost always does. :) All I know is it gets my surfaces clean. And I’ve honestly never seen any bubbles in the cleaner.

      I’ve used it for years, and have never had an issue with cleanliness. Sometimes I do use plain baking soda as a scouring powder for my dirtier surfaces, but otherwise, this all-purpose cleaner seems to do the trick.

      Thanks for your insight, though. :)

    • Thanks for pointing this out, Mandee Jo. I was reading this recipe, and all I could see in my head was the 8th grade science experiment where my teacher mixed baking soda and vinegar and then drank it in front of us… because the chemical reaction had produced water. Not that I would ever recommend drinking cleaning products, even the natural kind. :-)

  17. I used to make all my cleaners several years ago, and then I slowly found myself buying cleaning products again. I have no idea why! So now, we’re back eliminating the chemical cleaning products. I just use vinegar and water as my all purpose cleaner, and have begun using baking soda to clean the toilet.

    What I want to find is a good cleaner for wood floors. Even the non-toxic stuff in stores has too strong an aroma for my husband who is very sensitive to scents. I want something that will clean but not dull the surfaces.
    .-= Lindsey@ Mama Sews´s last blog ..a letter of love to my son =-.

    • I read that olive oil is a good polish for wood floors. Maybe mineral oil would be better so it doesn’t go rancid over time? Maybe you could just clean the floors with basic soap and water, then use the oil to shine ‘em up. I don’t know myself, just read about it somewhere. :)
      .-= Nikki Moore´s last blog ..why we don’t eat much meat =-.

      • One thing to consider about mineral oil is that it is derived from petroleum, so it is not a sustainable product. Also, there have been studies that draw in to question the safety of using mineral oils in lotions and other beauty products you put on your skin. Even when using as a floor polish/cleaner it is inevitable that you would come into contact with it on your skin at least a bit.
        .-= Jen´s last blog ..Lots of Stuff Going on in the Garden! =-.

  18. Once again, great post. I am curious about one thing. Do you have any suggestions for toilet bowl cleaner? This is on area that we have not gone to natural cleaning.
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Lots of Stuff Going on in the Garden! =-.

  19. I decided to switch over to non-toxic cleaners a while ago, but my frugal soul just wouldn’t let me throw out all the cleaners I already have. So far, I’ve only replaced my floor cleaner with this recipe: 1 gallon hot water mixed with 2 Tablespoons liquid castile soap and 2 Tablespoons white vinegar. I’m thinking of adding a few drops of orange essential oil the next time around.

    Also, a tip from my grandmother that I’ve used for years in lieu of nasty-smelling oven cleaner: sprinkle baked-on food with table salt while it is still warm; and, once it cools, scrape the food away and wipe down with a damp cloth.

  20. avatar
    4monkeymama says:

    What about steam? I use a steam mop for my tile floors and a handheld unit for deep cleaning everything from the range to the baseboards to the bathroom sink yuckies behind the faucet. Is there some environmental danger that I’m missing?

  21. I am so glad that you posted this because it is so important to use non-toxic cleaning products. The benefits are endless and anyone can do it.

  22. remember that our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers didn’t have all of these fancy chemical ‘kill every germ in sight’ cleaners like we have now. they had vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice – and they were likely much healthier than we are today. i grew up watching my mom and grandmothers use vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice and when i bought my first home straight out of my mom and dad’s home, i used the same things to clean my home.

    vinegar disinfects as well as any chemical cleaner although you have to let it sit a bit longer on the surface – so after you’ve sprayed your toilet and toilet bowl, go on to wipe a window and come back to the toilet after the vinegar has sat for a bit. lemon juice is a great whitener for cutting boards and is a natural de-greaser. the baking soda can be combined with the vinegar and lemon juice and hot water to make a bit of a paste if an abrasive is needed. and spraying air fresheners doesn’t mask the smell of a dirty home – open your windows people!!!

    remember that ‘clean’ doesn’t smell like anything!

  23. This is SO great. I’ve been wanting to go cheap and green with my cleaning for quite some time now, and I’m down to the last drops of my cleaner now. Though I’m wondering — does the house smell like vinegar when you’re done? I don’t mind it, but my husband hates it. Do the essential oils cover up the smell?
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..Twine and Rope Inspirations =-.

    • I can’t speak for others on here, but my house does not smell like vinegar. We don’t use essential oils mostly because they’re expensive and we’re on a tight budget. After cleaning there is the slight smell of vinegar, but after it dries the smell is gone. One great thing about the vinegar it it has the ability to freshen up the air too without leaving a lingering scent. We’ll sometimes boil a pot of water and vinegar during the winter to help with the funky smell the house gets from the windows not being opened and having 3 litter boxes. Even that doesn’t actually make our house smell like vinegar once it’s done.
      .-= Jen´s last blog ..Lots of Stuff Going on in the Garden! =-.

    • I honestly had the same concern when I started using vinegar to clean (and to use on my hair, etc. etc.). But honestly, the smell dissipates in a few seconds. You hardly notice it, I think. The essential oils don’t really “mask” the smell; they just add a pleasant smell to the air in a non-toxic way.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks so much! I’m going out tomorrow to get some spray bottles so I can get going. I feel so old right now — since when did I become excited about cleaning chemicals?? Lol …
        .-= Katie´s last blog ..DIY Roundup =-.

  24. I just bought your book on spring cleaning and Im loving it. Thanks for all the work you do on the website and such. It truly is an inspiration.

  25. Steam cleaning is definitely the way to go especially if your chemically sensitive as I am but the cleaners listed here are a lot cheaper and don’t require the investment. I remember being so sick I couldn’t clean and there were no non-toxic commercial cleaners available then like there are now. I wish I’d remembered about this stuff then :)
    Thank you for the article.

  26. I just started using natural cleaners the other day, partially by accident! I had to descale my iron (it was leaving white flakes over everything – a byproduct of using tap water where I live) and decided to use white vinegar instead of ‘descaler’ from the supermarket. Well it absolutely stank (even with my window open) but it worked so well! The smell was gone within 24 hours (I just put straight undiluted white vinegar into the water/steam compartment of the iron and steamed it onto a duster on the floor). When i was tipping the left-overs out of the iron (when it wouldn’t steam anymore) I’d left the plug in the sink by accident. As it was still quite hot I had to leave it, went back an hour later and the soap scum ring/scale that had probably been there for years (I moved in in September) was gone! Well mostly, I had to use a light scouring pad to remove the last of it but 2 seconds scrubbing is fine by me ;)

  27. Thank you for credits on my photo. Best regards,
    Paul
    .-= Paul Gabriel Pasztor´s last blog ..Mihaela =-.

  28. Growing up I had killer allergies and am very sensitive to chemicals. I don’t use anything toxic to clean with – and my house is much more germ-free than people’s homes I know that do use toxins. I firmly believe if I used toxic cleaners I’d probably not have survived to this age – but I removed almost ALL toxins from my environment, and I am not bothered much by my allergies at all any more.

    My favorite? Salt. Good ole table salt. It kills mold and fungus – bugs hate it, it freshens about as well as baking soda. Sprinkle some on a dirty carpet and leave it for an hour and come back and vac – WOW. Mixed in water it helps remove stains and disinfects everything. You should see a load of laundry washed in table salt instead of detergent.

    Another great thing about using non-toxic cleaners is you aren’t polluting everyone else’s world, too. I wouldn’t give one hoot if others wanted to use toxic cleaners if they were only poisoning their own home. Those things leach into everyone’s water, though, and I really don’t feel like swimming in or drinking your poison habits.

  29. I’ve been searching for blogs that help me about non-toxic cleaning and your site just caught me. I have learned a lot from your site and definitely non-toxic cleaners are the best! It helps a lot of people, it is effective, natural and affordable. I have a site that you might want to include in your list that also helped me a lot since I’m an allergy victim as well. http://www.bestairpurifiersforallergies.org and see what it offers. Thanks!

  30. Hi,

    We own a housekeeping service in Sacramento CA and had been using Clorox ‘Green-Works’ for the past three years. This 100% ALL-NATURAL line included: Glass cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, multi-purpose cleaners, and tub & shower cleaner.

    Three months ago Clorox added 3% petroleum to ‘part’ of this line. We now need to find another company that offers a ‘Concentrated 100% ALL-NATURAL’ line. Hoping to find one in California, or close by. Need to keep our shipping costs down.

    Waxie, told us they have a line of ’100% All-Natural’ cleaners. In our search for a new line we have found A LOT of lying. We need an outside source to tell us if this a true ’100% All-Natural’ line. We do not believe them because they don’t offer full-disclosure! We just want the truth! Even Seventh Generation says they are ‘All-Natural’, but we found some of the cleaners to carry petroleum stabilizers.

    Also, are there any reliable honest websites that might list cleaning lines that are 100% ALL-NATURAL? NOT GREEN! Green is not natural anymore! A site like this would be a great help.

    One more, On our website (capitalcleaning.net) we have a very powerful article on Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. If you would like to link to our site, you are welcome.

    Thanks Donna

  31. I don’t get this… If you mix vinegar and baking soda, you end up with carbon dioxide and sodium acetate. Carbon dioxide get lost in the air, and sodium acetate is for sure a safe salt (it’s used in food, too… ) but it has no cleaning properties. Depending on the ratio vinegar : baking soda you can still have some acetic acid or sodium bicarbonate into your solution. The acetic acid can help dissolve fats, while sodium bicarbonate is about as useless as sodium acetate, on cleaning purpose. So, why not to use simple dilute vinegar?

  32. Tsh, thanks for the great info on why people should use natural cleaners. As you know many household cleaners are filled with toxic chemicals. Some of more common chemicals and their impact on health can be found here: http://www.diycleaningproducts.org/toxic-and-artificial-chemicals-in-household-cleaners/

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  34. Thanks for discuss…. Your publish is really very helpful

  35. I love nature thanks for the article!

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