We all know how bad for the planet cleaning products can be, but just wiping everything down with vinegar is so unpleasant; here’s how to have an environmentally-friendly and delightfully smelling clean home.
Thankfully, environmental awareness is becoming far more mainstream and ‘normal’. We can see that the protection of our planet is something that is being taken seriously and becoming part of life – rather than a strange notion that other people deal with. We are taking responsibility and taking action, seeing plastic bags being banned in many countries, people opting for locally grown/sourced food, the rise of veganism and vegetarianism, energy saving, wildlife protection and conservation, saving water, recycling, up-cycling, and so much more; the demand for organic and eco-friendly products has never been so prevalent.
If we all concentrate on our own lives and personal carbon footprint, that would be a huge step in the right direction. If we manage the space we accommodate on this planet, and if we urge our friends, family and neighbours to do the same, we will be causing a massive positive impact. One thing which always shocks me, even in the most environmentally friendly households, is that people are still going out and buying traditional cleaning products. Not only are they heavily packaged in plastic but bleaches, chemicals, unnatural aromas and other abrasive offensive, not to mention toxic, materials are their general composition. Here is an excerpt from the Organic Consumers Association outlining the potential dangers of chemical-based products to both us and our environment:
Corrosive chemicals can cause severe burns on eyes, skin and, if ingested, on the throat and oesophagus. Ingredients with high acute toxicity include chlorine bleach and ammonia, which produce fumes that are highly irritating to eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and should not be used by people with asthma or lung or heart problems. These two chemicals pose an added threat in that they can react with each other or other chemicals to form lung-damaging gases. Combining products that contain chlorine and ammonia or ammonia and lye (in some oven cleaners) produces chloramine gases, while chlorine combined with acids (commonly used in toilet bowl cleaners) forms toxic chlorine gas.
Fragrances added to many cleaners, most notably laundry detergents and fabric softeners, may cause acute effects such as respiratory irritation, headache, sneezing, and watery eyes in sensitive individuals or allergy and asthma sufferers. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that one-third of the substances used in the fragrance industry are toxic. But because the chemical formulas of fragrances are considered trade secrets, companies aren’t required to list their ingredients, but merely label them as containing “fragrance.”
Other ingredients in cleaners may have low acute toxicity, but contribute to long-term health effects, such as cancer or hormone disruption. Some all-purpose cleaners contain the sudsing agents diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA). When these substances come into contact with nitrites, often present as undisclosed preservatives or contaminants, they react to form nitrosamines – carcinogens that readily penetrate the skin. 1,4-dioxane, another suspected carcinogen, may be present in cleaners made with ethoxylated alcohols. Butyl cellosolve (also known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether), which may be neurotoxic (or cause damage to the brain and nervous system), is also present in some cleaners.
Chemicals that are so-called “hormone disruptors” can interfere with the body’s natural chemical messages, either by blocking or mimicking the actions of hormones. Possible health effects include decreased sperm counts, increased rates of male birth defects such as cryptorchidism (undescended testicles) and hypospadias (where the urethra is on the underside of the penis), and increased rates of some kinds of cancers. The alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) used in some detergents and cleaners have been shown to mimic the hormone oestrogen; one APE, p-nonylphenol, has caused oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells to multiply in a test tube study.
After cleaning liquids disappear down our drains, they are treated along with sewage and other waste water at municipal treatment plants, then discharged into nearby waterways. Most ingredients in chemical cleaners break down into harmless substances during treatment or soon afterward. Others, however, do not, threatening water quality or fish and other wildlife. In a May 2002 study of contaminants in stream water samples across America, the U.S. Geological Survey found persistent detergent metabolites in 69% of streams tested. Sixty-six percent contained disinfectants.
The detergent metabolites the USGS detected were members of a class of chemicals called alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs). APEs, which include nonylphenol ethoxylates and octylphenol ethoxylates, are surfactants, or “surface active agents” that are key to detergents’ effectiveness. They are added to some laundry detergents, disinfectants, laundry stain removers, and citrus cleaner/degreasers. When discharged in municipal waste water, nonylphenol ethoxylates and octylphenol ethoxylates break down into nonylphenol and octylphenol, which are more toxic and do not readily biodegrade in soil and water.
APEs have been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen, and their presence in water may be harming the reproduction and survival of salmon and other fish. For example, in Britain, researcher John Sumpter discovered that male fish exposed to APEs in rivers were producing female egg-yolk proteins. APE pollution may be threatening fish in the U.S. as well, for octylphenol and nonylphenol were the detergent metabolites that the USGS detected in 69% of streams tested there. Such ubiquity may not bode well for humans, either: the APE p-nonylphenol has also caused oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells to proliferate in test tubes.
Another famous water pollutant is phosphates, water-softening mineral additives that were once widely used in laundry detergents and other cleaners. When phosphates enter waterways, they act as a fertiliser, spawning overgrowth of algae. This overabundance of aquatic plant life eventually depletes the water’s oxygen supply, killing off fish and other organisms. Although many states have banned phosphates from laundry detergents and some other cleaners, they are still used in automatic dishwasher detergents.
Another environmental concern with cleaning products is that many use chemicals that are petroleum-based, contributing to the depletion of this non-renewable resource and increasing our nation’s dependence on imported oil.
The plastic bottles used to package cleaning products pose another environmental problem by contributing to the mounds of solid waste that must be landfilled, incinerated or, in not enough cases, recycled. Most cleaners are bottled in high-density polyethylene (HDPE, denoted by the #2 inside the recycling triangle) or polyethylene terephthalate (PETE, #1) which are accepted for recycling in a growing number of communities. However, some are bottled in polyvinyl chloride (PVC, #3). PVC, otherwise known as vinyl, is made from cancer-causing chemicals such as vinyl chloride, and it forms as a byproduct a potent carcinogen, dioxin, during production and incineration.
As a final insult, most sanitation departments do not accept PVC for recycling; less than 1% of all PVC is recycled each year.
Why would we want to put something like that anywhere near ourselves or our homes? To add to that, I personally think they smell terribly unnatural and chemical-like, probably, because they are exactly that! I’ve been investigating alternatives to regular home products and there are plenty on the market that are eco-friendly, come in biodegradable or at least recyclable packaging, and smell far more desirable as they are made using natural aromas.
For those of you making the leap from the toxic type sprays and bottles this is a great way to begin your eco-transformation within your personal environment. When shopping for such products be aware that not all ingredients have to be listed and so you need to develop a sharp eye for certain signs to ensure that what you are buying is in fact what it is claiming to be. Check the labels for anything resembling a hazard or caution sign, check for specifics if they are claiming to be an ecological brand and opt for those offering “no solvents”, “no phosphates” or “plant-based” rather than simply “eco-friendly” or “natural” as they may well not be. Also if a product is claiming to be ‘organic’ you may be being sold something that contains a particular ingredient which is deemed organic, such as a plant oil, rather than the whole product being organic. Always opt for plant-based as opposed to petroleum-based and ensure that the packaging is at least recyclable.
For an even better way to integrate such products into your life, here are some extremely straightforward and economical steps to converting your cleaning methods by making your own!
The following ‘recipes’ will provide you with natural, environmentally friendly, ecological, organic cleaning products that will make your house greener and cleaner than ever as well as providing that level of satisfaction only achieved when you’ve created something yourself…oh, and they smell great! Why? Because they contain essential oils. If you prefer a different oil to those listed, or simply have it on the shelf and want to use it up, you can replace them with any of the following which have excellent cleaning powers; lime, lemon, wild orange, thyme, peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, tea tree, and cinnamon.
We recommend investing in glass dispensers for your homemade products for their minimal environmental impact as well as that essential oils can actually degrade plastics.
Natural Cleaning Products
The following should be all you will need to maintain a fragrant, sanitised, clean home.
• 2 cups white vinegar
• 2 cups water
• 1 teaspoon natural dish soap
• 30 drops lemon essential oil
• 20 drops tea tree essential oil
Mix all ingredients in a glass spray bottle. Shake to combine and before use. Spray and wipe on counters, cabinets, sinks, toilets, and anywhere else.
• 3 cups distilled water
• 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol or vodka
• 1/4 cup vinegar
• 20 drops peppermint or spearmint essential oil
Combine all ingredients in a glass spray bottle. Shake to combine, then spray on mirrors, windows, or stainless steel. Wipe off with paper towels or old newspaper for streak-free shine.
• 1 cup baking soda
• 1/4 cup natural liquid soap
• 10 drops lemon essential oil
• 10 drops lime essential oil
• 10 drops wild orange essential oil
Mix ingredients together to form a paste (add more soap if needed). Apply with rag or sponge, then rinse with clean water. I especially like to use this on my stovetop and on greasy sinks.
DEEP CLEANER, DECALCIFYING AGENT:
• 1/2 cup baking soda
• 1/3 cup liquid dishwashing soap
• 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide
• 30 drops eucalyptus essential oil
• 3/4 cup water
Mix together then squirt into toilet or calcified area. Scrub and let stand 20 minutes then rinse.
DAILY CLEANING SPRAY:
• 1.5 cups water
• 1 cup white vinegar
• 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol
• 1 teaspoon natural liquid dish soap
• 15 drops lime essential oil
• 15 drops tea tree essential oil
Combine in a quart-sized spray bottle. Spray daily on shower door and walls after use (this is a preventative spray, designed to help prevent build-up)
• 1 cup baking soda
• 30 drops lemon essential oil
Combine in a small container, and cover tightly with a lid. Shake well and allow to sit for 6-8 hours. Sprinkle on carpet and allow to sit on it overnight. Vacuum up the next morning.
SOFT FURNISHING & LINEN SPRAY
• 1/4 cup distilled water
• 3 tablespoons witch hazel or vodka
• 20 drops lavender essential oil
• 15 drops frankincense essential oil
Add all ingredients to a small spritzer, shake well, and spray on sheets, pillowcases, and linens.
• 3/4 cup water (I use tap water, but distilled is fine too)
• 2 tablespoons vodka, rubbing alcohol, or pure vanilla extract
• 10 drops lavender essential oil
• 5 drops chamomile essential oil
Combine in a glass spray bottle, shake to combine. Spray throughout the house to eliminate odours or stale smells. Mix and match your favourite essential oils to suit your taste per room.
This is a really great step towards feeling like you’re really making a difference in the world, the less commercial, mass produced chemical goods we use the better.
Article Written By Victoria Wood; Natural Health Courses