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  • Many common cleaning products contain hazardous chemicals that impact our health and the environment in three ways: when they are manufactured, when they are used, and when they are thrown away.
  • A study led by Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers, with a total of 167 chemicals found in the group. The people tested do not work with chemicals on the job and do not live near an industrial facility. They do use common household cleansers, as well as automotive products and other day-to-day products. Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development.
  • Sometimes, the health impact of using commercial household cleansers is more immediate. For example, according to a study published in New Scientist magazine in 1999, mothers living in homes where aerosol sprays and air fresheners were used frequently experienced 25% more headaches. Infants six months old or younger contracted 30 percent more ear infections and suffered from 22 percent more cases of diarrhea.
  • Almost everything in your home can be cleaned with four cheap, safe, and easy-to-use ingredients you can combine yourself in no time: tap water, baking soda, vinegar, and plant-based liquid soap (see recipes below).

READ LABELS: When buying any cleaning product, read the label. "Natural," "eco-safe" or "environment friendly" doesn't necessarily mean non-toxic. Avoid chlorine, ammonia, formaldehyde, ketones, phosphates, hydrocarbons, hydrochloric acid, phenols, and artificial fragrances. If the label says, "Warning," "Danger," or "Poison," choose something else. Look for products containing vegetable and fruit oils and extracts. Environmental benefits should be spelled out: "biodegrades in three to five days" is meaningful. "Biodegradable" is not. This fact sheet from the Washington Toxics Coalition offers more useful tips.


Dollars & Sense Options: Green Cleaning Recipes

Ingredients list:

  • tap water
  • baking soda
  • distilled white vinegar
  • plant-based liquid soap


  • sponge
  • squeegee
  • spray bottle

Tub and sink cleaner: Baking soda, liquid soap, water

Sprinkle water on the sink and tub surfaces, followed by a generous shake of baking soda. Scrub with sponge or bristle brush. Add a little of the liquid soap to the sponge for more cleaning power. Rinse well.

Window and mirror cleaner: White vinegar, water


Put 1/4 cup of white vinegar in a spray bottle and fill with water. Spray on the glass surface. Rub dry with a lint-free cloth (don't use newspapers - they streak). Wash outdoor windows with warm water, vinegar and a few drops of liquid soap if windows are particularly grimy. Use a squeegee to dry.

Linoleum floor cleaner: White vinegar, water

Mop with a mixture of 1/2 cup vinegar in a gallon of warm water. The vinegar odor will evaporate as the floor dries.

Toilet bowl cleaner: Baking soda, liquid soap

Sprinkle baking soda inside the bowl. Add a couple drops of liquid soap. Scrub with a toilet bowl brush. Wipe outside surfaces with a wet sponge sprinkled with baking soda. Pour ½ cup vinegar into the bowl and let it sit to remove most lime scale.

All purpose cleaner for spots on woodwork, tile and linoleum:

Add a few drops of liquid soap to a wet sponge; rub surface briskly.

Oven cleaner: Baking soda, water

Make a paste from baking soda and water. Apply to oven surfaces; let stand for five-ten minutes. Use a scouring pad or knife to remove loosened grime.

Drain cleaner: Baking soda, white vinegar, boiling water

Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain first, then 1/2 cup vinegar. Cover the drain until the fizzing stops, then flush with boiling water. Repeat if needed. If the clog is stubborn, use a plunger. If very stubborn, use a mechanical snake. Never pour liquid grease down a drain. Always use a drain sieve to capture food, hair, and other materials that could clog the pipe.

Copper cleaner: White vinegar, water, salt

Mix equal parts of vinegar and salt and apply to the surface with a sponge. Rinse thoroughly with water, then dry.

Silver polish: Salt, soda, aluminum foil/toothpaste

To remove tarnish from silverware, line a large pan with aluminum foil. Add water to cover the silver, plus 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon baking soda. Let the mixture rest for at least an hour. The tarnish will transfer to the aluminum foil. Rinse the silver in hot water and dry. You can also use toothpaste to polish individual pieces of silver.

Air fresheners: Locate the source of the objectionable smell and get it out of your house, then open the window, or use an exhaust fan to clear out musty air. Simmer a small amount of cinnamon, orange peel, and cloves on the stove or in a small ceramic saucer over a candle to give your home a pleasant fragrance. Fresh cut flowers will also pleasantly scent your home. An open box of baking soda will help absorb odors in the refrigerator; sprinkling baking soda in the garbage can or diaper pail will do the same.

Mold, mildew cleaner: White vinegar/Baking soda paste

Spray a solution of a half-cup vinegar to a cup of water onto the affected areas; scrub and rinse. Or make a paste of baking soda and water to scrub onto the area. Rinse.

More non-toxic cleaning solutions

For Your Shopping List:

Or, if you prefer to buy ready-made, eco-safe cleansers, consider these products:

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In My House

Way back in my seventh grade science class I learned that water is called the "universal solvent" because it can cut through almost anything. As a housekeeper and a mom, I've found that that's true, especially when I mix it with a little liquid soap or baking soda. Anyway, no matter how dirty my house gets, soap and water are usually all it takes to clean things up. As it turns out, like a lot of people, I get headaches if I'm around the phony fragrances that get added to most cleaning products on the market today. It's easier, cheaper, safer and more effective to use what's in my cupboard and coming out of my tap. As for all that nonsense about needing high-powered products that will "kill germs" - I just don't buy it. Doctors say if you want to stay healthy, wash your hands, get plenty of rest, and eat well. They don't say disinfect your home. I don't.

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What Else?

The only time plain soap and water alone don't work that well is when mold or mildew build up on my bathroom tile. I keep an old toothbrush and a bristle brush around just in case I have to do some extra scrubbing to get rid of the grime. If things get so bad I have to resort to a commercial tile cleaner, I make sure to open the windows in the bathroom, turn on the fan, and get in and out of the space as quickly as possible to avoid inhaling any of the product.

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