If a household product can cause you immediate harm, it will have a warning on the label.
But many cleaning products contain toxic chemicals that can cause serious health problems through long-term exposure, and the law doesn’t require companies to warn consumers about these health risks.
Why Go Green?
In both Canada and the US, companies hide toxic ingredients from the label by using the word “parfum” or “fragrance,” even in so-called unscented products.
If you read the Material Safety Data Sheet for Febreeze, for example, it lists ethanol as the only chemical ingredient even though the report states that the product is perfumed.
Inhaling Febreeze might not make you sick immediately, but we know that long-term exposure to toxic scent ingredients – listed as “perfume” – can cause serious health problems.
Even when harmful cleaning ingredients are listed on the label, many people don’t know the risks.
The David Suzuki Foundation lists toxic chemicals in household cleaning supplies to check for on the label. A report by Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) highlights harmful household cleaning chemicals found in everyday cleaners that have been linked to fertility problems and asthma.
These ingredients don’t just go away once you’ve sprayed them all over your house or doused your clothes in them. When you wash these products down the drain, they travel out into the environment where they can pollute our water and impact wildlife.
The good news is that there are alternatives that will not only protect your health and the environment, they will save you money too.
Here’s my answer to pretty much any household cleaning task. Please DO try this at home, and let me know how it works out for you!
DIY All-Purpose Household Cleaner
1. A spray bottle filled with:
- 1 part water
- 1 part vinegar
- (optional) 10-20 drops of essential oil – try tea tree for disinfecting, orange for cutting grease, peppermint for deterring mice, or whatever scent you like
2. A good textured cloth (cotton or microfiber cloths from the dollar store are fine, or knit your own cleaning cloth)
3. A box of baking soda
If the spray and cloth alone don’t do the job, sprinkle some baking soda and re-spray the area before scrubbing. This works better than even the nastiest, fume-releasing chemical stuff I’ve tried.
If you’re tackling a ridiculously stubborn mess and elbow-grease won’t help, try soaking the item overnight in hot soapy water, if possible. You can also heat up the spray to boost its cleaning power.
One bottle of spray lasts months. One box of baking soda goes a long way too – I use it in the package to deodorize my fridge or freezer for a few months, then dump it into another container to use for cleaning.
The essential oil is the most expensive ingredient, but even then I spend just a few dollars a year to clean my house.
If you need to tackle a specific cleaning task, WVE has a great list of Green Cleaning Recipes that are easy and cheap to make.
Eco-Me offers a Home Cleaning DIY Kit that can help get you started.
(This would make a great back-to-school gift for a cash-strapped college student.)
If you prefer to buy cleaners off the shelf, there are several eco-friendly and hypoallergenic brands available in health food stores and some supermarkets.
It’s always a good idea to check the label. But until we require manufacturers to disclose all toxic ingredients and the risks of long-term exposure, it’s hard to know what you’re bringing into – and spreading all over – your home.
Do you have any DIY cleaning tips or tricks that work for you? Please share them below!