Jean Freeman, my healthy 80-year-old hanai mother, pours diluted vinegar all over her floor every week — and has done so for the better part of a century. Her reasons: It does a great job of cleaning the floor and it is completely nontoxic. She also has a number of other tricks for keeping her home clean without the use of toxic chemicals.
Many products made for home use contain powerful chemicals harmful to your health. The effects range from mild eye and skin irritants to potent carcinogens and neurotoxins. After analyzing 600 homes over a five-year period, the Environmental Protection Agency reported the homes contained more than 20 toxic compounds, some linked to cancer and birth defects.
Testing the effects of most chemicals on human health is usually done on individual chemicals in a laboratory. However, many people are exposed to a cocktail of chemicals every day, especially through cleaning agents, and no one knows the long-term, cumulative impact they may have on human health.
To identify if a product is a potential health hazard, federal law requires that it be labeled “Danger,” “Warning,” or “Caution.” Each of these words indicates a different degree of toxicity: “Danger” represents the greatest toxicity and “Caution” the least. Common potentially harmful chemicals found in household cleaning products include acetone, ammonia, bleach, diethanolamine (DEA), ethoxylated nonylphenol, methylene chloride, monoethanolamine, morpholine, parabens, phosphoric acid, sodium dichloroisocyanurate dehydrate and xylene. (Note: Mixing ammonia with bleach can form a poisonous chlorine gas.)
The good news is you probably have many nontoxic options right in your own kitchen to take care of most of your household cleaning needs. Use the following alternatives to toxic products for cleaning:
-Oven cleaner: Mix 2 teaspoons borax, 2 tablespoons liquid soap, and warm water. Use steel wool for tough spots and rub gently.
-Drain cleaner: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda into drain, followed by 1/2 cup vinegar and add a handful of salt to cut through grease. Wait a half-hour and pour 2 quarts boiling water down the drain. Repeat if necessary, and use a drain snake if needed.
-Tub and tile cleaner: Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/2 cup white vinegar with warm water.
-Scouring powder: Use baking soda.
-Toilet-bowl cleaner: Use mixture of baking soda and castile soap.
-Disinfectant cleaner: Mix 1 teaspoon borax, 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, 1 cup liquid soap, and 2 cups hot water. You also can add a few drops of tea-tree oil.
-Linoleum cleaner: Mix 1 cup white vinegar with 2 gallons water.
-Window cleaner: Mix 2 tablespoons white vinegar with 1 quart warm water.
-Bleach: Employ the natural bleaching power of Hawai’i’s intense sunshine and hang your whites outside to dry. You also can add 1/2 cup borax to your wash.
-Mildew remover: Mix equal parts vinegar and salt, and scrub affected area hard.
-Clothes stain remover: For spots, clean immediately with club soda; for perspiration stains, use white vinegar and water.
-Ink-spot remover: Use cold water, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
-Dusting: Use microfiber cloths to wipe down surfaces.
-All-purpose cleaning: Use a little extra elbow grease.
By reducing the use of toxic chemicals in your home, you are decreasing your exposure as well as helping the environment.
Many scientists, including Dr. Dick Irwin, toxicologist at Texas A&M University, believe our increasing exposure to a variety of unnatural chemicals is affecting our health for the worse.
You can find many nontoxic cleaners at health-food stores. For more information on alternative cleaners, I recommend “The Safe Shopper’s Bible: A Consumer’s Guide to Nontoxic Household Products,” by David Steinman and Samuel S. Epstein (Wiley, 1995).
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com