In Boston, we're just starting to get balmy days when we can open the windows and air out our claustrophobic, winter-ridden homes. The fresh air inspires deep cleaning: dusting under the bed, sorting stacks of magazines, donating old winter clothes to charity. And most importantly, we scrub the house top to bottom. When we clean our house this thoroughly, I'm always considerate of the products we use. Sure, Murphy's Oil Soap, borax, vinegar, baking soda, and plain old elbow grease are fairly gentle on our health and the environment. But looking beyond these simple recipes, here are some of my favorite cleaning products you can make at home, saving on the overpriced store-bought versions, and resting assured that your cleaning mission will not adversely affect your personal health or that of the environment.
Many studies have confirmed that traditional store-bought cleaners do contain toxic chemicals and have been linked to fertility problems and other ill health effects. Therefore, a concerted effort to reduce these household toxins is high on my list this spring-cleaning season.
One of my favorite resources is Eartheasy.com, which does not promote any particular store-bought product, and does provide easy to follow recipes for healthy cleaning products you can make at home. Their ideas for homemade air fresheners are some of my favorites, given the many nasty chemicals in the air fresheners I find plugged into friends' electrical outlets or attached to their car vents. These chemicals include known toxins like formaldehyde and phenols, and also contribue to multiple chemical sensitivities.
Earth Easy's ideas for make-at-home air fresheners:
• Baking soda or vinegar with lemon juice in small dishes absorbs odors around the house.
• Having houseplants helps reduce odors in the home.
• Prevent cooking odors by simmering vinegar (1 tbsp in 1 cup water) on the stove while cooking. To get such smells as fish and onion off utensils and cutting boards, wipe them with vinegar and wash in soapy water.
• Keep fresh coffee grounds on the counter.
• Grind up a slice of lemon in the garbage disposal.
• Simmer water and cinnamon or other spices on stove.
• Place bowls of fragrant dried herbs and flowers in room.
The Grand Dame of everything household, Martha Stewart, has also embraced the toxin-free, made-at-home cleaning product revolution. My favorite advice from Martha is the most sensical - if it smells like a fragrance, this does not ensure cleanliness. In fact, I tend to prickle at chemical odorants that masquerade as a'clean' smell. I much prefer the rule of thumb that no smell is a clean smell. Martha also reminds us that to clean harmful bacteria, one only needs a surfactant/detergent (ie: soap, like Dr. Bonner's plant-based formula) and some water. The plethora of antibacterial cleaning products on the market, and in our homes, are doing more harm than good by creating resistant strains of bacteria.
Many of us may have broken the cardinal rule of cleaning: do not mix bleach and ammonia. This creates a toxic gas, even worse than that produced from either of these chemicals alone. A welcome respite from needing to air-out a room after using harsh cleaning products, or using rubber gloves to prevent chemical irritation on our skin, is the option of using homemade, healthy cleaning products.
For an easy window-cleaner, mix equal parts distilled white vinegar and water.
For an easy counter-top cleaner, take the window cleaner recipe from above, and add citrus oil (lemon, orange) and some gentle detergent (like Dr. Bonner).
For scrubbing surfaces, mix baking soda and salt to form a paste, and rinse away with water.
To disinfect, mix borax with water and add drops of your favorite essential oils (if you need an odor)
To polish wood surfaces, mix olive oil and lemon juice
Rethinking and revising our cleaning routine by making easy, healthy cleaning products at home is just the first step in a healthy-home makeover. For example, The Healthy House Institute provides helpful information on transforming your entire home, including clean water, clean energy, and clean gardening practices.
** photo credit: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/environmentally-friendly-cleaning-products.htm