DIY Green Household Solutions
by Rebecca Morley
Have you ever wondered how safe and eco-friendly those “green” cleaning products are on the store shelves? Green cleaning products are flooding the market, and with over 80,000 chemical compounds approved for commercial purposes, it’s become harder to tell if they are truly safer. In the U.S., companies are only required to warn of a product’s toxicity. Buzzwords on green products such as “nontoxic,” “biodegradable,” and “all-natural” can also be misleading. It can simply mean that products are made from organic materials, but they may still contain potentially harmful chemicals.
All of this is particularly alarming since long-term exposure to certain chemicals found in household cleaners has been linked to serious health problems including pregnancy complications, infertility, breast cancer, birth defects, asthma, and allergic reactions. These chemicals are inhaled by breathing indoor air, and some can even be absorbed through the skin.
Many are opting to avoid the maze of green cleaning products entirely and instead create their own cleaning products using common items around the house such as vinegar, salt, lemon juice, and baking soda. Do-it-yourself cleaning solutions are just as effective and are not only easy to make but are also easier on you and the environment.
Here are a few recipes that you might find useful:
Around the House
Glass and mirrors: Mix four tablespoons of lemon juice with a half-gallon of water. Rubbing alcohol and witch hazel are also effective. Use a soft, lint-free cloth to dry.
Wood furniture: Mix two parts olive oil with one part lemon juice. Apply it and polish furniture using a soft cloth. For bare floors (ceramic tile, linoleum, vinyl, or wood), mix one cup vinegar with one gallon of warm water. Check out our blog post, “DIY Green Floor Cleaners,” for more details.
Drains: Prevent clogged drains by using hair and food traps. To degrease and sweeten sink and tub drains, pour a half-cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by one cup of vinegar. Let it “bubble” for 15 minutes, then rinse with hot water. You might have to repeat the whole procedure more than once or leave the baking soda and vinegar to “cook” overnight.
Good all-purpose disinfectant: Mix two teaspoons of borax, four tablespoons of vinegar, and three to four cups of hot water in a spray bottle. For extra cleaning power, add a quarter-teaspoon of liquid soap to the mixture.
In the Kitchen
The kitchen is one place where disinfecting is recommended for other select items like utensils and countertops. Please see Healthy Child Healthy World’s excellent blog, “Alternatives to Antibacterials and Disinfectants: Safer Ways to Keep Germs at Bay” (now archived on WebMD), for more information.
Kitchen countertops: For a “soft scrub,” mix together baking soda and liquid soap until you get a consistency you like. The amounts don’t have to be equal. Make only as much as you need as it dries quickly.
Ovens: To clean extra-greasy ovens, combine one cup baking soda with a quarter-cup of washing soda. Add enough water to make a paste. Mix well, apply it to oven surfaces, and let it soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime. Rinse surfaces well.
Microwave ovens: Clean your microwave with a paste of three to four tablespoons of baking soda mixed with water. Scrub on with a sponge and rinse well.
Cutting boards: Disinfect cutting boards by spraying with vinegar and then with 3% hydrogen peroxide (available in drugstores). Keep the liquids in separate spray bottles and use them one at a time. It doesn’t matter which one you use first, but both together are much more effective than either one alone.
In the Bathroom
Tub and tile cleaner: Mix 1-2/3 cups baking soda with a half-cup liquid soap and a half-cup of water. Then, as the last step, add two tablespoons of vinegar. (Note: If you add the vinegar too early, it will react with the baking soda.) Immediately apply, wipe, and scrub.
Toilet bowl: Pour one cup of borax into the toilet bowl before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. For an extra-strength cleaner, add a quarter-cup of vinegar to the borax.
Additional resource: “11 Simple DIY Green Cleaning Products for Healthier Home.” Note that NCHH cannot recommend or endorse any specific companies, their products, or their services.
Rebecca Morley directed the National Center for Healthy Housing from October 2002 to December 2014. While at NCHH, she led efforts to create safer and healthier environments for all people, with a special focus on children and communities that are disproportionately burdened by environmental public health risks. Ms. Morley is an experienced leader and manager with nearly 20 years of experience working in the government and nonprofit sectors. Ms. Morley earned a Master of Science in public policy from the Georgia Institute of Technology and graduated from the Achieving Excellence executive fellowship program of the Harvard Kennedy School. Skilled in strategy development, policy analysis, program evaluation, organizational development, communications, grant seeking, and grant making, she now serves the public health community as a professional consultant.