Tuesday, January 20, 2015

DIY Green Household Cleaners - My First Step Into "Crunchiness"

    This month marks a milestone in my life.  It has officially been a year since I started the
transformation into becoming "crunchy."  A year ago I didn't know what "crunchy" meant (also referred to as granola/hippie/green, etc.) except in regards to the consistency of certain types peanut butter or what adjective you would use to describe eating a bowl of cornflakes. But I soon came to learn that the term is used loosely to describe people who tend to take a more natural/holistic approach to life, are environmentally conscious, make a lot of their own household & personal care products, eat organic, believe in alternative medicine, and may or may not have chicken coops in their backyard! There is definitely a wide range of crunchiness, indeed....
    I honestly can't really describe what happened to me last January. All I know is that I had a sudden lifestyle epiphany.  My husband would probably have described it as me "going off the deep end." (And after I made him watch a two hour documentary on GMOs and freaked out about all the chemicals in our home, who can blame him?) He thought I was a little crazy at first and was not convinced at ALL by my newfound crunchy ways, but looking back, I think I can safely say that we are both glad I did!
    The only thing I can pinpoint is that last January is when my husband and I started trying for a baby, and with that came a whole new mindset for me.  Although it took us several months to get pregnant, my brain started making this automatic switch over to, for lack of better words, "mommy mode."  I started to think about the monumental responsibility that I would have carrying a life inside me and also one day raising a little one....and I started to look at life through a whole new set of eyes.  Aspects of my lifestyle that I had never questioned or even given a second thought to became the subject of intense scrutiny, because I knew that all my choices were not only going to affect me, but someone else too.   I started researching like crazy about, medicines, body care products, household cleaning supplies, etc. and how all of those things can affect a growing fetus (and people in general), and I was truly shocked by all that I learned.  I was dumbfounded by how "in the dark" I was (and I'm pretty sure the majority of your average Americans, too) about what I was eating, what kinds of products I was using, and what all was actually IN them!   As I became further educated, I slowly began to make switches in our home to more natural foods and green products, and I have been so pleased with the results that I can truly say I will NEVER go back! 
   I could write all day about all that I know now about food/label reading and about all of the different natural body care products I have made and used (and I will one day), but today I want to focus on one of the first switches I made, household cleaning supplies.  As everyone knows, cleaning is just a part of life. It's a mundane task indeed, but one that must be done nonetheless in order to keep our homes sanitary.  To be honest, most people don't put much thought into what they use to clean their homes.  I sure didn't. I, like probably the vast majority of all other Americans, used the same stuff my mom used to clean with - a smorgasbord of everyday household cleaners that you can find on the cleaner aisle of any store....Lysol, Comet, Clorox, Pine-Sol, Windex, etc.  I also always used the same laundry detergent and fabric softener my mom always used - Tide and Downy.  Doesn't everybody use those products?  What's wrong with them?  Well, nothing....I thought....until I started looking into what the actual ingredients of all of those products.
    Have you ever given any thought to the fact that the ingredients are not listed on the backs of about 90% of all household cleaners?   Lotions, shampoos, etc. all have the ingredients listed on the back of the bottles.  But cleaners don't.  There is a reason for that!  First, due to protection by our government, the manufacturers are not required too....but it's also because if consumers truly knew what kinds of harmful chemicals were in those cleaners and what the effects of those chemicals are, they probably wouldn't buy them. 
   Cleaning products, unlike food, drinks, makeup, and other body care products are not required by federal law to list their ingredients.  This means that manufacturers have no reason to avoid dangerous chemicals in their products – even if they can trigger asthma attacks, cause skin rashes, or are known cancer-causing substances. Because the law protects manufacturers from disclosing this information, consumers are left in the dark and without the necessary information they need to select cleaners that are safe for use in their homes and around their families.  To top it off, witty marketing ploys by companies like Lysol with their new slogan, "It's not's healthing," convince otherwise unsuspecting consumers to believe that by buying their products they are making their families healthier, when anything could be further from the truth.
(See this awesome blog post about Lysol from blogger Healthful it!

    So....are you ready for a list of what is REALLY in the household cleaners you are using? 

   1. Phthalates
         FOUND IN:  These are found in many household products such as air fresheners, dish soap, scented hand soaps (Yes...our beloved Bath & Body Works soaps!) and anything else that is scented.  But remember, because of proprietary laws, companies don't have to disclose what is in their scents, so you won't find this term on a label.  If you see the word "fragrance," there is a good chance phthalates are there!

       HEALTH IMPLICATIONS:  Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, which means they screw with your endocrine system and adversely affect developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in humans and animals.  According to a 2003 study by the CDC and the Harvard School of Public Health, men found with high levels of phthalates in their blood also were found to have reduced sperm counts. ( Remember, the skin has no safeguard against toxins like other systems of the body, so absorbed chemicals from products like soaps and air fresheners that touch the skin go straight to your organs.

 2. Triclosan
      FOUND IN:  Dawn & other dishwashing detergents, cleaners and soaps labeled "antibacterial," some hand sanitizers, some facewashes, and even in some brands of toothpaste!

      HEALTH IMPLICATIONS:   Triclosan is an aggressive antibacterial cleaner that is being blamed for the rapid growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Numerous studies have found it to be a hormone disruptor, negatively affect thyroid function, and lower levels of testosterone and sperm count in animals.   Other studies have found dangerous levels of triclosan in rivers and streams where it can be toxic to algae and other plant life.

3. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”
       FOUND IN:   Dry cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet/upholstery cleaners

        HEALTH IMPLICATIONS:  The EPA recognizes Perc as a known neurotoxin. It has been found to cause damage to the brain and central nervous system, as well as cause multiple types of cancer and other disorders.  Most people are exposed to this toxin through inhalation of fumes on clothes that have returned from the dry cleaner or fumes that linger after carpets have been cleaned.  The EPA has ordered a phase-out of all machines using perc in residential buildings by 2020, but the state of California has gone even further and is eliminating all use of perc by 2023 due to its suspected health risks. (

4. 2-Butoxyethanol

       FOUND IN:  Window cleaners like Windex, as well as kitchen and multipurpose cleaners, whiteboard cleaners, varnishes, etc.

       HEALTH IMPLICATIONS:  It is an eye, nose, and skin irritant and has been found to cause destruction of red blood cells, nervous system effects, birth defects, and multiple other issues in animal studies.  (

5. Chemicals in Fabric Softener/Dryer Sheets
   There are literally too many toxic chemicals in fabric softener to list, so I'm just posting this link that lists the most common chemicals found in the most popular brands of fabric softeners.  It is crazy scary to think about all of these chemicals literally seeping into our bodies and our kids' bodies as we walk around everyday through our clothes, sheets, towels, etc. 

    I have only listed some of the most common chemicals in household products but the list is MUCH longer..... ammonia, chlorine, sodium hydroxide, and many more! If you include personal care products like shampoos, body washes, lotions, etc. you add a TON of other cancer-causing chemicals that your body is exposed to on a daily basis.

   So, what is one to do about all of this?  Well, many people like to go with the school of thought of, "There are so many chemicals out there in everything, and there is no way to eliminate them all, so what's the point in trying?"  Well, here's my rebuttal to that.  Would the same school of thought apply to exercising or eating right?  "I don't have time to work out 7 days a week, so what's the point?" or "I don't like salads, so I just don't eat vegetables."  Of course not!

    Making changes for your health is not an "all or nothing" kind of thing.  ANY change you make to better your health in any area of your life, whether it be eating right, exercising, or reducing your exposure to environmental chemicals is worth your time!
So.....if I can't use Lysol, Windex, fabric softener, and antibacterial hand soap, what am I supposed to use?  Well, I'm so glad you asked!  There are a TON of easy to find, inexpensive, and most importantly, NON-TOXIC substances that you can use to clean your home.  And the best part is that you probably have a lot of them already!  
   Here are my top 5 ingredients for household cleaners and why they work just as good as the chemical laden kind:
      Yes, you heard me right! Vodka! Vodka is an excellent disinfectant, it eliminates odor-causing bacteria, it cuts grease, dries quickly and leaves no smell, and will make anything from faucets to glass shine! It is also completely non-toxic.  Now, if you are opposed to having alcohol in your home for whatever reason, vodka may not be the best choice for you.  But a cheap bottle of vodka is a staple in my home...and not for cocktail hour!  I prefer a nice glass of wine for that. :)
     I'm sure this comes as no surprise to you, but the power of vinegar is truly amazing. Aside from the sometimes strong initial smell, vinegar is an excellent cleaning agent. It can easily dissolve mineral deposits and soap scum, kills bacteria just as effectively as chemical cleaners, and is a natural odor eliminator.  It is biodegradable, has a virtually unlimited shelf life, and it is CHEAP!
    Baking soda is great for many things, but it is best known for neutralizing odors. I use it mostly for extra scrubbing power because of the nice gritty paste consistency it develops when mixed with a liquid.
     I had never heard of castile soap a year ago, but have come to love it!  Castile soap is soap made from vegetable oil (usually olive), rather than from animal fat or synthetic detergents.  It cleans well and can be used as hand soap, body wash, dish soap and more.....and because it is derived from simple, natural ingredients, it does not harm the environment.  My favorite brand is Dr. Bronner's. You can find it on Amazon, but many stores carry it - Publix and Target are usually a safe bet.
    Essential oils are the finishing touch of any great cleaning product.  Oils can be added to homemade cleaning products for both scent and functionality.  For instance, tea tree oil is a known for its antibacterial properties, which makes it a great additive for household cleaners.  Orange and lemon oils are also great for making cleaning supplies smell nice and give a happy, uplifting scent.  I use the NOW foods essential oils for my cleaning supplies. They can be found on Amazon or at health food stores.  They are cheaper than the therapeutic grade essential oils like Doterra, Young Living, etc.  and since I am not using them on my body, I do not see the point in using the highest grade.
    Armed with these awesome ingredients, you can eliminate the following products in your home:   All Purpose Cleaners (Lysol, Clorox, 409, Spic & Span, etc), Windex, toilet bowl cleaner, Febreeze, fabric softener, and more!  You will also make cleaning much simpler, because you are using the same cleaners for many different functions.  Using homemade green cleaners eliminates the need for multiple cleaners.
  After lots of trial and error and many experiments, here are my favorite environmentally friendly and non-toxic household cleaner/solution recipes..... hope you enjoy them as much as I have!




1 comment:

  1. That is such an informative post! I'm glad that you still have time to research about those matters, despite your busy schedule. I also avoid using cleaning products that contain harmful chemicals, which can cause complications in our health. I'm also enthused that you gave us easy steps on how to make those DIY cleaning products. Thanks for sharing that, Beth! All the best to you!

    Courtney Morris @ Onyx Cleaning