When I first discovered the harmful chemicals in everyday cleaning products and body care, there were no such things as “green” cleaners. There were few if any recipes. Today, a quick search on the internet will yield hundreds if not thousands of recipes for green or natural cleaning.
Why go green?
Chemical cleaners are full of dangerous chemical compounds – this is obvious when reading the warnings: corrosive, irritant, toxic, keep out of reach of children, etc. Aside from these obvious dangers, chemicals like bleach, ammonia, glycols, DEA and TEA are reported to be not only toxic but also linked with cancer. We should be avoiding these as much as possible!
Flushed down drains, they eventually end up back in our water supply. You might assume that our water treatment systems would take care of them, but even state of the art waste water treatment cannot get rid of some of these chemicals. This is a real concern as it impacts not only the environment, but also the quality of our drinking water. Additionally, these toxic compounds can build up in the food chain and cause defects and reproductive issues in humans and wildlife, as well as impacting biodiversity issues in our natural ecosystems. The US Geological Survey in 1999 and 2000 found that 69% of susceptible groundwater sources in the US contained detergents and 66% contained disinfectants (among other chemicals).
How to choose green
Protect your loved ones as well as the environment by choosing wisely. It’s easier than you think and you don’t have to be a scientist to do it
Learn to avoid harmful ingredients:
- Petroleum based products (they don’t break down)
- Anything with DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamide) and TEA (triethanolamine) (cancer-causing/carcinogenic)
- Phosphates (harmful to aquatic life)
- Ethylene glycol (cancer-causing/carcinogenic)
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) (cancer-causing/carcinogenic)
- Chemical-based air fresheners – these have numerous chemicals that are associated with migraines, asthma, cancer, as well as harmful effects on circulatory, respiratory, reproductive, neurological, and immune systems. Some (but not all) of these ingredients are phthalates, limonene, linalool, myrcene, beta-pinene, alpha-pinene, linalyl acetate, dihydromyrcenol, geranyl acetate, or 4-methoxy-benzaldehyde. See this article for more information
Be aware of marketing techniques
Unfortunately manufacturers of cleaners have learned that they can use lots of terms to fool us into believing they are safe, called “greenwashing”. TerraChoice lists some common greenwashing tactics:
- Hidden trade-offs: where green claims are made about a specific set of qualities, while ignoring the others
- No proof: green claims that are difficult to prove with readily accessible info
- Vagueness: green claims that are so broad or unclear that there is no actual, tangible claim being made
- Irrelevance: making green claims that are unimportant, redundant, or unhelpful
- Fibbing: false green claims
- False labels: fake third-party green endorsements or certifications
While there are some regulations for marketing and labelling terminology for consumer goods, terms such as eco-friendly, environmentally-friendly, green, and natural are not regulated in Canada. Don’t assume the label is correct! Always read the ingredients list.
Use safer alternatives
- Toothpaste: cleans silver
- Baking soda: cleans showers, bath tubs, counter tops, grease. I personally have not used powdered store bought cleaners for over 30 years. Baking soda does it better and cheaper. Add a couple drops of lemon essential oil to give it a boost.
- Vinegar: windows, ants, grease. A mixture of salt, vinegar and flour cleans brass. Vinegar, borax and lemon essential oil cleans toilets. Salt and vinegar cleans copper
- Hydrogen peroxide: anti fungal, non toxic, antibacterial, replaces bleach Rubbing Alcohol: anti-bacterial
- Cooking oil: cleans tar and sap
- Hair spray: while not a huge advocate of it, it will clean ink off walls
- Deodorizers: baking soda, activated charcoal, enzyme sprays
- Air fresheners: essential oils and diffusers, our phthalate-free odour neutralizers
- Peanut butter: cleans up gum
Carpet Freshener Recipe:
- Mix 5 drops of lemon, pine or fir essential oil into 1 cup of baking soda (use light-coloured essential oils as dark ones such as orange, cinnamon or patchouli may stain carpet)
- Sprinkle on carpet and leave for 15 minutes.
Essential Oils for Cleaning:
- Tea tree: molds and mildew
- Eucalyptus: pesticide, de greasing and gluey residues from stickers
- Lemon: de-greaser
- Rosemary: anti microbial and bug repellant/pesticide
- Cinnamon: anti-bacterial
- Lavender: anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, a good bedroom cleaner as it helps with sleep issues, depression
- Pine: anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, insect repellant
- Marseille’s 4 Thieves Remedy: anti-bacteria, anti-viral, antiseptic, anti-microbial – use on gym equipment, countertops, door knobs, toys, vehicles, etc.