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Natural Cleaning Solutions

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD

Tired of the expense and chemicals contained in cleaning solutions? No worries, there are many recipes for household cleaning recipes that are natural, eco-friendly and less toxic than most commercial cleaning products.

Killing germs and keeping your home clean is serious business because invisible germs left untreated can be disease-causing. But, with a little elbow grease and a solution of household ingredients you can kill most bacteria and clean surfaces as well as some commercial products. And at a fraction of the cost!

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Germ Fighting Ingredients

There are many inexpensive, environmentally safe ingredients that are kinder to the earth and get the job done but they might not perform as well as commercially available products according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Lemon juice, white vinegar, soap, isopropyl alcohol, salt, essential oils, borax and baking soda are all environmentally safe, reasonable cleaners that remove and wash away dirt and germs if used properly," says Joe Schwartz, PhD, Magill University professor, author and chemical expert. "However most mix-at-home cleaning recipes do not have disinfectant properties that kill microorganisms."

Is Natural Better?

Terms like green and natural are not regulated by the government and therefore are not reliable terms when choosing cleaners. Very simple, 'green' cleaners or plain water may do an adequate job if you use them regularly and don't let dirt build up and accumulate.

All commercially formulated or made at home cleaners are composed of chemicals – whether they are food ingredients or chemicals synthesized in a laboratory – and all chemicals may be toxic at some level of exposure.

Safety First

Mixtures of homemade solutions need to be handled with care. Even common household chemicals can irritate eyes and skin and be dangerous if swallowed.

Homemade cleaning products should be labeled properly. Before mixing at home, proceed cautiously.

Start with clean containers not empty cleaning or food bottles which may contain residues. Label containers with ingredients, directions, emergency treatment guidelines and safety precautions. Store all cleaning products separately and out of reach of children. Never mix different cleaning products together because of the potential to create dangerous fumes.

Eco-Friendly Commercial Cleaning Products

If you don't have time to make your own eco-friendly products, you can buy them. Look for the EPA's 'Design for the Environment Program' seal, which identifies commercial products that help protect the environment and are safer for families. All ingredients, including fragrances, must be listed for products to carry the seal. Over 2,800 environmentally friendly cleaning products carry the EPA 'Design for the Environment Program' seal.

One of the best 'no-chemical' cleaning products is the washable and reusable microfiber cleaning cloth. It is chemical free and the ultrafine fibers are formulated with sharp edges to trap the dirt in the microscopic pockets in the cloth, only to be released when washed.

Cleaning Ingredients and Recipes

Clean green with these do-it-yourself cleaning products and recipes:

Baking soda is an all-purpose, mild abrasive cleaner and natural deodorizer.

Lemon is a deodorizer, stain remover and grease cutter that acts as mild bleach when exposed to sunlight.

Olive oil is a natural oil to nourish and polish wood.

Soap - Castile soap or flakes, powder or bars are biodegradable and will clean just about anything.

Borax (sodium borate) cleans, deodorizes and disinfects.

White vinegar is acidic which helps dissolve dirt, cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, stains and soap scum.

Essential oils mixed with water can serve as an antibacterial spray.

Cleaning Recipes

All-purpose scrub: Mix ½ cup baking soda with liquid soap to make a paste and spread on ½ a lemon or a sponge and scrub. Baking soda on a clean wet sponge may work as well.

Window cleaner: Mix teaspoon Castile soap with 3 tablespoons white vinegar and 2 cups water and decant into a clean spray bottle.

Floor cleaner: Mix in a bucket, 1/8 cup Castile soap, 1/8 cup white vinegar, 1 gallon water and a few drops of essential oils.

All-purpose cleaner (bathroom, kitchen and windows): Fill a clean spray bottle with equal parts water and white vinegar along with 5-10 drops of essential oils. For mold and mildew, use full strength vinegar with windows wide open.

Drain cleaner: Add borax and follow with 1-2 quarts of boiling water.

Furniture polish: Mix ½ teaspoon olive oil with ¼ cup white vinegar or lemon juice. A few drops of lemon oil in ½ cup warm water is another option. Dab a soft cloth into solution to clean wood surfaces.

Air fresheners: Mix lemon juice with vinegar or baking soda along with a few drops of essential oils in small dishes to absorb odors.

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