one green planet
one green planet

You’re probably used to reading the ingredient list on all your food by now.  It’s pretty much a habit.  And you know exactly what words to look for so you know whether to avoid that particular product. But what about the ingredients in your household cleaners?

If you don’t pay attention to the back of your multipurpose cleaner, you might be using chemicals that are dangerous to you, your family, and even your pet’s health.  Not exactly what you want when you are just trying to clean your kitchen.  If you do read the labels on your cleaners, it might feel like you need a degree in chemistry to understand what’s really in there.

Don’t worry, we’ll cover some of the most dangerous toxins that are lurking in your cabinets, so you know to avoid them as well as give you some simple and natural alternatives.  You won’t have to go out and buy new expensive products because you probably already have the ingredients for a clean kitchen in your house!

1. Chlorine

We’ll start with a relatively easy one, chlorine.  This is the chemical that is usually found in pools, but you can also find it in toilet bowl cleaners, stain removers, and household tap water. We are exposed to chlorine pretty much every day and we don’t even know it.  City water generally uses chlorine to help get rid of bacteria, which is a good reason to use a filter on your tap. But because it’s in our water, we run the risk of overexposure when it’s in our cleaners.  It can cause respiratory problems and even disrupt thyroid function.

What to use instead: Two big natural products for all home cleaning are going to be vinegar and baking soda.  You can use vinegar to clean your toilet and as a whitener for your laundry.  You could also use borax in your laundry or find a cleaner that is chlorine free.  Install a filter on both your tap and your showers so you can reduce your exposure to chlorine even more.

2. Quaternary Ammonium Compounds or “Quats”

This ingredient might not be as recognizable, but it is in a lot of common household cleaners.  You can find Quats in fabric softeners or fabric softener sheets.  It’s also usually found in cleaners that are labeled “antibacterial.”  Quaternary ammonium compounds are antimicrobials that help get rid of bacteria when you’re cleaning.  While that might sound like a good thing, we are constantly flooded with antibacterial products.  This overexposure is creating strains of bacteria that are “super” bacteria and resistant to almost all antibacterial products.  Not a good thing.  Quats are also a skin irritant and can cause asthma in people who have a long time exposure.

What to use instead: You don’t really need to use fabric softeners to make your clothes soft.  All you need is … vinegar.  It will help remove soap build up in the rinse cycle, and it is non-toxic.  And for disinfectants, all you need to do is mix a few drops of essential oil like tea tree with vinegar and put the mixture into a spray bottle.

3. Sodium Hydroxide

The more common name for this ingredient is lye.  This is an extremely dangerous ingredient because of how corrosive it is. If you get even a little bit on your skin, it can cause serious burns.  Breathing it in can cause a sore throat for days. You don’t need lye in any cleaner that you have.

What to use instead: Sodium Hydroxide is usually used as a scrubbing agent.  You can get the same cleaning and scrubbing power from baking soda and water. Mix a little baking soda with water until you have a thick paste.  This mixture will clean even the toughest greasiest job.

4. 2-Butoxyethanol

This ingredient is a little tricky because by law it doesn’t have to be listed on labels.  2-butoxyethanol is found in multipurpose cleaners and window cleaners, and it’s what gives these products a sweet smell.  Because it isn’t labeled and it isn’t really regulated, it’s easy to be exposed to dangerous levels.  It can cause breathing problems and even cause problems with your kidney function.

What to use instead: You can use vinegar in place of your regular store bought multipurpose cleaner.  But if you don’t like the smell of plain vinegar you can add a few drops of essential oil like lavender or lilac to make your own sweet-smelling cleaner without any toxins.

5. Ammonia

Another fairly common ingredient, ammonia can be found in polishing cleaners.  It gives bathroom and kitchen fixtures that nice shine, but it can also cause severe breathing problems.  Chronic exposure to ammonia can lead to things like asthma and bronchitis.  It’s also extremely dangerous and poisonous if it’s mixed with bleach.

What to use instead:  This might be surprising, but vodka is a very effective polishing agent.  Just a little bit on a microfiber cloth or newspaper can give your appliances a nice shine.  Toothpaste also works well as a silver polisher.

Whether you choose to make one swap or all, by choosing natural alternatives, you can save yourself a ton of money and avoid exposing your family, pets, and the environment to all these unnecessary toxins. Happy DIYing!

Image source: Ann Gordon/Flickr

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