Your Cheat Sheet For Using Nontoxic Cleaners On Everything
What better way to usher in spring than with a home that’s a blank canvas for all of your warmer-weather intentions? Welcome to Green Clean, a 4-part series with approachable and sustainable tips to help you prepare your space for the new season. We already told you how to declutter your whole home, and now we’re exploring how to deep clean what’s left over using natural products that are easier on the environment—and your health.
Is there anything more satisfying than a good ol' deep clean? Knowing that every single inch of your space has been tended to is a liberating feeling, and knowing exactly what is in your products is even more empowering.
The dirty side of cleaning
"There are a number of chemicals and hazard concerns associated with conventional all-purpose cleaning products," explains Samara Geller, a database and research analyst at the Environmental Working Group. "All-purpose cleaning wipes and sprays often contain antimicrobial agents designed to kill viruses and bacteria on hard surfaces." However, some of these ingredients that claim to clean and disinfect have been linked to asthma, respiratory infection, allergies, and even certain cancers. The EWG recommends steering clear of the following:
- Quaternary ammonium compounds (disinfectant linked to asthma1 and respiratory irritation)
- Sodium hypochlorite (disinfectant linked to asthma and respiratory irritation)
- Ethylene oxide (surfactant linked to cancer)
- 1,4-dioxane (surfactant linked to cancer)
- Isothiazolinone (preservative linked to skin allergies2)
Your new essential routine
OK, so that's a lot of syllables. Let's break things down into basic steps you can take to lessen your chemical exposure during this year's clean. First off, do your best to avoid the aforementioned multipurpose cleaners altogether, opting for products that have one specific job instead. The EWG also recommends forgoing air fresheners since they come paired with health risks of their own.
Look for products that are certified by Green Seal or EcoLogo. If you come across one that isn't certified but seems innocuous enough, double check by consulting EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning database. Or, make this year the one you start making your own cleaning products.
Essential oils can add a smell-good, antibacterial punch to your cleaning arsenal.
There are plenty of ways to get a little alchemical in your home, and countless benefits of doing so. Experiment with nontoxic options like vinegar diluted with water to clean windows and shine stainless-steel appliances; baking soda mixed with water to form a scrubbing paste for the kitchen or bathroom; and lemon and vinegar for an antiseptic surface cleaner.
Essential oils can add a smell-good, antibacterial punch to your new powerful (not to mention cheap) cleaning arsenal. "Essential oils bring both aroma and benefits to your cleaning," says Charlynn Avery, an aromatherapist and national educator at Aura Cacia. "Assertive oils that evaporate slowly and have a lingering freshening effect are good choices for the bathroom. Other essential oils like eucalyptus and frankincense offer lingering aromas and purifying benefits while citrus essential oils like sweet orange, lemon, and grapefruit are super refreshing."
Here are a few antibacterial oils Avery recommends starting with:
- Tea Tree: Traditionally used as a medicine for cuts and wounds, tea tree oil can be combined with water to form a spray that attacks airborne bacteria and mold.
- Clove Bud: A potent antioxidant, clove also inhibits the growth of molds, yeasts, and bacteria when combined with water.
- Oregano: Place a drop or two on a sponge for a powerful kitchen surface cleaner.
No matter what products you're using, always clean with the windows and doors open. And if you do opt to swap out traditional products with DIY options, make sure you dispose of them properly. Pouring certain cleaners down the drain can harm wildlife and waterways, so always check the label for proper protocol.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.