On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Toxic-Free, DIY Cleaning Supplies

When Karen Munger’s firefighter husband sifted through the ash and rubble of burned homes, he was saving lives and property. He was also breathing in chemicals and toxins that were released by burned plastics, scorched industrial materials and hundreds of other poisonous substances that affected his lungs.

Though he was always careful about using his breathing gear, the Edmond firefighter still developed toxic overload and chemical sensitivity. Even walking near swimming pools caused the chlorine fumes to irritate his skin and lungs. His wife couldn't wear the perfume he used to buy her due to the irritation.

Munger not only had to go through a complete detoxification of his body, but of his family’s home as well. Going forward, all personal care items like shampoo and soap had to be allergen- and chemical-free, as did the cleaning supplies used to make the house as toxic-free as possible.

The Mungers’ story isn’t that unique. People are being exposed to toxins and chemicals daily, and they are being exposed in their own homes. Many common commercial cleaners are filled with toxic substances that may cause long-term health concerns. They also produce environmental pollution caused by their manufacture and disposal.

However, with a few small changes, anyone can switch out harsh cleaning products for more natural options that make a home sparkle without damaging the environment or affecting a person's health.

For more information, we turned to the experts at the Green Cleaning Association, a national organization that brings customers, cleaning companies and business partners together to support green cleaning and wellness. Here are tips to clean your home naturally without using harsh or toxic chemicals.

Essential oils

Besides using essential oils for their lovely scents, oils can be used to kill germs and disinfect surfaces as well. Plant essences have antimicrobial qualities and the pure forms of essential oils can defeat bacteria, viruses and fungi.

But not all essential oils are created equal. Choose pure essences that are extracted through steam distillation or cold pressing. Because of the potency of these oils, be sure to dilute the oils before they come in contact with your skin.

So, how can you use essential oils for cleaning purposes? Tea tree oil is a powerhouse that can be used to rid bathrooms of mold and kitchens of nasty germs, thanks to its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.

Lavender is a scrumptious oil that can be used to fight mold and mildew in the laundry while thyme is antibacterial, making it a favorite for surface cleansers.

Toss those aerosol room fresheners, too. According to the Green Cleaning Association, organic potpourri and houseplants can purify the air quality and keep your home smelling fresh. The result? Fewer aerosol cans and cleaner air for you and your family.

Do it yourself cleansers

There are many cleaners you can make at home with ingredients you may already have in your pantry. Below are several DIY house cleaners that will help rid your entire home of pesky germs without the chemicals.

All-purpose cleaner

Mix 1 teaspoon of dish soap with 2 cups of water and add 10 drops of your favorite essential oil. Add the mix to a spray bottle and get to cleaning!

Another option? You can also make your own vinegar spray for cleaning surfaces around your home. Vinegar is 5% acetic acid, which helps kill bacteria and other gross stuff. Though effective on most surfaces when mixed with water, be aware that vinegar can damage marble and granite.

Just mix 1 cup of white vinegar, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1 cup of water and a few drops of essential oil together in a spray bottle.

Stain remover

If you have really tough stains, for instance in the toilet bowl, try this powerful mix.

Combine ¼ cup of castile soap (or dish soap), ¼ cup of hydrogen peroxide, 15 drops of tea tree oil, ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of water in a squirt bottle. Squirt the mix around the toilet bowl and use a pumice stone or steel wool to scrub after letting the mixture sit for few minutes.

Don’t forget to use gloves! Follow the scrub with a toilet brush, flush, and then you can marvel at your clean toilet.       

Soft scrub           

According to WomensVoices.org, a soft scrub for delicate surfaces can be made by mixing 2 cups of baking soda, ½ - ⅔ cup of liquid castile soap, 4 teaspoons of vegetable glycerin (acts as a preservative) and 5 drops essential oil such as lavender (or any scent you prefer) in a sealed glass jar. This mixture has a shelf life of up to two years.

A dry soft scrub can also be made with baking soda or salt (or a combination of both) with 10 to 15 drops essential oil for scent.

Laundry detergent

WomensVoices suggests this recipe for green laundry detergent.

Mix 1 cup of soap flakes, ½ cup of washing soda, ½ cup of baking soda and 1-2 tablespoons of oxygen bleach in a glass container. Use 1 tablespoon per load to wash in warm or cold water.

Furniture polish

A gentle and green furniture polish is made from 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar and 20-30 drops lemon essential oil. Shake well and use a dry cloth to rub the polish in the wood in the direction of the grain.

Drain cleaner

For tough clogs in drains, use ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of vinegar. Pour baking soda down the drain and follow with vinegar. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Flush with boiling water. To avoid clogs, use a drain trap to catch hairs and other fibers.

Other tips for toxic-free cleaning

  • Castile soap is available at most health and wellness stores and can be used to clean your body, most surfaces, your laundry and even your pets. This natural soap is great for cutting through dirt, grease and even germs. 
  • Citrus solvent is great for cleaning items like paintbrushes and cutting through oil and grease, but know it can also cause skin or eye irritation if it comes in contact with them.
  • Hydrogen peroxide isn’t just effective in cleaning minor wounds — it can also be used for disinfecting in the kitchen or bathroom. An added bonus is that it has a slight bleaching effect, so it can be used as a stain remover for fabrics and grout.
  • Cornstarch can be used in multiple ways to clean the home. For instance, if you dissolve 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in a pint of water in a spray bottle, you can use it as an alternative to spray starch. A paste of cornstarch and water can be used to clean silver, and sprinkling cornstarch on your carpet 30 minutes before you vacuum can freshen them up.
  • Lemons are a natural and pleasant-smelling way to clean chopping boards. Just rub a slice across the surface of the board to disinfect.

Luckily, natural products are in demand and the internet has no shortage of articles and blogs about all-natural cleaning. If you have neither the time or patience to make your own cleaners and add a little elbow grease, natural cleaning services are available in most cities.

Subscribe to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog

Subscribe for weekly emails full of useful and interesting Oklahoma-centric health and wellness info, from the doctors and health experts at INTEGRIS.