How to avoid using toxic home cleaning products

Just as important as seeking out healthy cleaning products is avoiding unhealthy ones, those that are highly toxic to the environment, human health or both. Experts recommend the following.

How to avoid using toxic home cleaning products

Many cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause eye, nose and lung irritation, as well as rashes, headaches, nausea, asthma and, in some cases, cancer.

Beware the bad stuff

Corrosives. Avoid products labelled: "Danger. Corrosive." Corrosives include some of the most dangerous chemicals in the home, such as lye, hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid and sulphuric acid — the active agents in many drain cleaners, oven cleaners and toilet cleaners. These can burn the skin, cause internal burns if ingested and explode if used incorrectly.

Ammonia. Many home recipes and commercial products contain ammonia, but it is a strong eye and lung irritant and should be avoided by anyone with asthma or other lung sensitivities.

Bleach. For the reasons noted elsewhere, but primarily for its toxic fumes.

Phosphates. Phosphates are naturally occurring minerals used in automatic dishwashing detergents as a water softener. When released back into the environment, phosphates can cause algae blooms that kill aquatic life in lakes and ponds.

Petroleum. Many cleaning agents are refined petroleum products linked with health problems. A few to avoid: diethylene glycol, nonylphenol ethoxylate, butyl cellosolve.

Avoid commercial cleaning products

  • You can get just about everything you need for healthy cleaning at the supermarket and avoid the commercial cleaning aisle.
  • Here's a shopping list: 4 litres (4 quarts) white vinegar; bottle of rubbing alcohol; a large box of baking soda; 4 litres (4 quarts) distilled water; an oxygen-based cleaner; liquid dishwashing detergent; an enzymatic cleaner found in the pet products aisle; foaming shaving cream; hydrogen peroxide.
  • Also pick up three or four spray bottles to use with the make-your-own cleaning products.

Make your own health-friendly products

Furniture polish: Mix olive oil and vinegar together for an excellent cleaner and polish.

Mildew remover: Mix equal parts water and 20 per cent-strength hydrogen peroxide.

Laundry whitener: Use hydrogen peroxide, not bleach. Soak dingy white clothes for 30 minutes in the washer with 125 millilitres (1/2 cup) of 20 per cent peroxide, then launder as usual. This removes the greying caused by chlorine bleach.

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