I assume that if you are reading my blog you have already decided to move your lifestyle in the green direction. I don’t need to convince you that those toxic chemical cleaners that line the shelves in groceries and hardware stores are really bad sh*t. So I don’t need to try and scare you green, right? Let’s talk about the non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning agents first. It’s way more fun because with these ingredients you can make safe, non-toxic homemade cleaning products!
Now let’s have some fun learning some basic (no pun intended) organic chemistry. I promise it’s worth knowing!
PH is the thing to try and wrap your head around. Every chemical has a PH. That means the earth and the universe can be measured and described in terms of PH. Cool! I first learned about PH when I studied soil science at my cousin’s organic farm in Vermont, and then again in landscape design school. Love those cations and such. What??
Anyway, PH is measured on a scale of 1 – 14. PH 7 is neutral. PH 1 is insanely acid. PH 14 is scarily basic (alkaline). Chemicals with very high or very low PH can be dangerous. The can burn and dissolve stuff. Then again, lemon juice is PH 1 and is safe to eat. Hmmmmm. Common sense is needed as you ascertain what’s toxic and what’s not.
Kitchen Cleaning Ingredients and Ph
Take soap, for example: Mild, gentle soap is alkaline with a Ph of around 8. Harsher soap could be Ph10, and lye is a dangerously caustic Ph14. So while a drain cleaner with lye in it is corrosive due to it’s very high Ph, toilet bowl cleaners are corrosive due to their acidic PH 2. Balance is the key to everything in life, and so it is in Ph measurements. Safety is in the balance!
Most Useful Green Kitchen Cleaning Ingredients
BAKING SODA (Sodium Bicarbonate)—a non-toxic to humans all around green product. Baking Soda is a degreaser, deodorizer and mild abrasive made from a mineral found mainly in a 50 million year old dried up lake in Wyoming. You can now buy it in handy shaker containers in the cleaning aisle of the grocery store.
LIQUID SOAP (Vegetable Oil-based, Castile, or Glycerin)—Dirt remover that is 100% biodegradable.
WHITE DISTILLED VINEGAR (Acetic Acid 4-5%)—Grease Cutter, Deodorizer, Cleaning Rinse, Sanitizer that is inexpensive, effective and whose odor can be altered using essential oils.
HYDROGEN PEROXIDE 3%—Antiseptic, Anti-bacterial is an alternative to chlorine bleach.
CLUB SODA—Dirt remover, polisher club soda is a wonderful discovery I made as I researched for this blog. It works because it has a lot of alkaline minerals in it. I cleaned the inside of my windows with it and I was impressed with the sparkling results!
SALT—Degreaser, Anti-bacterial that “absorbs oils readily and, combined with water can destroy any bacteria in its vicinity through a dehydrating action. Can be used in a variety of ways”(Karen Logan’s Clean House Clean Planet) in the kitchen.
ESSENTIAL OILS—Fragrance, Anti-bacterial, and Antiseptic should be organic, and pure, not synthetic. You can test oils for purity by leaving a drop on paper. When the drop dries there should be no leftover solvent (petroleum product) residue on the paper. Look for more articles about essential oils later! They are fascinating and lovely.
Equipment for these green products is just a matter of buying or re-using spray bottles that you label, don’t forget! And squirt bottles maybe, for some formulas. I am fine with my baking soda in the shaker container and my spray bottles of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, and club soda.
Common yet Still Toxic Cleaning Products to Learn to Avoid
I have had a hard time giving up ammonia for cleaning glass and bathroom porcelain (toilet to be exact). Personally I don’t find ammonium hydroxide (household ammonia) more noxious or caustic than 5% acetic acid (vinegar), and I don’t know why all the experts preach against ammonia?! Well, let me check it out, okay read this from healthychild.org,
“Ammonia is a gas with an extremely sharp, irritating odor. Ammonia is formed naturally, but is manufactured as well. Most man-made ammonia is used to make fertilizer. Smaller amounts are used to manufacture synthetic fibers, plastics and explosives. Ammonia is also used as an ingredient in cleaning products and smelling salts. Natural ammonia is formed when manure, plants and animals break down. It is a source of much needed nitrogen for plants and animals.
Humans are regularly exposed to small amounts of ammonia in water, soil and air. This low-level ammonia exposure is not thought to cause long-term health hazards.
In larger quantities, such as those found in household cleaners, ammonia fumes can pose an immediate hazard to the lungs and skin. Ammonia can cause even greater damage if it is mixed with chlorine bleach (or cleaners containing bleach). This mixture forms highly poisonous chloramine gas that cause coughing, choking and lung damage.
Ammonia fumes can also react with nitrates in the environment to form ammonium nitrate particles, which can linger in the home in dust, carpets, curtains and upholstery.
Children are most likely to be exposed to ammonia in household cleaners. Without adequate ventilation, ammonia fumes can build and pose a greater danger. Children with asthma may be particularly sensitive to ammonia fumes.”
And from Wikipedia.org explaining that manmade ammonia processing begins with one of these three—natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, or petroleum naphtha,
“Today, the typical modern ammonia producing plant first converts natural gas (i.e., methane) or liquefied petroleum gas (such gases are propane and butane) or petroleum naphtha into gaseous hydrogen. The process used in producing the hydrogen begins with removal of sulfur compounds from the natural gas (because sulfur deactivates the catalysts used in subsequent steps) . . . .” [etc]
This remark from eHow.com is interesting because it reminded me that jungle guides in Trinidad douse their boots with ammonia before trekking in the bush because it keeps the snakes away!
“Lacing your garbage cans or gardens with ammonia will keep dogs and raccoons from rooting around where you’d rather they didn’t. An ammonia treatment will also banish moths from your clothing drawers and closets.”
Chemical Kitchen Cleaning Products – The Yucks
Well just in case you too need a little reminder about how to stay vigilant against petrochemical cleaners, here ya go. For this we need the experts again. Beth Greer wrote a book called Super Natural Home that is frankly, a little frightening, but in it she writes about all sorts of nasty chemicals found in kitchen and home cleaning and other household products. She sums up the debate about toxic products like so:
“Researchers around the world are finding links between the rise in the ‘cleanliness factor’ and the increase in asthma and allergies. In Great Britain, for example, researchers have found a clear association between childhood asthma and wheezing and the frequent use of the common household cleaning products such as bleach, disinfectants, and air fresheners. Children were twice as likely to develop breathing problems if their parents regularly used such products. . . It’s a bit ironic to think that our cleanliness—the way we over-practice hygiene—actually may contribute to unhealthiness.” (p. 146)
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dangerous chemicals being offered as cleaning products. Most conventional dish and laundry detergents are made from petroleum, a synthetic, nonrenewable resource. Disease and illness beyond description can be blamed on unstudied, untested chemicals brought to market everyday by these irresponsible industries. All the manufacturers need to do is submit paperwork to the EPA and wait 90 days for approval. Just like that.
And the problem with toxic chemicals is not just what happens when you actually use them in your home. Think about how it was made and how the container must be disposed of. Most likely the manufacturing process for the chemical is hazardous and it creates toxic waste, and more chemicals seep and leach into our environment as the containers for the chemicals are thrown into landfills, or worse illegal dumps!
The best advice I have read out there is toa void products that list vague ingredients like “fragrance” “surfactants”, “inert ingredients”, “color”, and “dyes”. These ingredients are unknown and very possibly dangerous to your health.
Avoid products with fumes that make your eyes sting (vinegar makes my eyes sting, but whatever, you get the idea) or that make you cough or gag. This is your human instinct telling you not to use this product if you want to stay healthy.
Avoid products with these ingredients. Here is Karen Logan’s List
o Isopropyl alcohol
o Bleach (Chlorine or Sodium Hypochlorite)
o Butyl cello solve
o Cresol (related to phenols)
o Ethanol (an alcohol)
o Hydrochloric acid
o Hydrofluoric acid
o Lye (Sodium Hydroxide)
o PDCBs (paradichlorobenzenes)
o Petroleum distillates (Hydrocarbons)
o Phenol (Carbolic Acid)
o Phosphoric acid
o Propellants (Propane, Butane, CFCs)
o Sulfuric acid
o TCE (trichloroethylene)
If you want to find out more about just what chemicals are in your current favorite chemical cleaning products, go to some of these
Links to product safety sites