From bleach to grease-busters to deodorizers, there are plenty of chemical cleaners out there to tackle your dirtiest, grimiest, bacteria-laden situations. But there's a problem: Many of those cleaning products contribute to indoor air pollution.
It's common knowledge that many chemicals are poisonous or can harm your skin, but many chemical cleaning products also release harmful gases into the air in your home—and some of the worst chemicals, such as nitrobenzene, formaldehyde, and naphthalene, are potential or known carcinogens.
Indoor air pollution is a serious concern, particularly in the winter months, when closed windows and doors means ventilation is reduced. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-produced The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality, "a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities."
Many of the chemicals in cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of chemicals that release, or off-gas, organic compounds into the air in your home. According to the EPA, some VOCs are benign, but others have been linked to health effects ranging from eye irritation to cancer.
Room deodorizers may seem like a good way to zap those chemical smells, but in a review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in July 2008, room deodorizers were listed as one of the major sources VOCs.
Scent is also an issue that can't be ignored. The scent of chemicals in many cleaning products is masked with more pleasing synthetic scents. But the results of two randomly sampled surveys of a total of 2,115 Americans, published in the Journal of Environmental Health in March 2009, revealed scent sensitivity is a very real issue for many people. When results of both surveys were combined, 19 percent of respondents said they've experienced "adverse health effects from air fresheners." Various clinical studies have linked fragrances to headaches, wheezing, reduced pulmonary function, rhinitis, asthma, and other health issues.
While commercial cleaning products present a bevy of environmental health hazards, there are plenty of natural cleaning solutions that will keep you and your family healthy and squeaky-clean. It might take a little more elbow grease, but consider it exercise—also good for your health.
Natural Cleaning Solutions
Lemons are a fantastic cleaner. The acid in lemons cuts through grease and the scent is fresh and pleasing for most people. Just keep in mind that lemon oil contains limonene, which can mildly irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin—so it may not be the best option for people with severe asthma or respiratory health issues.
White vinegar is a fantastic de-greaser, and it's a good alternative to lemon. It can be used to clean everything from your toilets, counters, and floors, to your coffee maker and windows.
Baking soda is a fantastic abrasive for cleaning hard surfaces. Just don't use it on anything that will scratch easily. Mix equal parts baking soda and water to form a paste
Vinegar & Baking Soda
Do you remember when you made that volcano when you were in grade school? Well that volatile reaction you got when mixing vinegar and baking soda is the answer to your clogged drain. Mix equal parts together, pour down the drain, and let it do its magic for at least one minute before rinsing with water.
This rich oil is a fantastic alternative to furniture polish or wax. Use a lower grade oil, rather than extra virgin olive oil to save a few pennies.
Tea Tree Oil
The natural antibacterial properties of tea tree oil make it a wonderful disinfectant, and it is also an antifungal agent, so it's good for clearing up mold or mildew in the bathroom. Mix 10 drops of tea tree oil in two cups water to dilute.
Borax (Sodium Borate)
This mineral is used in many commercial detergents, among many other products. It has strong anti-fungal properties, and it's a natural ant-, cockroach-, and flea-killer. Mix with water in a spray bottle for easy cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom.