Cleaning product toxins and how to make your own safe products page 2

Furniture & Floor Polishes

Make your own. Use a soft cloth to apply mayonnaise or a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar to furniture. Polish until absorbed.

Natural/renewable or hybrid-natural ingredients. May be available in some green catalogs. Some natural polishes and waxes (imported from Germany) can be ordered by mail.

Nontoxic/non-renewable ingredients. May be available in some green catalogs and hardware stores.

Toxic/non-renewable ingredients. Don’t use products that contain aerosol propellants, ammonia, detergents, synthetic lemon or other fragrance, nitrobenzene, phenol, or plastics. Note "danger" warning on package label.

Glass Cleaner

Make your own. My favorite glass cleaner is half vinegar and half water, applied with a soft cloth or pump spray bottle. This works so well that some big corporations are selling it in the supermarket in a plastic bottle with a little green dye added.

Organically-grown natural/renewable ingredients. Not yet available to my knowledge, but you can use organically grown VINEGAR in your homemade formula.

Natural/renewable or hybrid-natural ingredients. A few are available in natural food stores and green catalogs.

Toxic/non-renewable ingredients. Don’t use products that contain ammonia, detergents, artificial dyes, or aerosol propellants even though there are no warnings required on product labels.

Laundry Detergent

Choose natural fibres. Detergents were developed especially to clean synthetic fibres, and are unnecessary for natural fibres such as cotton, linen, silk, and wool.

Rinse without detergent or soap. You don’t always need to use soap or detergent to get clothes clean. If you need to wash clothes to freshen them or remove perspiration or odors, and not remove dirt, a cup of plain baking soda or vinegar per washer load will do the trick.

Use SOAP. Use a plain powder or liquid, or grate bar soap. One problem with soap is that it can leave a residual scum on fabrics when used in hard water. This can be eliminated by using a water softener – see Water Softener section.

Natural/renewable or hybrid-natural ingredients. Many brands are available in natural food stores and green catalogs.

Nontoxic/non-renewable ingredients. Many brands are available in natural food stores, green catalogs, and hardware stores.

Toxic/non-renewable ingredients. Don’t use products that contain detergents, fluorescent brighteners, or artificial fragrances. Warnings on package labels range from "CAUTION" to "DANGER"–detergents cause more household poisonings than any other household product.

Mold & Mildew Cleaners

Keep rooms dry, warm and light. Mold is a living organism that will only grow in cold, dark, damp places, so if you have a recurrent mold problem, bring more light, heat, or fans into the area to move the air.

For major mold problems, put a portable electric heater in the room, and turn it to the highest setting. Close the door and let it bake all day or overnight. The mold will dry up into a powder that brushes right off.

For concentrated areas, use a hand-held dryer to dry the mold in just a few minutes. This is not the most energy-efficient method, but it will definitely solve the immediate problem. If you are sensitive to molds you should get someone else to handle such problems in your home, or wear gloves, protective clothing and a good face mask.

Let textiles dry before storing. Hang wet towels after bathing to let them dry before throwing them in the hamper. Hang clothes so there is space between them, and if you don’t launder clothing that is damp with perspiration, at least allow it to dry before putting it back in the closet.

Make your own mold and mildew remover. Mix borax and water in a spray bottle. Spray it on and the mold wipes right off. Borax inhibits mold growth, so wash down the walls in your bathroom with a borax solution and just leave it on, or sprinkle borax in damp cabinets under the sink.

Natural/renewable, hybrid-natural or nontoxic/non-renewable ingredients. These are not generally available, but there are a couple of non-toxic products on the market.

Toxic/non-renewable ingredients. Don’t use products that contain formaldehyde, phenol, kerosene, pentachlorophenol. Note "DANGER" warning on package label.

Health Effects of Mold

Mold is ubiquitous (meaning it is everywhere), so there is always a little mold in the air and on many surfaces. Molds can easily enter indoor environments by circulating through doorways, windows, heating, ventilation systems, and air conditioning systems. Spores in the air can also land on people and animals, who can bring them indoors as well.

Mold only becomes a problem in areas where it can proliferate because of excessive moisture, from such sources as leaky pipes, leaking roof during a rainstorm, or even water seeping from potted plants.

Many building materials, when damp, provide suitable substrate for mold growth. Cellulose materials, including paper and paper goods, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, and wood products, are particularly good for some molds, while other molds prefer dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery.

The most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria, none of which are toxic.

Other indoor molds, however, have the potential to produce extremely potent toxins called mycotoxins, which are easily absorbed by the intestinal lining, airways, and skin. Species of mold that produce mycotoxins include Fusarium, Trichoderma, and Stachybotrys.

Until recently, there was only one published report in the United States associating exposure to mycotoxins with health problems – an incident of upper respiratory tract irritation and rash in a family living in a Chicago home with a heavy growth of Stachybotrys. Their symptoms disappeared when the mold was substantially reduced.

More recently, Stachybotrys has been associated with acute pulmonary hemorrhage among infants in Cleveland, Ohio. In November 1994, physicians and public health officials reported a cluster of eight cases of acute pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding in the lungs) that had occurred during January 1993 through November 1994 among infants in eastern metropolitan Cleveland.

Two additional cases were identified in December 1994. Bleeding recurred in five of the discharged infants after they returned to their homes, and of these, one died as a result of toxic mold exposure.

You can usually see or smell a mold infestation large enough to cause serious health problems.

Stachybotrys is a greenish-black mold that grows easily on material with a high cellulose content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint. Constant moisture is required for it to grow, which is why it thrives in areas where there is water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding.

In studies conducted in North America, Stachybotrys has been found in only 2% to 3% of home environments sampled. Still, if you do have an extreme and long-term moisture problem, and are having symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or breathing problems, your home may be one of the few with toxic mold.

Your best protection against toxic mold is to make sure you keep your home dry. Fix leaky pipes, patch holes in the roof, and look for signs of water damage such as water stains on walls and dry rot. And whenever you do experience any kind of water damage, clean it up and dry everything thoroughly right away.

Non-Toxic Oven Cleaner

Use a mixture of two tablespoons liquid soap, two teaspoons borax (in the laundry section of the supermarket), and warm water in a spray bottle. Make sure the salts are completely dissolved to avoid clogging the squirting mechanism. Spray it on, holding the bottle very close to the oven surface so the solution doesn’t get into the air (and into your eyes and lungs).

Even though these are natural ingredients, this solution is designed to cut heavy-duty oven grime, so wear gloves and glasses or goggles if you have them. Leave the solution on for twenty minutes, then scrub with steel wool and a non-chlorine scouring powder. Rub baked-on black spots with pumice, available in stick form at hardware stores.

Toxic/non-renewable ingredients. Don’t use products that contain lye, ammonia, detergents, or aerosol propellants. Note "DANGER" warning on package label.

Prevent spills. You’ll never have to clean your oven if you cook food in proper-sized containers, or put a cookie sheet on the lower rack to catch spills. If after your preventive measures food does end up at the bottom of the oven, clean it as soon as the oven has cooled to prevent it baking on even more.

Scouring Powder

Use baking soda. Pour some in a waterproof container (such as a metal grated cheese shaker) and keep it by the sink. Works great.

Natural/renewable or hybrid-natural ingredients. Many hardware stores carry scouring powder made from nothing more than soap and ground feldspar. Every supermarket carries a similar product with added non-toxic detergents and non-chlorine bleach.

Toxic/non-renewable ingredients. Don’t use products that contain chlorine and detergents.

Air Fresheners & Odor Removers

Find the source of the odor and remove it. Odors are often produced by molds and bacteria. Empty the garbage frequently, keep things clean, dispose of rotting vegetables. Open the windows. Ventilation will dilute and remove any odor.

Make your own. Baking soda will absorb odors, without adding fragrance to the air. Place 30-60mL in shallow dishes containing baking soda in areas that accumulate the most odors, and place a small box of baking soda in your refrigerator.

Or you can simmer cinnamon and cloves, or any other fragrant spice in water, or simmer lemon rinds.

You can also add a few drops of any essential oil to a pump spray bottle of water to add your favorite scent to the air.

White vinegar in shallow dishes will absorb odors. Place in areas that contain the most odors. To remove pet urine stains and odor mix 1/2 white vinegar and 1/2 water in a spray bottle; spray and blot until the stain and odor are gone.

Organically-grown or sustainable harvested natural/renewable ingredients. Look for herbal potpourris and sachets made with organically-grown ingredients. One sachet sold in many gift shops is crumbled, sun-dried sustainable harvested cedar boughs, packed in little cotton bags.

Natural/renewable or hybrid-natural ingredients. There are many herbal potpourris, essential oils and natural air fresheners, sold in natural food stores green boutiques and green catalogs.

Toxic/non-renewable ingredients. Most supermarket air fresheners contain many toxic ingredients and do nothing more than cover up the odor with another one, or they interfere with your sense of smell. Do not use them.

Silver Polish

Make your own. The best way I know of to clean sliver is to magnetize the tarnish away. The basic ingredients needed are aluminum (in the form of either a pot, pan, or aluminum foil) and some kind of salt (table salt, rock salt, sea salt, and baking soda all work fine).

In salty water the aluminum will act as a magnet and attract the tarnish away from the silver. After submerging the pieces of silver for a few minutes in water containing both the aluminum and the salt, you can literally wipe them dry and the tarnish will be gone (badly tarnished silver may need to go through the process several times).

Toxic/non-renewable ingredients. Don’t use products that contain ammonia or petroleum distillates. Note "DANGER" warning on package label.


Soap is made from animal or vegetable fat and an alkali such as sodium hydroxide or ashes. It has been used for centuries and is absolutely safe. It is biodegradable as long as the amount of soap introduced into the ecosystem is within the limits the ecosystem can handle, and soap can actually have a nutritive effect.

At one point I was living in a house where the soapy water from the washing machine drained directly into my garden and the growth in that spot was very lush. The plants certainly didn’t mind a little soap!

Soap is used for cleaning and for personal hygiene. A single soap could fulfill both functions, or you can choose two soaps with different characteristics for each purpose.

As a chemical-engineering textbook from the sixties states, "There is absolutely no reason why old-fashioned soap cannot be used for most household and commercial cleaning."

A water softener (see Water Softener section) will improve the performance of soap in hard water, eliminate soap scum, and allow you to use less soap to do the same cleaning job. However, it is damaging to your body to drink or use softened water for cooking since it contains high levels of sodium.

You could certainly make your own soap once a year- it’s easy enough and a nice weekend activity. Your local library should have instructions.

Organically-grown natural/renewable ingredients. Some personal care soaps at your natural food store will contain organically-grown or biodynamically-grown herbs.

Natural/renewable or hybrid-natural ingredients. Your natural food store has a full range of soaps made from plant and animal fats. One brand of liquid soap has been sold in every natural food store for years and can be used for cleaning houses and people.

Shoe Polish

Natural/renewable or hybrid-natural ingredients. Available by mail.

Toxic/non-renewable ingredients. Don’t use products that contain aerosol propellants or toxic solvents such as methylene chloride, nitrobenzene, perchloroethylene, trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, and xylene.

Water Softener

Water softeners work by adding some type of salt to the water, which exchanges the "hard" calcium and magnesium ions in water for "soft" sodium ions, so actually any salt will do, i.e. sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is fine. Just add enough so that the water feels "slippery."

Water softeners help prevent the mineral deposits and soap scum from building up on fabrics that cause them to look dull and dingy, or that cling to tile. The purchase and installation of a water softener can be a very sustainable choice, but do not drink it because it contains too much salt and lacks minerals!

Reducing the build up of soap and mineral deposits is a great step toward reducing your need for and use of toxic bathroom and laundry products.


  1. Lorie Dwornick, "Crack Down on Household Chemicals,"Alive Magazine, October 2000, p. 84.
  2. Healthy Cleaning – Why?
  3. Homemade Natural Cleaning Products
  4. Environmental Cleaning Solutions