Thursday, November 29, 2007

Health hazards of housework and chemical cleaners

Personally, I see this as the perfect excuse to give up housework. Cleaning is one of those "vicious cycle" sort of things. . . every time you do it, it just needs doing again a few days (or minutes!) later. Add to that, the smell from many cleaning chemicals does make you ill. (Many of them make me either nauseous or gasping for fresh air, or both.)

I seldom use prepared chemical cleaners any more, and the following story is a good reason you shouldn't either!

Housework could pose health hazards, study says

Fri Oct 12, 2007 12:14 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Housework might be bad for your health, according to a study suggesting that tidying up as little as once a week with common cleaning sprays and air fresheners could raise the risk of asthma in adults.

Other studies have linked these types of products with increased asthma rates among cleaning professionals but the research published on Friday indicates others are potentially at risk as well.

Exposure to such cleaning materials even just once a week could account for as many as one in seven adult asthma cases, the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

"Frequent use of household cleaning sprays may be an important risk factor for adult asthma," Jan-Paul Zock, an epidemiologist at the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, who led the study, wrote.

Asthma is an inflammation of the airways with symptoms that include wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness. More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from the condition.

Using data collected from 22 centers in 10 European countries, the researchers studied more than 3,500 people over a nine-year period to see how many developed asthma and whether cleaning could be a cause.

Two-thirds of those in the study who reported doing the bulk of cleaning were women and fewer than 10 percent of them were full-time homemakers, the researchers said.

The study found that the risk of developing asthma increased with the frequency of cleaning and the number of different sprays used but on average was about 30 to 50 percent higher in people exposed to cleaning sprays at least once a week.

While air fresheners, furniture cleaners and glass-cleaners had the strongest effect, the researchers said the study did not determine what biological mechanism sparked the increase.

[Does it really matter "what biological mechanism sparked the increase"? Wouldn't it just be smarter to give up cleaning to avoid those toxic chemicals?

Ok, you really can't give up cleaning altogether, but you can use products that clean without making you sick, especially at this time of year when time is precious but you still want everything to be perfect.

What to do about it? Below you will find some valuable and natural alternatives to toxic cleaning chemicals. I have listed a few of the ideas that seemed most useful to help you prepare your home for holiday entertaining, but do visit the "eartheasy: Ideas for environmentally sustainable living" website to see more ways to protect your health by cleaning with natural products. Not only are these better for you, they are better for the environment, too!

I have not used all of the formulas listed below, so do be careful if you try them.

Of course, using these safer, natural products isn't all work! At the end of the post you will find some fun things to do with natural products that you can't do with the other kind!

~Michelle~ ]

Non-Toxic Home Cleaning

Homemade Substitutions:

Baking Soda - cleans, deodorizes, softens water, scours.

Soap - unscented soap in liquid form, flakes, powders or bars is biodegradable and will clean just about anything. Avoid using soaps which contain petroleum distillates.

Borax - (sodium borate) cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors.

White Vinegar - cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up.

Isopropyl Alcohol - is an excellent disinfectant. (It has been suggested to replace this with ethanol or 100 proof alcohol in solution with water. There is some indication that isopropyl alcohol buildup contributes to illness in the body. See

Cornstarch - can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs.


Combinations of the above basic products can provide less harmful substitutions for many commercial home products. In most cases, they're also less expensive. Here are some formulas for safe, alternative home care products:

(Note: These formulas and substitutions are offered to help minimize the use of toxic substances in your home, and reduce the environmental harm caused by the manufacture, use and disposal of toxics. Results may vary and cannot be guaranteed to be 100% safe and effective. Before applying any cleaning formulations, test in small hidden areas if possible. Always use caution with any new product in your home.)

Make sure to keep all home-made formulas well-labeled, and out of the reach of children.

All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, etc.

Another alternative is microfiber cloths which lift off dirt, grease and dust without the need for cleaning chemicals, because they are formulated to penetrate and trap dirt. There are a number of different brands. A good quality cloth can last for several years.

Air Freshener: Commercial air fresheners mask smells and coat nasal passages to diminish the sense of smell.
• Baking soda or vinegar with lemon juice in small dishes absorbs odors around the house.
• Having houseplants helps reduce odors in the home.
• Prevent cooking odors by simmering vinegar (1 tbsp in 1 cup water) on the stove while cooking. To get such smells as fish and onion off utensils and cutting boards, wipe them with vinegar and wash in soapy water.
• Keep fresh coffee grounds on the counter.
• Grind up a slice of lemon in the garbage disposal.
• Simmer water and cinnamon or other spices on stove.
• Place bowls of fragrant dried herbs and flowers in room.

Bathroom mold: Mold in bathroom tile grout is a common problem and can be a health concern. Mix one part hydrogen peroxide (3%) with two parts water in a spray bottle and spray on areas with mold. Wait at least one hour before rinsing or using shower.

Carpet stains: Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray directly on stain, let sit for several minutes, and clean with a brush or sponge using warm soapy water. For a heavy duty carpet cleaner, mix 1/4 cup each of salt, borax and vinegar. Rub paste into carpet and leave for a few hours. Vacuum.

Dishwasher Soap: Mix equal parts of borax and washing soda, but increase the washing soda if your water is hard.

Dishwashing Soap: Commercial low-phosphate detergents are not themselves harmful, but phosphates nourish algae which use up oxygen in waterways. A detergent substitution is to use liquid soap. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of vinegar to the warm, soapy water for tough jobs.

Disinfectant: Mix 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar and 3 cups hot water. For stronger cleaning power add 1/4 teaspoon liquid castile soap. Wipe on with dampened cloth or use non-aerosol spray bottle.

Drain Cleaner: Pour about 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, then 1/2 cup vinegar. The resulting chemical reaction can break fatty acids down into soap and glycerine, allowing the clog to wash down the drain. After 15 minutes, pour in boiling water to clear residue. Caution: only use this method with metal plumbing. Plastic pipes can melt if excess boiling water is used. Also, do not use this method after trying a commercial drain opener--the vinegar can react with the drain opener to create dangerous fumes.

Floor Cleaner and Polish:

vinyl and linoleum: add a capful of baby oil to the cleaning water to preserve and polish.
wood: apply a thin coat of 1:1 vegetable oil and vinegar and rub in well.
painted wood: mix 1 teaspoon washing soda into 1 gallon (4L) hot water.
brick and stone tiles: mix 1 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon (4L) water; rinse with clear water.
Most floor surfaces can be easily cleaned using a solution of vinegar and water. For damp-mopping wood floors: mix equal amounts of white distilled vinegar and water. Add 15 drops of pure peppermint oil; shake to mix.

Furniture Polish: For varnished wood, add a few drops of lemon oil into a 1/2 cup warm water. Mix well and spray onto a soft cotton cloth. Cloth should only be slightly damp. Wipe furniture with the cloth, and finish by wiping once more using a dry soft cotton cloth.

For unvarnished wood, mix two tsps each of olive oil and lemon juice and apply a small amount to a soft cotton cloth. Wring the cloth to spread the mixture further into the material and apply to the furniture using wide strokes. This helps distribute the oil evenly.

Metal Cleaners and Polishes:

aluminum: using a soft cloth, clean with a solution of cream of tartar and water.
brass or bronze: polish with a soft cloth dipped in lemon and baking-soda solution, or vinegar and salt solution.
chrome: polish with baby oil, vinegar, or aluminum foil shiny side out.
copper: soak a cotton rag in a pot of boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup white vinegar. Apply to copper while hot; let cool, then wipe clean. For tougher jobs, sprinkle baking soda or lemon juice on the cloth before wiping.
gold: clean with toothpaste, or a paste of salt, vinegar, and flour.
silver: line a pan with aluminum foil and fill with water; add a teaspoon each of baking soda and salt. Bring to a boil and immerse silver. Polish with soft cloth.
stainless steel: clean with a cloth dampened with undiluted white vinegar. Mold and

Mildew: Use white vinegar or lemon juice full strength, with small amount of salt. Apply

Oven Cleaner: Moisten oven surfaces with sponge and water. Use 3/4cup baking soda, 1/4cup salt and 1/4cup water to make a thick paste, and spread throughout oven interior. (avoid bare metal and any openings) Let sit overnight. Remove with spatula and wipe clean. Rub gently with fine steel wool for tough spots. Or use Arm & Hammer Oven Cleaner, declared nontoxic by Consumers Union.

Permanent Ink Markers: These markers contain harmful solvents such as toluene, xylene and ethanol. Use water-based markers as a safe substitute.

Scouring Powder: For top of stove, refrigerator and other such surfaces that should not be scratched, use baking soda. Apply baking soda directly with a damp sponge.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 cup vinegar, pour into basin and let it set for a few minutes. Scrub with brush and rinse. A mixture of borax (2 parts) and lemon juice (one part) will also work.

Tub and Tile Cleaner: For simple cleaning, rub in baking soda with a damp sponge and rinse with fresh water. For tougher jobs, wipe surfaces with vinegar first and follow with baking soda as a scouring powder. (Vinegar can break down tile grout, so use sparingly.)

Water Rings on Wood: Water rings on a wooden table or counter are the result of moisture that is trapped under the topcoat, but not the finish. Try applying toothpaste or mayonnaise to a damp cloth and rub into the ring. Once the ring is removed, buff the entire wood surface.

Window Cleaner: Mix 2 teaspoons of white vinegar with 1 liter (qt) warm water. Use crumpled newspaper or cotton cloth to clean. Don't clean windows if the sun is on them, or if they are warm, or streaks will show on drying. The All-Purpose Cleaner (above) also works well on windows.

Fun Stuff!

Of course, using these safer, natural products isn't all work! Here are some fun things to do with natural products that you can't do with the other kind!

Dancing Raisins

Make your own volcano

Blow up balloons


Geraldine said...

Excellent post M, as usual. I knew about quite a few of these but not all of them, Im going to file this for later reference.

I am getting rid of more 'junk' around the house, in terms of cleaners, soaps etc...every year. Its a good feeling. Most of the more natural alternatives are not only better for us and the environment, they actually work better too!!! Not to mention the $$ saved.

Veggies.... said...

Congrats on the radio interview today M, you did great!!!

Glad I could tune in via the internet.

I'm sure all the listeners learned from your interview too, you touched on a number of important topics. Good stuff.

Michelle said...

Hi Geraldine,

Yes to all you said! I can hardly use glass cleaner any more just causes my throat to close up, and that was well before I read the news article!

About the only purchased cleaner I use any more is "Simple Green." It works pretty well. As for the rest, vinegar or baking soda cleans almost anything I need cleaned. :-)

Thanks for listening in on the radio interview, too. I really enjoyed doing it, and letting people know there are great holistic methods available to reduce stress and aid in wellness!

Anonymous said...

this is all wonderful information. i really think i'm going to start using all of this. i'm glad someone posted it. i hope more people read it. ~Balanced Earth

P.S. yer yahoo news link no longer works i think.

Michelle said...

Glad you liked it. I seldom use chemical cleaning supplies now, and have found that the natural alternatives work just as well, so I hope a lot of people use them!

True....Yahoo news links have a short shelf life, they don't keep their stories forever, but I like to cite my source when I post. :-)

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!