by Michele McKay

Simple changes in your household cleaning products can reduce the potential for toxic exposure in your home. There are easy steps that you can take to identify and eliminate these hazardous yet common household chemicals, and replace them with safer, healthier choices.

Take a “household toxins” tour and pay attention to the following:

  • In the kitchen: All-purpose cleaner, ammonia-based cleaner, dishwashing/automatic dishwasher detergent, bleach, metal polish, disinfectant, drain cleaner, floor wax/polish, glass cleaner, oven cleaner, and scouring powder all contain toxic substances.
  • In the utility closet: Common products likely to contain toxic ingredients include laundry detergent, laundry softener, anti-cling sheets, spot remover, carpet cleaner, room deodorizer, mold/mildew cleaner, mothballs, insect repellant, and charcoal lighter fluid.
  • In the living room and bedroom: Pressed wood products, synthetic fiber carpeting, and fabrics that are labeled "wrinkle-resistant", "permanent press" or "easy care" – including no-iron sheets/bedding, curtains, sleep wear, and polyester/cotton blends – are usually treated with a toxic formaldehyde resin.
  • In the bath: Toilet bowl/shower cleaners can be hazardous, and numerous cosmetics and personal hygiene products – shampoos, hair sprays, antiperspirants/deodorants, soaps, lotions, creams, and moisturizers – contain harmful chemicals. Eye drops, contact lens solutions, and nasal sprays/drops may contain thimerosal, a mercury-preservative.

Use safe substitutes. Simple and safe ingredients can perform most home cleaning chores:

  • All-purpose cleaners: These can be made from a vinegar-and-salt mixture or from 4 tablespoons baking soda dissolved in 1 quart warm water.
  • Disinfectant: Practice regular cleaning with soap and hot water. Or mix 1/2 cup borax into 1 gallon of hot water to disinfect and deodorize.
  • Drain cleaner: Try a plunger first, but NOT after using any commercial drain opener. To open drains, pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, add 1/2 cup white vinegar, and cover the drain tightly. The resulting chemical reaction can free the clog. DO NOT use this method after trying a commercial drain opener.
  • Floor cleaner: Use a safe soap, then add a few drops of vinegar to the rinse water.
  • Oven cleaner: Sprinkle baking soda on moist surface and scrub with steel wool.
  • Scouring powder: Try baking soda or dry table salt, or use Bon Ami powder.
  • Tub and tile cleaner: Wipe with vinegar and then use baking soda as a scouring powder.
  • Window and glass cleaner: To avoid streaks, don't wash windows when the sun is shining. Use a solution of vinegar/water, cornstarch/vinegar/water, or lemon-juice/water. Wipe with newspapers, unless you are sensitive to the inks in newsprint.
  • Avoid PVC : Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as vinyl, is toxic from both an environmental and health standpoint. It is found in a wide variety of products – food packaging, toys, furniture, shower curtains, imitation leather, and plumbing/building materials. Alternatives can be found through consumer research or on the internet.

Make informed choices when shopping. Dispose of hazardous products properly and replace them with safe alternatives. Check out Down to Earth’s Natural Living and Wellness departments for a wide range of toxin-free, environmentally safe household and personal care products.