Non-Toxic Alternatives to Household Cleaners

By Julia M. White

The world is full of hazardous substances that threaten the environment in general, and children in particular. Children’s immune systems aren’t equipped to break down toxins – whether encountered in lawn chemicals, pet’s flea powder or secondhand smoke.

Check out these “natural” alternatives to household chemicals:

• Air fresheners – House plants naturally detoxify the air and absorb odors.

• Carpet deodorizer – Sprinkle baking soda liberally on dry carpet, wait 15 minutes and then vacuum.

Copper/brass cleaner – Make a paste with lemon juice and baking soda, and apply it to metal with a damp sponge. Rinse and buff dry. Baking soda is gentle and will not scratch.

• Stain remover – Make a paste of baking soda and water, scrub on stain, rinse with water and repeat if needed.

• Moth deterrents – Use cedar balls or chips instead of moth balls (which are highly poisonous if ingested). Clean garments and linens before storing and air them in the sun to kill moth larvae.

• Odor eater – Put a handful of baking soda in garbage disposals and drains to deodorize them. Place an open box in the refrigerator and replace it every three months. To freshen plastic food containers, dissolve 1/4 cup of baking soda in one quart of warm water and soak the containers overnight.

• Oven cleaner – Sprinkle baking soda on spills while they are still warm, let it soften and then wipe off.

• Drain openers – To unclog drains, pour 1/2 cup each of white vinegar and baking soda down the drain. Wait several minutes and then pour a kettle of boiling water into the drain to flush. Keep drain clear by flushing weekly with boiling water.

• Furniture polish – Use vegetable-oil based polishes that do not contain petrochemicals. Make your own by combining two-parts olive oil to one-part lemon juice.

• Organic insect repellent – Use citronella candles and sprays.

• Insect killer for gardens – Buy ladybugs and praying mantises that eat bugs that destroy produce. They can be found in garden supply stores catalogs.

• Pesticides – Insecticidal soap and organic pest controls are safer than the chemical variety, which accumulate in the soil and eventually enter the food chain. Look for products with pyrethrins, plant-derived organics, listed on the label as an active ingredient. Sprinkle sulfur powder – or spray wettable sulfur powder – on lawns and gardens to kill harmful insects. Look for sulfur powder in garden stores.

• Paints – House paints should be water-based Latex when possible because these paints produce less harmful odors, are quick drying and make clean-up easy.

• Mouse traps – Traps are safer than poison; but don’t reuse them.

• Wood and wall cleaner – Use oil soap to clean floors, cabinets, woodwork, walls, etc.

• Laundry detergent – Use phosphate-free products.

• Ant and roach killer – Use boric acid – sold in pharmacies, hardware and garden stores – as a highly effective and odorless solution for getting rid of ants and roaches.

• Tile cleaner – Use trisodium phosphate (TSP) for tough jobs – it can be found in hardware stores. Soften lime deposits around faucets by leaving vinegar-soaked rags on surfaces for one hour and then cleaning.

• Heavy-duty cleanser – TSP is a particularly strong cleanser for walls and other tough jobs. It’s sold in hardware stores.

• Floor cleaner – Add one-cup vinegar to two-gallons of hot water to wash floors.

• Window cleaner – Add one-tablespoon vinegar to one-quart water to clean windows.

• Flea repellent for pets – Add two-tablespoons brewer’s yeast (found in health-food stores) and one garlic clove daily to pet’s food. Yeast and garlic tablets are available in discount stores but are more expensive. Veterinarians and discount stores carry organic shampoos to kill fleas already on pets. Vacuum frequently if the pet is in the house. Discard pet bedding if flea infestation occurs.


Healthy Homes in a Toxic World: Preventing, Identifying, and Eliminating Hidden Health Hazards in Your Home by Maury M. Breecher and Shirley Linde, John Wiley & Sons, 1992. A household reference and safety guide.

Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet Guide to Natural Baby Care: Nontoxic and Environmentally Friendly Ways to Take Care of Your New Child, by Mindy Pennybacker and Aisha Ikramuddin, Wiley, John & Sons, 1999. Provides a range of "green" choices to ensure a natural and healthy environment for their baby.

Rodale's Chemical-Free Yard & Garden: The Ultimate Authority on Successful Organic Gardeningby Fern Marshall Bradley, Rodale Press, 1995. In-depth information on safe organic gardening products and techniques.

Julia M. White is a free-lance writer and mother of three children.
From United Parenting Publications.