Did you know that a major reason why many of our popular household cleaning products are chock-full of chemicals is due to World War II?
During the war, animal fats commonly used in soaps were harder to come by, as these resources were being largely funneled to support the war effort. With these fats in short supply, manufacturers turned to using chemical-filled synthetic alternatives.
While these chemical products are undeniably effective at their cleaning purposes, they also contain a variety of toxic ingredients that can be harmful to humans, animals, and the planet at large.
Known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), these ingredients can have a detrimental effect on our health, even if they’re only used weekly. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that VOCs can lead to poorer air quality indoors and even lead to smog formation outdoors. It is not just our air quality that is at risk, but our water quality as well. VOCs can contaminate waterways through chemical products being washed downstream. This can negatively impact both marine and human life.
Commonly purchased household cleaning products are not just filled with harmful, synthetic ingredients, but they also come clad in excessive and wasteful plastic packaging. If they aren’t recycled, plastic bottles can take 450 years to decompose! And if a bottle ends up in our waterways? It is likely to harm marine life by contributing to the trillions of microplastics currently found in our oceans.
How to Have a Cleaner & Greener Cleaning Routine
So, what are we to do? We can all make a difference by using cleaner and greener products that do not contain synthetic and toxic ingredients, and ensure that these products are either homemade or purchased with zero-waste packaging.
Making this transition can be daunting, especially when you learn that the use of the words “natural” and “green” are in no way regulated. Looking for the words “natural” and “green” in your local market may do you no better than buying well-known toxic products.
Staples For Your Cleaning Toolkit
There are three foundational tools to always have in your cleaning tool kit: glass bottles, washable cleaning cloths, and bamboo mops and scrubbing brushes.
Glass bottles reduce the waste created by plastic bottle packaging, as they can be endlessly reused and refilled with your favorite cleaning ingredients. Washable cleaning cloths and bamboo brushes are similar in that a quick washing routine can keep these tools in use way longer than your disposable paper towels or the flimsy plastic brushes you may currently be using. Plus, did you know that bamboo has antibacterial properties? It truly is the perfect tool for your cleaning kit!
The best way to have a cleaner and greener home is to create your own cleaning solutions. The main ingredients commonly used in homemade household cleaning products are baking soda, vinegar, essential oils, castile soap, borax, salt, and hydrogen peroxide.
The simplest all-purpose cleaner consists of:
- One part vinegar
- One part water
- Lemon rind
- Rosemary sprigs (optional)
Another plus to creating your own cleaning products is that you can pick your favorite scent and customize it based on your preference through different essential oils! Be mindful that not all essential oils are safe to use if you have pets in the home.
As for storing and maintaining natural products, products containing vinegar should be shelf-stable for around three months. Cleaning solutions containing lemon juice and/or hydrogen peroxide are less shelf-stable and are best when mixed up on a more regular basis to keep things fresh and working most effectively.
If making your own cleaning products is not feasible for your household at the current moment, consider shopping at Massachusetts zero-waste or refill stores. While you are shopping, pull up the EPA’s SaferChoice product search tool to make sure the products you are considering have ingredients that are going to be good for your household.
Taking the time to wean yourself off of toxic cleaning solutions and products will not only improve your home’s air quality, but it will save you money as well!
For more detailed tips, including solutions that specifically target bathrooms, kitchens, and other living areas, read more.