Safer Cleaning Substitutes

One shelf of simple and relatively safe ingredients can be used to perform most home cleaning chores. These are about as safe as it gets. All that’s needed is knowledge of how they work and which ingredients should be combined at what proportions to get the cleaning power needed for a specific job.

Baking Soda is sodium bicarbonate. It has a number of useful properties. It can neutralize acid, scrub shiny materials without scratching, deodorize, and extinguish grease fires. It can be used as a deodorizer in the refrigerator, in drains, on smelly carpets, on upholstery and on vinyl. It can clean and polish aluminum, chrome, jewelry, plastic, porcelain, silver, stainless steel, and tin. It also softens fabrics and removes certain stains. Baking soda can soften hard water and makes a relaxing bath time soak; it can be used as an underarm deodorant and as toothpaste too. Use baking soda instead of products containing ammonia and lye. Although Baking soda is slightly alkaline it will not burn and it is safe.

Borax – A naturally occurring mineral, soluble in water. It can deodorize, inhibit the growth of mildew and mold, boost the cleaning power of soap or detergent, remove stains, and can be used with attractants such as sugar to kill cockroaches. Many guides to safe natural cleaning list it as a wonderful alternative to harsh commercial chemicals. It is a wonderful disinfectant cleaner, and it is natural, however please don’t sprinkle on the carpet as a deodorizer or flea terminator where pets and children play. Go to and look up borax and click on the first link under the heading “Information from other National Library of Medicine databases” you’ll find that the fatal doses for humans are variously est to be 5 to 6 g for children and 10 to 25 g for adults. By the way 5 grams is about a teaspoon! Boric acid & borax may enter body by inhalation, ingestion or by skin absorption through mucous membranes or skin burns. Prolonged absorption causes anorexia, weight loss, vomiting, mild diarrhea, skin rash, alopecia, convulsions and anemia.

Cornstarch – derived from corn, can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs, and starch clothes.

Hydrogen Peroxide an alternative to standard bleaches made with sodium hypochlorite. Most people are familiar with hydrogen peroxide as hair bleach and for disinfecting cuts, so we know to handle with care, but be aware that it is a possible carcinogen. This is still safer than regular bleach as a cleaner.

Lemon Juice, which contains citric acid, is a deodorant and can be used to clean glass and remove stains from aluminum, clothes, and porcelain. It is a mild lightener or bleach if used with sunlight.

Mineral Oil, derived from seeds, is an ingredient in several furniture polish and floor wax recipes.

Liquid Soaps (NOT detergent) is made in several ways. Castle soap can be used as a shampoo or as a body soap. Olive-oil based soap is gentlest to the skin. An all-purpose liquid soap can be made by simple dissolving the old ends of bar soap (or grated slivers of bar soap) in warm water and can be used as an all purpose disinfectant cleaner. Liquid soaps can be bought in health food stores and supermarkets in either the cosmetic or dish washing sections.

Pumice Stone – Excellent as a stain remover, pumice stones are available in health food stores, drugstores, and supermarkets.

Sodium Percarbonate, another alternative to standard bleaches made with sodium hypochlorite. Sodium Percarbonate is not the same as Sodium Perborate, which is a borate. Sodium Percarbonate is yet another alternative to standard bleaches. I could not find anything regarding the toxicity of this particular chemical. The closest I came was Sodium Sesquicarbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate, and Sodium Carbonate, which I found are safely used in cosmetics. Sodium Carbonate is a skin and eye irritant due to the alkaline nature of its solutions. Sodium percarbonate is one of two chemicals found in OxyClean Multi-Purpose Stain Remover (Original Formula) – the other chemical is sodium carbonate (soda ash a.k.a. washing soda).

Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), a mixture of sodium carbonate and phosphoric acid. For environmental reasons most brand name earth-friendly cleaners stay away from phosphates. Phosphates create algae blooms, which eventually leads to a lack of oxygen in water.  For humans, TSP can be irritating, caustic, and toxic if swallowed; however it does not pose long-term health hazards such as carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, or reproductive effects. TSP also does not create any fumes. It can be used on many jobs, such as cleaning drains or removing old paint that would normally require much more caustic and poisonous chemicals. Trisodium phosphate is available at supermarkets, drugstores, and hardware stores. Be aware that some products with the name TSP on their container do not actually contain trisodium phosphate. Read the label to make sure the product you buy contains trisodium phosphate. One warning: Be sure to use TSP only when it is diluted; wear latex gloves.

Vinegar – made from soured applied juice, grain, or wine. It contains about 5 percent acetic acid, which makes it a mild acid. Vinegar can dissolve mineral deposits, grease, remove traces of soap, remove mildew or wax buildup, polish some metals, deodorize, and disinfect. Numerous studies have verified the disinfectant properties of vinegar including those conducted by the Good Housekeeping Institute, as reported on 48 hours (on CBS) in 2000. From Our Toxic Times, May 2001: Heinz Company spokesperson Michael Mullen references numerous studies to show that a straight 5% solution of vinegar (same stuff found in any supermarket) kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of mold and 80% of germs (viruses), however Heinz can’t claim on its packaging that vinegar is a disinfectant since the Company has not registered it as a pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mix distilled white vinegar (found in any supermarket) with water and keep spray bottles of this non-toxic disinfectant in your bathrooms and kitchen – to disinfect and clean. Vinegar can clean brick or stone, and is an ingredient in some natural carpet cleaning recipes. Use vinegar to clean out the metallic taste in coffeepots and to shine windows without streaking. Vinegar is normally used in a solution with water, but it can be used straight.

Washing Soda (also known as sodium carbonate, soda ash, and sal soda) is a mineral. It can cut stubborn grease on grills, broiler pans, and ovens. It can be used with soda instead of laundry detergent, and it softens hard water. Washing soda can be found in supermarkets and health food stores. Use with care, as washing soda can irritate mucous membranes. Do not use on aluminum.