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How To Clean Your Home Without Turning It Into A Chemical Wasteland

Cutting the chemicals and artificial ingredients from our daily grub is no new trend. And if you’ve ever experienced that nose-crinkling, burning sensation after spraying the kitchen table with household cleaner, you’ve probably considered stripping down your home products, too.

While most common home cleaning products are safe when used as directed, according to The Cleveland Clinic, some contain harsh chemicals that can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, allergic reactions, and more.

Whipping out those stronger cleaning products might be a necessary every once in a while—especially if someone at home has been sick or has a weakened immune system. However, gentler cleaning ingredients will get the job done day to day, says Samara Geller, database and research analyst with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization that investigates ingredients, products, companies, and more that influence the environment and human health. “Many of the gentler ingredients people are starting to use are often already familiar and found in the house,” she says.

So if you’re ready to break up with that aqua blue liquid (or eye-watering detergent and drying dish soap), these gentler, more natural home-cleaning products and easy DIY recipes are just waiting to win your affections.

4 DIY ingredients

DIY Natural All-Purpose Cleaner

One of the most common chemicals in your average all-purpose cleaning spray, ammonium hydroxide (you’ve heard it referred to as ‘ammonia’) is a type of alkali salt that helps remove grease and grime from surfaces, according to New Mexico State University (NMSU). Its in-your-face fumes can irritate your eyes and lungs, and leave burns or rashes on your skin. Ammonia is also infamous for causing respiratory problems, like asthma, says Geller.

A simple cleaning spray for wiping down the kitchen table is so easy to make yourself. Grab an empty spray bottle and try this combo:

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which can be used for general household cleaning, to remove hard water deposits, sink rust, and tarnish on brass and copper, according to NMSU. Castile soap, which is typically made using natural oils, like coconut oil, is mild on skin and surfaces, says Geller. She recommends Dr. Bronner’s castile soap, which boasts an ‘A’ rating from the EWG.

From there, choose your favorite essential oils to create a scent you like. Lavendar, lemon, and eucalyptus oils are all popular picks! Just don’t go too crazy in the fragrance department. “Because essential oils are so concentrated, they may still be irritating to people with sensitive skin or allergies,” says Geller. Just a couple of drops will do!

Related: 14 Practical (And Unexpected) Uses For Apple Cider Vinegar


GrabGreen Unscented Automatic Dish Detergent Pods

With a ‘B’ rating from EWG, GrabGreen’s unscented automatic dish detergent pods are free of phosphates, a type of chemical often added to conventional dish-cleaning products. According to NMSU, phosphates act as ‘builders,’ making detergents more efficient. These chemicals have been largely phased out because of their negative impact on the environment, but they might still be lingering in some products, says Geller.

The pods are also free of chlorine (a.k.a. sodium hydrochloride), which is used for bleaching, cleaning, and killing bacteria—and usually found in dish and laundry detergents. This ingredient can be an issue for asthma and allergies, and can burn skin and eyes, says Geller.

3 DIY ingredients

DIY Toilet Bowl Cleaner

No one likes cleaning this part of the bathroom—and intense fumes in toilet bowl cleaning products don’t help. Chemicals like sodium bisulfate and hydrochloric acid can (you guessed it) cause major eye, throat, and skin irritation, according to NMSU.

Two natural alternatives to some of these ingredients? The EWG recommends vinegar and baking soda, says Geller. Acetic acid is popular in all sorts of homemade cleaning products, and is a gentler natural swap for stronger acids. Meanwhile, baking soda (a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate) makes for a milder ingredient than stronger alkali salts, like ammonium compounds, which help break up grime.

Try this simple homemade toilet bowl cleaner recipe, starring both acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate:

  • ½ cup baking soda
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 2-3 drops tea tree oil

You know the drill. Let this mixture sit in the toilet bowl for about 15 minutes to work its magic before scrubbin’ and flushin’.

laundry powder

Biokleen Free And Clear Laundry Powder

Some of the troublemakers in many laundry detergents are quaternary ammonium compounds, known as ‘quats,’ says Geller. “They can be problematic for asthma, skin, eyes, and the environment,” she explains. These compounds often don’t break down once they’re in our water system, and can end up in natural bodies of water.

Many gentler laundry options are chlorine and ammonia-free, like Biokleen’s Free And Clear laundry powder. This one’s got an ‘A’ rating from EWG—plus it’s safe to use in high-efficiency washers.

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