My Unpoisoned Cleaning Kit

Do you have any “standard” conversations? The kind where, when you start talking about a particular subject – to anyone – you know how it is going to go and where it is going to wind up?

Every time I get into a conversation about my stance on reducing chemicals in my cleaning routine, it always winds up in the same place. Everyone I talk to seems to understand that my kids and I are very sensitized to several harsh chemicals. Most people “get” that a lot of those chemicals, along with many preservatives and artificial colors and flavorings, make our AD/HD symptoms worse. But virtually everyone I try to explain this to gets stuck on the issue of “So, um, well, how do you clean your house, then?” There’s an almost palpable cultural assumption that if I don’t own a closet full of commercial cleaners, I must live in some sort of health-hazard filth.

Moment of honest: Sometimes I’m tempted to shrug casually and toss off, “Clean my house? Oh, I don’t.” But that would be lying, plus it would reinforce the idea that all of us who are trying to break free of our industriochemical shackles are hippy-dippy fringe slob wacknoodles, and that’s not so helpful. So I don’t do that. I just think about doing it, and giggle on the inside.

More honest: I’m not that great of a housekeeper.  But I do have standards of hygiene and health, and I have learned a lot about maintaining them without the likes of Lauryl Dimethyl Amine Oxide (the listed active cleaning/surfactant agent in fantastik® All Purpose Cleaner With Bleach among others.)

If you click on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that I linked above in that crazy chemical name, you will find the following totally reassuring information about potential chronic health effects:

CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
MUTAGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
TERATOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
DEVELOPMENTAL TOXICITY: Not available.

See! There aren’t any studies available to prove that it’s dangerous! Therefore it’s obviously totally safe! Right? Oh, sorry, pardon my sarcasm. It just happens, sometimes.

Stage whispered aside: If you are curious about what is known regarding the safety of any chemical on the market, type the name of the chemical or the product into your search engine along with the letters “MSDS.”

Here’s are the tools that I use to keep my house safe, hygenic, and comfortable. I used all of these today, because we finally finished redecorating the upstairs bathroom. Icky but true, it hadn’t been properly cleaned since it became “the boys’ bathroom.” I love my sons, but keeping their bathroom sanitary was not their strong suit. When they moved out, we started painting and stuff, but I got (you guessed it) distracted, so it took a while. Now that it’s finally time to make it usable again … well … it was gross. It is not at all gross now, thanks to my personal arsenal of “Mother’s Little Helpers.” In fact, it is rather nice and shiny.

Cleaning Tools

Clockwise from bottom left: Pumice stone, portable steam cleaner, microfiber cleaning cloth, clog cannon.

Pumice Stone   – This gadget serves only one purpose in my life. I have super-hard water, and no matter how often I clean my toilets, I always wind up with a hard-water ring around the bowl at the water line. A pumice stone scours that ring away without damaging the porcelain, and without resorting to something like Lime-a-Way® or CLR®.  

The Shark portable steam cleaner  – This may be my favorite cleaning tool EVER. I hate cleaning, so you can take that however you choose. But this gadget, with it’s really groovy bag o’ attachments, has cleaned and sanitized every surface I’ve put it to with less effort than anything I have tried before. So far, “every surface I’ve put it to” includes tile and linoleum floors, bathtub/shower enclosures, sliding glass doors, and countertops. This is a heat producing device, so please, if you get one, don’t be like me! Read the directions and all the cautions and warnings thereunto pertaining! Yeah, I didn’t read ‘em at first. Yeah, I burned myself. Yeah, I’m just like that. In this instance, I strongly recommend that you do as I say not as I did.

Microfiber cleaning rags – I am not eloquent enough to describe how useful these little babies are. There are several brands and styles out there, I’ve heard good things about a lot of them, the only ones I can really speak for are FlyLady’s Rags in a Bag. They clean everything. Without sprays or powders or anything, mostly – just water. I wipe my counters, clean mirrors and windows and my glasses and electronics, and scrub the inside of my microwave with ‘em. I even have one set aside that I use for oil-cleansing my face.

Drain Clog Cannon  – This is an air-pressure gun that has, in the couple of years I’ve owned it, saved me from buying and using Drano® at least a half-dozen times. Including today. It looks like a toy, but it’s a serious tool, so again with the read the directions thing. But it works great!

These tools keep me from needing to use very much in the way of products, but when the need arises I use (in no particular order): vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, soap nuts, lemon juice, and borax. (Borax is controversial – I am comfortable using it in laundry and dishwasher soap, I understand that others aren’t. Not trying to start a fight, here – do what you feel is best for your family!)  I have several cleaning product recipes, including what I use for dishwasher soap, pinned on this board.

For me, the health effects are my primary reason for eliminating commercial cleansers from my home. Honestly, I count myself lucky that I do have obvious and immediate acute effects (blistering headaches and respiratory distress, mostly). They got my attention and helped me get serious about change much earlier than many people do, and hopefully they have saved me from any serious long-term chronic effects. My secondary reasons are ecological and economical. Okay, economical needs a word of explanation – steam cleaners are not cheap, so that is a long-term effect. Sad but true, I will have to not buy a lot of bottles of cleanser before that one pays for itself. But it will, eventually. Baking soda and lemon juice? CHEAP! Pumice stone? CHEAP! The rags – not disposable! I’ve had one set for over two years, they still work as well as brand new. And I’ve not bought a lot of paper towels and magic erasers in that time. I mean, a LOT.

Do any commercial cleaning products bother you – ecologically, medically, or economically? Other concerns? If they do, what do you use instead?

3 Comments

  1. S. Rochelle said,

    July 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Does Dawn dishsoap liquid count as one of the less toxic cleaners? I would like to start using it for more than just washing dishes. I already use baking soda and lemon juice regularly, but still have too many of the chemical cleaners. Part of using the “normal” ones is not know how well anything else will clean, and wanting to gag at the smell of too much vinegar.

    • Chandra R said,

      July 14, 2012 at 8:56 pm

      Dawn antibacterial products contain triclosan, which I won’t allow to touch my skin, but their “regular” products are not too bad as far as I can tell. They don’t really disclose their ingredients as fully as some products, they contain “biodegradable anionic surfactants” which is pretty vague. They also contain ethyl alcohol. They don’t seem to have phosphates, which is nice. Overall, I would be most concerned about the nonspecific “fragrances” – that could totally be anything.

  2. lyzamay said,

    August 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    You’re funny, and sarcastic! I use a steam mop for everything too. I haven’t tried the pumice stone, do you think it would work for hard water stains on a glass shower?


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