Earth Friendly: Keep a clean house the natural way

By Meridith Byrd

Have you ever read the ingredients in popular household cleaners? You might find the words alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. Used in disinfectants, it can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation.

What about 2-Butoxyethanol? This chemical has been linked with reduced fertility and birth defects in animals and causes headaches, as well as nose and eye irritation.

Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, is well-known to cause chemical burns.

A clean house doesn't require the use of strong chemicals.

Companies are responding to consumers' requests for nontoxic, plant-based options for household cleaners.

Clorox introduced its Green Works line of natural cleaners, which includes all-purpose cleaner, toilet cleaner and cleaning wipes, among others, in early 2008. This collection can be found on store shelves here in Victoria.

Seventh Generation also boasts an impressive assortment of eco-friendly household cleaners and detergents. The company uses plant-based cleansers, preservatives and fragrances to create products that are hypo-allergenic, non-toxic and biodegradable.

I have used Seventh Generation products for years and would happily recommend them to anyone.

I have also dabbled in making my own household cleansers by searching the Internet for recipes.

To my surprise, I found that I had the most common ingredients on hand; borax, baking soda, salt, vinegar, castile soap and lemon can be used in varying combinations to clean items around your house.

For a fresh all-purpose cleaner, add 1 teaspoon castile soap in your preferred scent, 1 teaspoon borax (a natural disinfectant), and a squeeze of lemon into a quart of warm water.

Castile soap is an olive oil-based soap that comes in a number of fragrances. The most well-known brand is Dr. Bonner's and can be found on the health foods aisle at H-E-B Plus.

Rather than abrasive cleansers, you can use dampened salt or baking soda on a scouring pad to scour hard surfaces without scratching. Sinks, bathtubs and tile can be scrubbed using a paste of one-half cup baking soda and 2 to 3 tablespoons castile soap.

To clean the toilet, pour one-fourth cup baking soda into the bowl and add 1 cup vinegar. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes before scrubbing. Borax can be added to help remove any stains.

Windows can be cleaned with either a mixture of 2 teaspoons vinegar and 1 quart warm water or 2 tablespoons borax and 3 cups warm water. Spray on to windows and rub with newspaper to eliminate streaks.

Mugs, tea kettles and coffeepots can all become stained, but removal is easy. Boil 2 cups of water and one-fourth cup vinegar in the tea kettle or coffeepot. After cooling, wipe clean and rinse thoroughly.

Dampen a sponge with vinegar and wipe the inside of mugs to remove stains.

Most people know that baking soda can keep refrigerators smelling fresh, but it can also do the same for plastic food containers. If yesterday's leftovers have left your containers smelly, fill them with warm water and baking soda, then let sit overnight.

Lemons are natural deodorizers as well and can keep your garbage disposal from smelling. Put a couple of lemon wedges down the disposal every so often to eliminate odors.

Most household cleaning does not call for harsh, potentially toxic chemicals. Natural versions of cleaning products are becoming easier to find, or with a few common ingredients, you can make your own. Keep a clean house the natural way.

Meridith Byrd is a marine biologist and invites read ers to contact her at meridith.byrd@gmail.com.