Harmless Cleaning Agents and Other Eco Safe Formulas

In the Jan./Feb. 1991 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, Rodney Merrill, Ph.D. and M.PH. (master's in public health), wrote, "Americans use more chemical cleaners and disinfectants per person than any other people on Earth. Some analysts say we have a neurotic obsession with odors, germs, and cleanliness. The advertising industry has helped push our obsession to the limits by bombarding us daily with hundreds of radio and TV commercials that sell us chemical solutions that will wash away our fears.

"But many of these advertised chemical solutions pose serious threats to the members of our households, the genetic integrity of unborn children, and the viability of the natural environment—in exchange for solving imaginary, invented, and inconsequential problems. But there are no-tox or low-tox natural alternatives that work as well or better than their commercial counterparts and are far cheaper to buy." The material in this section on eco-safe cleaning agents is quoted from his great article. The Basic Ingredients

Ammonia. "This is ammonium hydroxide dissolved in water. It is the active ingredient in a lot of cleaners. Ammonium hydroxide is a natural grease cutter and costs about $1.50 per gal., much cheaper than spray cleaner at $3.50 per qt. Ammonia evaporates and becomes nitrogen gas again. As long as you provide plenty of ventilation and never combine it with other chemical cleaners, ammonia is safe to use."

CAUTION: "Without proper ventilation, nitrogen can suffocate you by displacing oxygen in the air. If you mix ammonia with other commercial cleaners, especially chlorine bleach, you risk turning your house into a gas chamber!" Distilled White Vinegar. "Vinegar is just about the most natural substance you can find. The active cleaning ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid, which can be used for a variety of acidifying and oxidizing tasks. Brown cider vinegar will do the job, but distilled white has less odor." Baking Soda. "Sodium bicarbonate is a good deodorizer and a mild abrasive."

Bleach. "Laundry bleach is 5 percent sodium hypochlorite no matter whose name is on the label. It's an oxidizer and a natural germ killer. Chlorine bleach, as it is commonly called, is an excellent disinfectant and cleaner, and it's a powerful bacteriostatic for drinking water. Bleach plays an important role in halting the spread of contagious diseases.

"The trouble is, once chlorine enters lakes and streams, it combines with organic matter to create methane gas. The gas is then transformed into numerous cancer-causing agents called trihalomethanes. Therefore, the general rule for chlorine bleach should be: When a powerful disinfectant is crucial, use chlorine bleach—but only then." CAUTION: "Deadly chlorine gas results if you mix chlorine bleach with acids, such as commercial toilet cleaners, or with ammonia."

Borax. "Borax is sodium borate. At about $3 per 5-lb. box, it's a good phosphate-free water softener and it makes an effective but mild abrasive when used dry or damp." Cornstarch. "Starch extracted from corn is used as a thickening agent and as an extra-fine polish that imparts a sheen to glass and other surfaces."

Lemon. "The active cleaning ingredient in lemons is citric acid. Lemons acidify and oxidize, and they smell nice." Mineral Oil. "Although a refined petroleum product, mineral oil is a low-tox, economical, and versatile lubricant that can be used in place of a great many highly toxic solvent-based products."

Salt. "Sodium chloride (common table salt) has mild antiseptic and disinfecting qualities. It also has abrasive qualities. And it's incredibly cheap."

Soap Flakes. "Natural soap is made with lye and some kind of fat or oil. Old-fashioned, natural soap is fully biodegradable into nonpoisonous substances. Detergents resemble soaps in their ability to emulsify oil and hold dirt in suspension, but they are very different chemically. Detergents are made with petroleum products and phosphate conditioners. Detergents are biodegradable, but their end products are pollutants."

Washing Soda. '"Washing soda' is hydrated sodium carbonate, an alkali similar to lye but much less powerful. It's available at most grocery stores." About Air Fresheners. "Most chemical 'air fresheners' are air contaminators and health hazards. Most contain petroleum distillates, toluene, chlorinated hydrocarbons, ketones, and a myriad of other dangerous organic solvents. A few actually deaden unwanted odors, but most are designed to deal with you, not the odor. Most mask natural odors by overpowering them with a stronger chemical one, or they coat your nasal passages with an oily film to impair your ability to smell, or they attack your nasal passages with nerve-deadening agents. With the last 2 methods, anyone who walks into the room can smell the odor—but you can't." Sink, Tub, and Toilet Cleaners Sink Stain Remover. "Bleach is an environmental hazard and should not be used frivolously. Chlorinated sink cleaners are frivolous. But there is a simple, natural alternative. Lemon juice is a natural oxidizer, which gives it a mild bleaching action. For stained sinks, cut open an over-the-hill lemon and wipe the sink down with lemon juice. Let it work for about 10 minutes. Then sprinkle borax or baking soda, and scour."

Shower/Tub Mildew Remover. "Avoid commercial mold and mildew preparations. Most are made with ingredients nobody needs filling the air of their home: formaldehyde, phenol, pentachlorophenol, or kerosene. For mildew, instead just dilute 2 t. white vinegar in 1 qt. warm water.

Apply with a soft cloth. Dry with squeegee, old towels, or discarded T-shirts."

Scouring Powder (Cleanser). "Bon Ami is a good and natural scouring powder, and it's available at your grocery store or supermarket. For most jobs, a special scouring powder is an unnecessary expense. Another way is to sprinkle borax or baking soda on a damp sponge, and scour. These are the main ingredients in expensive cleansers anyway. Without the petrochemical additives, natural cleansers may require slightly more elbow grease, but they do less damage to the environment and to the item being cleaned." Toilet Bowl Cleaner. "Toilet bowl cleaners are among the most obscene inventions to date. For the sake of a shiny toilet, we flush a mixture of acids, phosphates, petrochemical fragrances, and dyes into the environment. The 'automatic' type treats the world to this poison cocktail every single time the toilet is flushed. Instead, pour a bucket of water into the toilet to lower the water level. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda around the inside of the bowl. Drizzle in enough vinegar to dampen the baking soda. Add sufficient 'elbow grease' to a toilet brush. Flush the toilet. This method will clean, shine, and deodorize your toilet bowl with minimal pollution."

drain Cleaner: "Plungers and metal 'snakes' are the most environmentally friendly drain openers in the world. Use them first, second, and third." [Carla: I use the toilet stomper. Just keep doubling until it works. If 10 stomps in quick succession doesn't do it, I try 20. If not 20, 40 ought to work!] "If that doesn't work, then try mixing Vi c. vinegar and V2 c. bicarbonate (baking soda) into 2 c. boiling water and pouring it down the drain. Let it stand for 3-5 minutes and flush with hot water. Commercial drain openers are extremely caustic, which makes them corrosive to plumbing, dangerous to have around children, and toxic to the environment. They are expensive as well. If you just can't give up the monthly drain cleaner habit, this concoction will be a lot easier on the plumbing, friendlier to the environment, and less hazardous to kids because it doesn't even exist until you mix it up. And it's cheap."

oven Cleaner: "Everything just said about commercial drain openers is the same for commercial oven cleaners because they are only slightly different formulations using the same active ingredients. There are 2 alternative approaches to oven cleaning. The first is to keep a box of salt handy and sprinkle fresh spills generously while still hot. Salt will absorb most spills and become an ashlike powder that can be brushed away after the oven has cooled off. For periodic cleaning of build-up, preheat the oven to 200°F and turn off heat. Place 2 c. straight ammonia in a shallow (nonalu-minum) pan on the middle rack. Close the oven door tight and leave overnight. The hot ammonia gas works its way into the grease film and turns it into a soaplike sludge that can be wiped off. Remember, use plenty of ventilation when working with ammonia. (If you put brown-stained Pyrex dishes in the oven during ammonia treatment, they will be cleaned at the same time.)"

Furniture Polish: "There would be far fewer poisoned children and much less air, land, and water pollution if everyone would stop buying commercial furniture polish. Instead, melt 1 T. carnauba wax into 2 c. mineral oil and 1 t. lemon oil. Apply a light coating with a soft cloth. Wipe off excess and polish with another clean soft cloth. Discarded T-shirts are ideal for this job."

Good Soaps and Laundry Aids: "Don't be fooled by 'No Phosphates!' detergents. Most detergent manufacturers who plaster 'no phosphate' slogans on their boxes are substituting nitrioltriacetic acid (NTA), which chokes the life out of lakes and streams the same way as phosphates. Worse, nitrosamines like NTA are carcinogens even at extremely low doses. That's why few detergent companies list ingredients."

NOTE: "Synthetic soaps (detergents) were made to wash synthetic clothes. So the first recipe for cutting down on detergent pollution is to buy only clothes made of natural fibers: cotton, wool, linen."

Good Laundry Soaps. "At the supermarket, you can have confidence in Simple Green, Ivory Soap, and Bon Ami products."

Multi-Purpose Soap Gel. "You can make an all-purpose soap gel. Grate a bar of pure natural soap (like Ivory) into a mixing bowl. Measure the shavings, and then pour an equal amount of boiling water over them. Let the mixture stand about 5 minutes until soap has melted. Smooth remainder with a wire whip. Soap gel can be used to refill existing bottles for dishes, hand washing, and laundry (natural fibers)." Automatic Dishwasher Soap. "You can save a lot of money and a lot of environmental damage if you make your own dishwasher formulation. If you have 'soft' water, you might get by with straight borax. For 'hard' water, you may need to tinker with adding washing soda until you get just the right ratio. Use exactly as you would the commercial preparations."

A Parting Perspective. "In the name of sparkling toilets, whiter shirts, and odorless armpits, most Americans fill their homes and apartments with a veritable arsenal of biological and chemical weapons known to cause severe environmental damage and such medical problems as muscle weakness, chronic fatigue, lung and respiratory illness, liver and kidney damage, cancer, a variety of birth defects, and even mental depression, confusion, and psychosis. There's no getting around it: Sometimes a natural cleaner just does not pack the punch of its toxic counterpart. Sometimes we have to take a stand for a brighter future over a shinier Crapper; for a clean bill of health over spotless glasses; for a ring around the collar rather than a noose around our necks."

Thank you, Rodney, for the wake-up call. In Rodale's Book of Practical Formulas: Easy-to-Make, Easy-to-Use Recipes for Hundreds of Everyday Activities and Tasks, you'll find more than 500 nontoxic homemade alternatives to toxic products.

Continue reading here: About Unhealthy Residues in Food

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