I don’t know about you, but I love a clean house. I'm a highly organized person who detests clutter. I love the feeling of a clean environment, but I also know it's important to seek organic house cleaning products whenever possible.
I know it’s hard, especially when you want your toilet or shower to feel “clean-clean.” Bleach, Lysol, and other heavy-duty chemicals are often our go-to. After all, how do you really know your toilet is clean if you didn’t clean it with bleach?
For many of us, we’ve been taught our whole life (and marketed to by cleaning companies) that a cleaner needs to be harsh to do its job. Here’s why we should all reconsider what we know about cleaning products and reach for organic house cleaning options whenever possible.
Photography: Caroline Sharpnack
Are Cleaning Products Hazardous to Your Health?
Many of us think of cleaning products as being essential to creating a healthy environment, so it seems counterintuitive that cleaning products could be harmful. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, our indoor air quality may be between 2-5 times worse than the air outside.
While many of these indoor air quality issues have to do with home furnishings and building materials, a significant number of indoor pollutants come from personal care products and household cleaners, which can be as dangerous as smoking. The pollutants include Ozone from certain aerosol sprays and VOCs (volatile organic compounds), added chemical fragrance, and dangerous—even carcinogenic—chemicals in cleaners.
As I discussed in my post on non-toxic interior design, the chemicals we bring into our home via cleaners, paint, and home furnishings can lead to health issues. Scientists have linked some of the compounds to infertility, congenital disabilities, respiratory irritation, hormonal imbalances, and cancer. However, there are plenty of organic cleaning products and non-toxic cleaning products to help us avoid these hazards.
Once again, I want to reiterate that I don't share this information to frighten you or to suggest that you suddenly throw out every cleaner under your sink today. Many of us have used certain cleaning products for years, and they help us feel like our home is safe and clean. If you want to choose healthier, organic cleaning products, it's fine to take it slow and play around with what works best for you.
However, there are a few particularly concerning products that you may want to be aware of, so you can make the transition sooner rather than later. These include bleach cleaners, disposable cleaning wipes, dryer sheets, and disinfectant sprays. Certain home fragrance sprays and scents can also be particularly irritating and damaging to our interior environment. Explore my guide to non-toxic home fragrance options to learn more.
Sprays that contain antibacterial compounds called QUATs (quaternary ammonium compounds) can be hazardous because QUATs are considered pesticides by the EPA. These can lead to symptoms of asthma. They're irritating to our skin, eyes, and respiratory systems, and they can lead to antibacterial-resistant "superbugs." QUATs are often found in cleaning sprays that claim to be "antibacterial."
The best resource I’ve found for determining the safety of household cleaning products is the EWG (Environmental Working Group)’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. The entire site lists the top cleaners and grades them based on their safety and effectiveness. It’s full of cleaning tips and recommendations, so I highly urge you to explore the listings to learn about what might be lurking in your cleaning cupboard.
Organic House Cleaning Products to Keep Your House Healthy
There are plenty of effective and great-smelling non-toxic cleaning products available today. Despite our love affair with disposable cleaning wipes, bleach sprays, chemical soaps, and dryer sheets, organic cleaning products are now widely available at most stores and online sellers.
If you’re the type of person who really likes the idea of DIY, you can make a simple household cleaning spray from castile soap, pure essential oils (with antibacterial properties like Thieves oil or Tea Tree), and distilled water. Not only is this spray safe to use on most surfaces, but it’s easy to pull together, even if you aren’t a “DIY type.”
Martha Stewart highly recommends using distilled white vinegar as a cleaning option for almost every area of your house. Vinegar has a high pH thanks to acetic acid, and it’s antibacterial. It will also kill 82% of mold species, making it a good option for most surfaces. Use caution, however, when using vinegar in your washing machine, dishwasher, and other appliances—it can damage the seals.
Here are some excellent organic cleaning products and options for each area of your home.
Organic House Cleaning Products for the Kitchen
If you cook, I’ll clean. I’m not one of those people who loves to go all out in the kitchen, but I DO love a very clean, organized kitchen space. It’s important to note that our kitchens can become one of the dirtiest areas of the house. (The highest microbial content in the home is found on the dish sponge!)
With food comes possible salmonella, E. coli, and an array of other food-borne bacteria. Moisture in the kitchen leads to mold and mildew, and crumbs can lead to ants and pests. Additionally, the combination of grease from cooking and dust can leave a film throughout your kitchen.
If you’re like me, you’re probably side-eying that bottle of bleach right now.
But the truth is that you can get most surfaces of your kitchen clean with a simple cleaning solution. Keep in mind, however, cleaning and disinfecting aren’t one and the same. The EPA has approved citric acid, hydrogen peroxide, L-lactic acid, and ethanol (alcohol) as effective disinfectants.
For most surfaces, a simple organic cleaning spray will get the area clean. For surfaces that need extra cleaning (such as cleaning up after cutting meat), a disinfectant spray is the right choice. A surface spray like Seventh Generation’s Eucalyptus Spearmint & Thyme will help ensure that the surface is free of any bacteria.
Should you choose to use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide as DIY surface disinfectants, keep in mind that they can be damaging to many surfaces, so test before you spray. You also need to be sure you have the right concentration for the cleaner to be effective, and it may need to sit for a while to do a thorough job.
Photography: Jennifer Lavelle
Non-Toxic Products for the Bathroom
The bathroom is another area where organic cleaning can present a challenge. We all know what goes on in the bathroom, and for many of us, it doesn't really "feel clean" unless we've cleaned it with a strong cleanser. Yet, our bathrooms are truly places of wellness and health. They should be a spot where we can relax and care for our bodies, but they obviously must stay clean.
Like the kitchen, a multi-surface spray is adequate for most bathroom cleaning. Distilled vinegar can help clean glass mirrors and windows and buffs to a shine with a soft cotton cloth. "Unpaper towels” are washable paper towel alternatives that you can use on bathroom surfaces.
As far as cleaning the tub and sink, an old favorite, Bon Ami powder, is an excellent option for a gentle scrub (without harsh chemicals). It's made from natural tallow soap and feldspar. Again, vinegar will clear any water spots from fixtures and help remove the mineral deposits that can build up around drains and faucets.
As for the toilet—this is an area that does present a challenge for organic and non-toxic cleaning products. However, a few options, including plant-based Ecover, use mainly citric acid to cleanse toilet bowls. You can remove hard water stains (which usually cause the unpleasant brown staining in the toilet bowl) gently with a pumice stone, which when used correctly won’t scratch the porcelain.
Photography: Jennifer Lavelle
Healthy Laundry Products
Laundry is another area where organic cleaning presents a challenge (but is certainly possible). There are many gentle products out there, but the best I’ve found is at The Laundress. They have an array of natural, safe, and non-toxic cleaning products that can help you clean any item of clothing.
Fabric softener and dryer sheets are two of the most significant sources of chemical fragrance and other concerning ingredients. Since these are used to soften clothes that we wear close to our skin, it seems highly concerning that many of these products contain harsh and harmful chemical ingredients.
As a dryer sheet alternative, I like to use wool dryer balls. These wonderful products are such a simple way to soften your laundry and cut static. Throw them in with a load, and they're just as effective as those chemical-laden sheets. Better yet, you can add a few drops of essential oil to the wool, so they impart a natural fragrance on your clothes. They'll last for many uses (over 1000), and they cut down on drying time too.
You can find other healthy laundry products at Clean Cult, which focuses on clean ingredients and eco-friendly product packaging.
Should You Seek Organic Cleaning Services?
If you have a housekeeper or use a house cleaning service, many of them are more than willing to use your preferred products and cleaning methods. Keep in mind that if the products are provided as part of your cleaning service, you may need to furnish your own organic and non-toxic cleaning products.
Many cleaning service chains buy their cleaning products in bulk, so it's often up to the client to request organic cleaning services instead. Talk to your housekeeping representative and let them know you’d prefer that they use the organic cleaning products you provide. It will be healthier for you as well as the house cleaning representative.
What about other services, like laundry? Dry cleaning specifically can include some particularly volatile chemicals, but there are organic cleaning services out there. Better yet, follow the tips on sites like The Laundress who offers products including a Dry Cleaning Detox Kit to help you skip the cleaners altogether. Believe it or not, you can even wash cashmere at home!
If you send out your regular laundry, you can often request that they use a preferred laundry soap or skip dryer sheets and fabric softener. Depending on your relationship with your laundry service, they should be more than willing to try to accommodate your needs. I would say when in doubt, ask!
While you can’t eliminate toxin exposure everywhere, starting with your home cleaning products is a smart approach. We’re using these products to help make our homes cleaner and safer, so we should do everything we can to ensure that the products themselves are safe too.
Make a gradual transition to using organic and non-toxic cleaning products wherever possible. You'll likely find positive effects on your health and your energy. You'll eliminate concerns about keeping you and your family members safe from household toxins, and you'll now be able to rest assured that your house is indeed getting clean, even using natural household cleaners.
What's your favorite organic household cleaner? I'd love to hear in the comments!