Greening your cleaning!

Chemical-free household solutions that really work!

Can you pronounce all of the ingredients in your household cleaners? Looking to simplify and purify your cleaning products? When it comes to all-natural cleaning, vinegar, baking soda and lemons are popular for most any type of surface. 

Butyl cellosolve, nonylphenol ethoxylate, chlorinated phenols — we read words like these every day, but what do they mean? Can they harm our family, or are they laboratory-speak for safe and effective?

As a new mom, I’m beginning to learn this strange chemical language, and while I’ve always fantasized I’d speak French or Italian someday, undoubtedly my recent lingual ventures are a bit less romantic, albeit practical.

Chemicals found in household cleaning products have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, asthma, neurotoxicity and more, and yet, products with dubious ingredients remain on the shelves in their enticing packaging full of promises.

It’s not as if we mean to make unhealthy choices; those hard-to-pronounce words invade our homes with guerrilla-like tactics. One day we’re shopping at the grocery store trying to stock up on soap and toilet paper, and the next thing we know we’re back at home, surrounded by sodium laurel sulfate and BPA.

So how do we protect those that we love? How do we keep a clean — and healthy — home?

Become an informed consumer. This means knowing what to avoid as you scan the labels.

READ MORE: Spring cleaning checklist!

How do your products rate?
Check out the Good Guide
 to see how the products you currently use rate. Not only does the website evaluate the product’s impact on your health, but it also takes social policies and practices and environmental impact into consideration.

Know the origins
For example, Tom’s of Maine toothpaste was bought out by Colgate-Palmolive and Burt’s Bees is now owned by Clorox. However, many consumers still buy these products under the illusion that the companies are still family run or adhering to the same principles and practices that made them so popular in the first place.


Go all natural

Ditch learning the lingo all together and start making your products at home. It’s a great way to know exactly what’s in your cleaning solutions, and it’s even a fun activity with kids. There are countless recipes for home cleaning solutions that really work. Best of all, when you are scenting with essential oils, you can get creative and customize your home’s aroma based on your mood, or even the time of the year. (Floral and citrus scents are perfect for spring, while heartier scents like pine and cinnamon warm up a room during cold winter months.)

If making your own cleaning solutions piques your interest, know that you can never have enough apple-cider vinegar, essential oils, or baking soda on hand. Vinegar is a wonderful disinfectant and deodorizer. Moreover, some essential oils — such as tea tree oil and thieves oil — even have antimicrobial, antiviral, antiseptic and antifungal properties. Lastly, baking soda is a natural abrasive and works magic on tubs, toilets, and pots and pans.

READ MORE: Cleaning hacks moms love

Kick back and relax
Keep your routine simple and easy. I highly suggest creating wellness and beauty by introducing plants into your decor, which naturally detoxifies air. A peace lily plant is not only beautiful, but one of the best plants for the task. For
a natural air freshener without any of the additives of plug-ins or commercial scented candles, mix distilled water with your favorite essential oil into a spray bottle and mist the air.


Learn from other local families
I asked some local moms to share their tried and true methods of how to keep their home chemical-free. Here are some favorite recipes:

Carey Braidt of Germantown swears by leftover orange peels soaked in vinegar and water for an all purpose cleaner that she uses on mirrors and windows as well. She also makes her own laundry detergent by chopping up a bar of Fels-naptha and adding equal parts borax and Arm & Hammer washing soda.

She advises only using one scoop per load and happily reports that it lasts for months. If you can’t find Fels-naptha, Jennifer Lindlief Bredin of Beacon suggests you can use one bar of shredded castile soap such as Dr. Bronners in its place.

When it came to cleaning the windows in her new house, Rachel Ephraim was skeptical of the Norwex cloths. But she says they did a great job removing the mud — while using only water.

Not up for the task of collecting and combining ingredients? Rebecca Leibowitz of Port Ewen turned me on to the magic of microfiber cloths and water. I recently moved into a new home and the previous owner had left us with the long and trying task of cleaning windows that hadn’t seen a rag in ages.

Leibowitz promised that Norwex cloths could do the job — and with just water. I was very, very doubtful, but I’ve never cleaned a window so effortlessly or enjoyed cleaning so much. 

I’m not fluent in chemical tongue quite yet, and I don’t know if I really have the energy or interest to decode a bottle of Windex. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying out these favorite recipes and experimenting with my own. 

Rachel Ephraim is a freelance writer living with her family in Germantown.