Tips for Safer Cleaning
Did you know that some ingredients in common household cleaners are linked to allergies, asthma, and other long-term effects like reproductive harm and cancer? Get your house clean without using toxic cleaning supplies by following these tips for safer cleaning for both you and the environment.
Make your own safer cleaning products.
You can tackle almost any cleaning dilemma with combinations of three key ingredients: baking soda, white vinegar, and liquid soap. Check out a few of our favorite cleaning recipes here. Consider starting with a basic all-purpose cleaner, simply a 50/50 ratio of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. You’ll be surprised at the number of uses for this wonder spray!
Making your own products allows you to simplify your cleaning supplies and use fewer products overall. You don’t always need a separate product for each room or special purpose.
Learn how to read labels.
Avoid products with the signal words Poison, Danger, and Warning. Don’t be misled by vague, unregulated claims including “natural,” “eco-friendly,” and “non-toxic.” If your favorite product does not list ingredients, contact the company to ask for disclosure. Look for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice label. EPA’s Safer Choice program has proven successful in helping consumers, retailers, product formulators, and ingredient manufacturers to move toward safer solutions.
Avoid products with “fragrance” as an ingredient or choose fragrance-free products.
Synthetic fragrances can trigger asthma and may contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. Instead of masking unwanted odors with fragrance, tackle the source of the odor.
Avoid antimicrobial products.
If your family is generally healthy, the need for routine disinfection is rare. Regular cleaning with plain soap and water along with good rinsing are effective in lifting dirt and microbes away.
Don’t confuse cleaning with disinfecting—clean first, and then only disinfect if necessary. Common antimicrobial chemicals to avoid include triclosan, triclocarban, and ammonium quaternary compounds (“quats”). Exposure to quats in cleaning products is linked to harm to the immune system, reproductive toxicity, and impacts on metabolism, and our research found quats in 100% of breast milk samples.
Chlorine bleach is preferable if disinfection is truly needed, but should be used minimally. Instructions for using antimicrobial products vary greatly, so carefully follow directions on pre-cleaning, dwell time, and rinsing to ensure a product will work as intended.
Focus on safer cleaning techniques in the kitchen and bathroom rather than relying on a disinfectant.
- Use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables. And wash the meat cutting board in the dishwasher.
- Replace kitchen sponges frequently and wring them out to keep dry. Disinfect sponges weekly by boiling in water for at least three minutes or microwave for a minute.
- Always wash hands after using the bathroom.
Wash hands regularly with plain soap and water.
Outside of healthcare settings, antibacterial soap provides no benefit over plain soap and water.
Practice safe storage and safe usage.
Never mix products, even homemade cleaners. Chemicals can have dangerous reactions when combined—for example ammonia and bleach together create poisonous fumes.
Always store cleaning products out of children’s reach. Ventilate, use gloves, and take other precautions as recommended. Dispose of old, hazardous cleaning products through your county’s household hazardous waste collection program.
Get involved with Toxic-Free Future.
We all deserve a toxic-free future—and to get there, we need bold action, stronger laws, responsible companies, and robust consumer and voter demand for healthier products. Toxic-Free Future is leading the way in these efforts and more.