So Fresh, So Clean & So Green

By Chaunice Chapman

Many of us are taking a dive into sustainability and eco-friendly living. As we become more aware of what we put in our bodies, we might want to consider cleaning up what we ‘clean up’ with. Many products we use regularly contain toxins or carcinogens, but if we don’t use mama’s tried and true cleaning methods, what do we do instead? Fear not; you have a friend who charts… who also happens to have a few years of professional green cleaning experience. Below are some clues on dangerous things to look out for and practical alternatives for starting your green cleaning journey.

More toxic than your last partner…

In tiny quantities, they may not amount to much. Still, with regular use or in combination with each other, they can be exceptionally dangerous. Here are a few toxins commonly found in household cleaning products and why you should avoid them.


AmmoniaFatal if swallowed; skin, lung, and throat irritant; can cause blindness.
Butyl CellosolveIrritation and tissue damage from inhalation
FormaldehydeKnown carcinogen
Hydrochloric AcidFatal if swallowed; concentrated fumes harmful
NaphthaDepresses the central nervous system
PerchloroethyleneDamages the liver, kidney, and nervous system
Petroleum DistillatesHighly flammable; can damage lung tissue and nerve cells.
PhenolsHazardous; suspected carcinogen
Propylene GlycolIngestion can damage the kidneys, lungs, heart, and nervous system.
Sodium Hydroxide (lye)Highly corrosive. Contact can cause severe damage to the eyes, skin, mouth, and throat; it can cause liver and kidney damage.
Sodium Hypochlorite (chlorine bleach):Can cause severe damage to eyes, skin, mouth, and throat; can cause liver and kidney damage; causes more poisoning exposures than any household chemical.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate:Skin irritant
Sulfuric AcidIt can burn skin. Exposure to concentrated fumes can be carcinogenic.
TrichloroethaneDamages liver and kidney

You’ve Got Options!

Green Cleaning can actually simplify your life. I haven’t found many things that the right combination of vinegar and an essential oil can’t fix. Here are some things you can try if you’re looking for green cleaning alternatives.

Air fresheners and room deodorizers: A fresh scent is the first portend of a clean house. There are quite a few ways to achieve this sans harsh chemicals. Try an aromatherapy diffuser with a few drops of your favorite essential oils. Well-placed dried herbal potpourri sachets or sliced and dried orange slices will give off a continued scent, best used in enclosed places like a drawer or the car. A satchel or bowl of activated charcoal left out overnight will absorb impurities from the air. For a clean air spray, fill a small spray bottle with one (1) part white vinegar to four (4) parts water. Scent it with a few drops of your choice of essential oil. For a little more odor-fighting power, combine a cup of water with two (2) Tablespoons of vodka or rubbing alcohol in a small spray bottle, then get creative with your scents. Whether it be a soothing lavender chamomile blend, a refreshing mint, or a traditional citrus scent, the sky is really the limit.

All-purpose cleaners: Nowadays, you can find many all-purpose cleaners that bill themselves as the green alternative. I’ve tried them all, and in my opinion, most are about as effective as a simple combination you can make at home. In a spray bottle, combine one (1) part vinegar with four (4) parts warm water. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or a few drops of your favorite essential oils. With regular use, the acidity of the vinegar inhibits the growth of bacteria and mold. If I purchase an all-purpose cleaner, my go-to is usually Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds. Whether or not you agree with the philosophy (Dr. Bronner’s soaps come with printed literature on the label), Sal Suds is a highly concentrated, biodegradable, eco-friendly cleaner. It can handle most general household cleaning and can even be used for laundry and Degreasing. It is equally effective in hard or soft water and yet gentle on human skin. I love that it’s concentrated because it means you can dial the strength of your solution up or down to match your needs. One teaspoon added to a small spray bottle full of warm water is enough to lightly clean various surfaces. 

Antibacterial cleaners: It’s important to note that antibacterial cleaners kill germs but do not remove them. To remove dead bacteria, you should use a surfactant (basically soap) that bonds with the oils surrounding harmful germs, allowing them to be washed away. That being said, Alcohol and Peroxide are a pair of the most potent natural antibacterials you can find. Try this recipe: Add 1.5 cups of 100-proof vodka and 50 drops of an essential oil to a spray bottle and shake well. (For germ-fighting, I recommend tea tree, eucalyptus, or a citrus oil) When well mixed, add ½ cup of white vinegar to the bottle, shake well, and Voila, Germ-busters! As an alternative, try this: One (1) part hydrogen peroxide to two (2)parts distilled water in a dark or opaque spray bottle. Add 2 Tablespoons of Lemon juice for a fresh-scented antibacterial spray that will break down dirt and grime. *NEVER MIX Peroxide and vinegar together, as they will produce harmful gas.

Automatic dishwashing detergent: Homemade Dish detergent is hugely economical; it costs about a penny per dish load and can be made effectively with four (4) ingredients: 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup borax, ½ cup kosher salt, ½ cup citric acid. Just mix them together and store them in a tightly covered mason jar. Use one teaspoon per load of dishes and add vinegar to the rinse dispenser for best results.

Carpet Refreshers: 10-20 drops of a potent essential oil and 2 cups of baking soda combine to make a dream-inducing carpet refresher. Mix the ingredients in a bowl, break up any clumps, and store the mixture in a glass jar. Your vinegar-based all-purpose cleaner can also help to spot clean carpets and remove odors.

Chlorine bleach Alternative: Arguably one of the easiest and most difficult things to let go of. If you’ve ever smelled or touched this substance, you know it felt like you weren’t supposed to. Chlorine bleach can cause severe irritation to the eyes and skin, and its vapor or mist can cause damage to the respiratory tract and aggravate asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions. Still, we all grew up with a bottle of bleach in the house somewhere. While it may still have a place in scenarios that require extreme disinfection, there are many alternatives for home cleansing. 

  • Oxygen-based bleach – unlike chlorine bleach, is a natural plant derivative product called sodium percarbonate. When exposed to water, it releases oxygen, which lifts away stains.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide, baking soda, distilled white vinegar, oxygen bleach, OR lemon juice all have whitening properties when added to laundry or used as a presoak.
  • Did you know the sun can also help remove stains and brighten fabric? Sunlight is particularly powerful against mold or mildew stains. Hang freshly washed garments on a line, with the stains facing the sun.


Try the following for a handy degreaser that’s fun to watch work.

  1. Make a paste out of 2 Tablespoons of baking soda and one teaspoon of water.
  2. Add a few drops of lemon essential oil.
  3. Spread the mixture over your greasy surface and allow it to dry.
  4. Lightly spray vinegar over the dried paste. It will fizz, breaking up the grease.
  5. Wipe off the grime with a soft sponge.

Drain cleaner: Before you go out for drain cleaner, pour 1/2 cup baking soda, followed by 1/2 cup vinegar, down the drain. Plug it up and let it sit for one hour. Then, pour a pot of boiling water down the drain. Repeat if necessary


*Be sure to test new cleaning products of any kind on a small sample surface first for safety. Some products (e.g., alcohol or vinegar) are not intended for hard porous surfaces, like marble or granite.

*The words ‘Natural’ and ‘Edible’ are not interchangeable. Be sure to keep even DIY cleaners out of the reach of children.

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