The ultimate guide to non-toxic, natural and environmentally friendly cleaning products

Okay, so here is the big question: Are natural ingredients effective in household cleaning? And if so, why should we use them?

The ultimate goal is to prove to you exactly how using non-toxic household items for cleaning can facilitate a positive lifestyle, impact both your health and the environment but also save you money in the long run.  

Toxic commercial cleaning products

How toxic are your cleaning products?

Firstly - go and scout your cupboards and bring out all of those store bought detergents, bleaches and sprays and put them on your counter. Let’s have a closer look at what ingredients they contain and why they are bad for you.

​Top 10 common toxic cleaning ingredients

#1 - Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs)

Found in detergents, pesticides, cleaning products, lubricants and hair care products. A synthetic surfactant which is bio-accumulative (absorbs easily), carcinogenic, and suspected to have an impact on endocrine dysfunction. APEs do not readily biodegrade, they persist for long periods of time and have a direct impact on our waterways and our marine life.


#2 - Ammonia

Naturally we are exposed to small amounts of ammonia. It is when the exposure risk increases and when it is mixed with other contaminants such as chlorine bleach that a highly poisonous chloramine gas is produced. These fumes are highly toxic, can be irritating to eyes, nose, ears and throat, and therefore should not be used by asthmatics or those with chronic lung issues. In the environment, ammonia can be very toxic to aquatic organisms.


​#3 - Butyl Cellosolve

Found in spot cleaners, oven sprays, air fresheners and carpet cleaners amongst others. In humans, it is neurotoxic and is suspected to cause some liver and kidney damage. Although it is water soluble, it has been found as a contaminant in water and soils within the environment.


#4 - Diethanolamine (DEA)

Found in soaps, cleansers, shampoos, moisturisers and sunscreens. DEA can cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritation and high exposure has been shown to have carcinogenic effects. It is hazardous to the environment because it is highly toxic to aquatic organisms and has also been shown to bioaccumulate.


​#5 - D-limonene

Found in general cleaners and oil and degreasing agents. Often used as a fragrance in household products. Human exposure can cause skin irritation, gastrointestinal upset and lung and airway issues. It is hazardous in the environment because it is highly toxic to aquatic organisms.


#6 - Glycol Ether

Commonly found in household cleaning products, liquid soaps and paints. It a solvent toxic to humans that can cause anaemia, neurological effects, skin irritation, and intoxication if ingested. Glycol Ether has been identified as a hazardous air pollutant.


#7 - Nonylphenols (NPEs)

A surfactant found in laundry detergents and multipurpose cleaners. Can cause endocrine disruption, irritation to lungs, skin and eyes in humans. NPEs have been identified as a hormone disrupting substance which is toxic to aquatic life and organisms.


#8 - Phosphates

Found in laundry and dish detergents and general cleaners. Phosphates are a strong irritant and can cause skin and eye irritation as well as respiratory problems. Although the use of phosphates have been decreased, they are still found in some commercial cleaning products. They are slow to biodegrade and have been identified as detrimental to aquatic life, organisms and waterways.


#9 - Sodium hydroxide

Also known as caustic soda or lye. Found in soaps, drain cleaners and oven cleaners. It is an extremely corrosive agent and therefore can cause damage to human tissue and skin, eye irritation, and respiratory problems. It is hazardous in the environment because it is highly toxic to aquatic organisms.


#10 - Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)

A foaming agent commonly found in detergents, stain removers, carpet cleaners, general cleaners and body care products. In humans it can cause skin and eye irritation and has been shown to emit cancer-causing volatile organic compounds. It is hazardous to the environment because it is highly toxic to aquatic organisms and has also been shown to bioaccumulate.

Natural, non-toxic household cleaning alternatives

When it comes to cleaning products - there are many natural and household ingredients we can use to get the same effect as their non organic counterparts. Lucky for us - most of these ingredients can be found in your cupboard - no need to spend any extra money. All you need is the right knowledge and a couple of tools.

So let’s start. What ingredients CAN we use?

Top 10 most common natural household ingredients

#1 - Baking soda (Bicarbonate soda). Let’s start by saying - this is one of the most versatile household items. Why? Because it can be used for SO MANY different cleaning problems. You can use it in its powder form or alternatively mixed into a paste or scrub. Simply put - it’s a salt composition, a ‘leavening’ agent which simply means that it expands when cooking. It cleans, deodorises, scours and softens water. 

#2 - Borax (not to be confused with boric acid). Otherwise known as sodium tetra-borate. Yes if your wondering, it is a chemical compound but a natural occurring mineral. And like baking soda, it is a salty composition that comes in the form of crystalline powder. It can be harmful if not used correctly, but then again so can vinegar or lemon. It cleans, bleaches, deodorisers, disinfects, softens water and can be used as a natural fungicide, herbicide and pesticide.

#3 - Cornstarch. A starch that is, you guessed it - derived from corn. It is a popular food ingredient, however it can also be used for cleaning. Powder mixed to a paste, it has an abrasive quality that is gentle enough so it won’t scratch surfaces. It will clean windows, polish furniture, clean carpet surfaces and even deodorise.

#4 - Essential oils. We aren't really using essential oils to clean with, we include them for the fragrance but having said that some have antibacterial, disinfectant and anti-fungal properties. In particular the ones we like to keep on hand are eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, tea tree, lavender, pine and cinnamon. Essential oils are really based on personal preference, so have a go and soon enough you will have a few favourites.

#5 - Lemon. A natural fruit that is cheap and organic. Lemons are high in citric acid and this simply means that is has a good function of eating away mineral deposits, killing bacteria and deodorising. It is well known for being an environmentally benign cleaning agent. It is a bleach, deodoriser, antibacterial and cleaning agent. Did we say it is delicious too?

#6 - Mineral oil. We need to mention here that not only are mineral oils a good ingredient to keep in your cupboard, so are a variety of oils such as olive, coconut, almond and walnut but for a variety of different uses. (Beeswax is also a good one to hand on hand too). Because of their light nature, these oils are generally not harmful on surfaces but it is always important to do a test patch first (especially on wooden surfaces). Oils are great for hydrating, polishing and minimising scratches, removing paint on your hands, cleaning pans, removing stickers on jars...oh, the list goes on.

#7 - Salt. Salt is a mineral that comes from brine (natural salty solutions) and is made when sodium and chloride come together. It is evaporated to come to the crystallised form that we know of as salt. Salt is great for cleaning but it also has medicinal uses. It can be used to clean, remove stains and is a natural disinfectant.

#8 - Soap. Not just any soap - we are talking about Castile soap. Soap that is vegetable in origin (rather than being made from animal fat or synthetic detergents), is a true soap that contains no surfactants, is often unscented, and found in many different forms such as liquid, flakes, powders or bars. Soaps will clean and easily biodegrade in the environment. 

#9 - Washing soda. Washing soda or SAL soda otherwise known as sodium carbonate decahydrate. It is a common ingredient found in many household cleaning products. Not to be mistaken with baking soda, although they do have some similarities. It is a natural mineral and a water soluble sodium salt. It is important when purchasing a washing soda, to look for brands that support natural processing. (Note: not to be used with aluminium as it will change the colour of the aluminium). Washing soda will cut grease and remove stains, cleans and softens water.

#10 - White vinegar. White vinegar has many uses and will work quite effectively on a variety of cleaning tasks. We use it mainly as a disinfectant rather than a cleaner (that is why we have soap and baking soda on the list) and the good thing is? It is cheap and can be used for cooking too! It will deodorise, disinfect (not all bacterias), bleach, clean, remove grease, mildew, stains and wax build up. Bonus - it’s biodegradable.

#10.5 - Water. Yes - we know - it does seem ridiculous to include water in this list but don’t discount it.

  • Warm water will warm fats and oils and essentially make it easier for those natural detergents and solutions to dissolve stains.
  • Cold water will work for some stains such as milks, eggs and blood.
  • Freezing cold water (ice) will harden stains and make them easier to remove such as chewing gum, or candle wax.
  • Carbonated water will lift some stains such as red wine and urine.

Give it a try - use a simple microfibre cloth with a spray of water and lightly wipe those fingerprint stains on your computer screen. No need to spend $10 on a branded spray.

Cleaning materials

Okay - so we have discussed what ingredients we should and shouldn’t use. But we haven’t really touched on what materials we actually use to clean our surfaces and everyday items - and this is important.

Here are some tips that will save you money and the environment:

  • Look for products that are made from organic bamboo or recycled plastic
  • Look for companies that are certified by fair trade practices
  • Purchase brushes and scourers that are made with vegetable bristles or coconut fibres
  • Purchase cleaning brushes that have a refillable cylinder and are not just one use
  • Look for biodegradable materials such as cornstarch garbage bags
  • Start collecting food containers for DIY homemade cleaners (glass bottles, old takeaway containers, glass jars…WHY? Keep reading!)
  • Save your old newspapers (great for cleaning glass vs. buying disposable paper towels)
  • Purchase cloths and towels that are made from organic cotton or organic bamboo
  • OR save those old t-shirts and clothing and cut them up into square rags. This way - you can re wash and reuse. If you’re a little bit creative, why not sew a couple together to make them look more appealing

There are many ways you can create your own cleaning products, but for a quick and easy general disinfectant wipe, have a look at our much loved homemade recipe below!

General disinfectant wipes

What you will need:

1 cup water

¼ cup of vinegar

8 drops tea tree oil

8 drops eucalyptus oil

8 drops lemon oil

Air tight container

15 - 20 old squares of rags

Method:

Mix all ingredients in a separate bowl. Place cloths in container and pour mixture over top. Use when needed!


Top homemade natural cleaning recipes

The one thing that you should take home, is the perception of how easy it is to make your own cleaning products from natural (non toxic) alternatives.

Below we have included our top 18 recipes for different types of cleaning solutions that you can use around the home.

#1 - All purpose cleaner

What you will need:

½ cup of white vinegar.

2 Tbs baking soda.

10 drops of essential oil (Tea tree, euc, lemon, lavender).

Method:

Combine all ingredients together in a spray bottle. Fill remaining space of the bottle water.

Once combined, give the mix a gentle shake. Spray and away you go!


#2 - Chopping board cleaner

What you will need:

1/2 sliced (juicy) lemon​

Method:

Rub chopping board with sliced half lemon to remove odours or for tougher stains, squeeze lemon juice and let sit for 10 minutes then wash off with warm soapy water.


#3 - Carpet stain remover

What you will need:

Baking soda

1 Tbsp white vinegar

eco soap​

Method:

Sprinkle the stain with baking soda and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Next, mix 1 tablespoon of white vinegar, 2 cups of warm water and 1 tbsp of mild eco soap/castile soap all together. Once mixed, using an old cloth, gently dab the area and blot with a dry cloth.


#4 - Carpet freshener

What you will need:

2 cups borax

1 cup baking Soda

5-10 drops of essential oil of your choice

Method:

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, adding the essential oils gradually until you reach a strong fragrance.  When ready to use, sprinkle mixture over carpet area and let sit for 15 minutes and vacuum. 


#5 - Drain cleaner

What you will need:

1/2 cup baking soda

1/4 cup white vinegar

Method:

Sprinkle baking soda down the drain and follow with vinegar. Let sit for an hour or two and flush by pouring boiling water down the drain. 


#6 - Fabric softener

What you will need:

5 1/2 cups water

30 grams of environmentally safe hair conditioner

2 1/2 cups white vinegar

10 - 15 drops of essential oil of preference (optional)

Method:

Mix all the ingredients together and store in an easy dispersing bottle. When ready to use, simply add 1/4 cup to each load prior to the rinse cycle. 


#7 - Homemade air freshener

What you will need:

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup white vinegar

1-2 drops of essential oil (citrus or lavender scents work well)

Method:

Mix all ingredients into a spray bottle. Gently shake before use.


#8 - Laundry detergent (powder)

What you will need:

1 cup washing soda

1 cup borax

130 grams natural soap

10 drops essential oil (Floral scents work well)

Method:

Blend all ingredients in a food processor to get a consistent mixture. Store in an airtight container. When ready to use, simple scoop 1-2 Tbs per load (depending on size). 


#9 - Laundry detergent (liquid)

What you will need:

1/2 cup washing soda

1/2 cup borax

60 grams natural soap

5 drops essential oil (floral scents work well)

Water​

Method:

As the above recipe, you are using the same ingredients but just adding water. The method is a little different. Add the Borax, washing soda and 3 cups of water to a saucepan. Let mixture boil, and allow the ingredients to dissolve then set aside. In a separate bucket, add the soap, essential oil and 5 cups of water to mix. Combine the two mixtures together and let cool before storing in an airtight container. When ready to use, simple scoop 1/4 cup per load.


#10 - Lime scale (on bathroom fixtures)

What you will need:

1- 2 lemons

Method:

Simply squeeze fresh lemon juice onto affected area and let sit for a couple of minutes. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.


#11 - Microwave freshener/cleaner

What you will need:

1 lemon

Method:

Slice lemon and place in a microwave safe bowl with some water.  Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Once finished, allow the steam to settle and with a damp cloth wipe down walls and base. 


#12 - Moth baths (homemade)

What you will need:

1 lemon (or alternative citrus of choice)

Method:

Citrus peels are  great moth repellent (rosemary and dried lavender work well too). Simple place peels in a cheesecloth and tie within closet. (Dried peels and herbs work well as fragrance bags too!)


#13 - Oven cleaner

What you will need:

1/2 cup baking soda

1/2 cup white vinegar

3 Tbs water

Method:

Wet walls and surfaces of oven with damp cloth and tap water. Mix baking soda with water to a paste and apply with cloth to surfaces of the oven. Let sit overnight. Pour vinegar into a spray bottle and spray surfaces of the oven until foaming action appears. Wipe clean with a damp cloth. 


#14 - Rust remover

What you will need:

1/2 juiced lime

Salt

Method:

Sprinkle salt on areas of rust and squeeze lime juice on top.  Leave to sit for 2 hours and use left over rind to scrub area and wipe clean.


#15 - Soft scrub cleaner

What you will need:

1 1/2 cups baking soda

1/2 cup of environmentally safe dishwashing liquid

10 drops essential oil - tea tree/eucalyptus

Method:

Combine all in a bowl and stir until consistency of a paste. Store in an airtight container. When ready to use, simply scoop and scrub.


#16 - Toilet bowl cleaner

What you will need:

1/4 cup baking soda

1/4 cup white vinegar

Method:

Mix all ingredients together and pour around toilet bowl. Let solution sit for 20 minutes. Scrub toilet clean using a brush


#17 - Window/glass cleaner

What you will need:

2 tps white vinegar

1 Litre water

Method:

Combine vinegar in a bucket with water and wash windows. Follow by polishing with newspaper. Be sure not to do this when in direct sunlight otherwise streaking may occur.


#18 - Wood polish

What you will need:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tbsp white vinegar

5 drops essential oil

Method:

Shake ingredients in a bottle to mix. Spray onto wood surface and gently wipe with the grain with a dry cloth. Beeswax also makes for a great wood polish!


Healthy cleaning habits

It’s all well and good to clean a surface when it gets dirty or spray a deodoriser when it get’s smelly but something that will really save you time, is implementing long term cleaning habits.

Creating healthy habits means that you won’t have to clean as often and when you do, it won’t be as hard to clean. 

Healthy cleaning tips

#1 - Open windows, allows for aeration. Rather than having to use electricity to run your fan, opening windows will allow for air exchange. This will also promote temperature regulation.

#2 - Eliminate odours, rather than masking them. Get to the source of the smell. (See above recipes on microwave and oven cleaning)

#3 - Clean as you cook. Ever cooked a delicious meal and had the house smell for two days after? Try simmering water and vinegar (or even cinnamon) on the stove top while you cook to absorb some of the odours early on.

#4 - Tidy. Keeping your rooms tidy means more space to move around and less room for accidents. 

#5 - Minimise.  Removing clutter will minimise the amount of dust that collects and is also good for the soul. (We absolutely love the idea of minimalism, if it is something you're interested in, we recommend reading 'Minimalism: Live a meaningful life' by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus)

#6 - Shoes off rule. Taking your shoes off before you enter the house will decrease the amount of dust, dirt and bacteria your bring inside the home.

#7 - Use gentle cleaning products. Avoid using toxic products that, as you know now, contribute to skin irritation and health concerns.

#8 - Squeegee after you shower. Yep, that's right! This one rule will save you a lot of work and muscle. Squeegeeing after you shower will reduce mould, soap scum and mildew build up. This means you won't have to clean it as often.

#9 - Clean from top to bottom. When cleaning around the house, save the floor and carpet for last. There is no point moving dust around from those shelves and blinds once you have already vacuumed and mopped!

#10 - Don't procrastinate.  This is a good habit to break. While we enjoy some down tie every now and then, it is important to motivate yourself and finish those household chores before they build up and become overwhelming.

#11 - Plantae kingdom.  There are so many reasons to incorporate indoor plants into your environment. Indoor plants are otherwise known as natural air purifiers. They minimise indoor dust levels, regulate air temperatures, help to remove indoor pollutants, reduce carbon dioxide levels, and reduce stress levels...just to name a few.


Natural, eco friendly commercial alternatives

There has been a shift in consumer activity towards sustainability - people are aware of the consequences of toxic cleaning solutions to themselves, and to their environment.

Consumers are interested in purchasing products that don’t have a significant and negative impact on the earth. As a result companies are now producing healthier, environmentally conscious alternatives.

Unfortunately, in places like Australia, current labelling legislations do not require manufacturers to disclose the full list of ingredients in their products. (Only the hazardous toxic ingredients are required to be listed by law - this does not apply to food or cosmetic packaging)

So how do we know exactly what we are purchasing?​

We need to look at the whole picture. We are not just looking at the quality and effectiveness of the products themselves - but at the how the companies themselves produce, package and transport the products.

(In what environment is the product manufactured? Do they offer refillable packaging? Do they use recycled plastic? Are the manufacturers really concerned about the environment or are they simply using the green and eco friendly terminology and motivated by profit?)

We all know now that DIY products are cheaper, easy to make and relatively simple. BUT - if you choose to simply buy a commercial product, it’s time to start looking at the big picture. Consider the whole process.

How DO you know if a company has sustainability at it’s forefront?

Always read the label.

There are a few ways to identify the greener commercial alternatives and this will depend on where you are in the world. 

In the US: (simply two of the many key label identifiers)

The Green Seal

A set of standards that are awarded to products, services, restaurants and hotels set by a not for profit environmental standard development and organisation according to performance, health and sustainability criteria.

Safer Choice

A Label created by the Environmental Protection Agency that reviews products based on a set of standards in relation to the criteria of product performance, packaging, pH and Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Companies and their products and services must pass the criteria in order to achieve and carry the label.

In Australia:

Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA)

A not for profit organisation that has created an eco-labelling program which implies that any product or service carrying the certification, adhered to a set of standards which have a lower impact on the environment and human health. 

Green Tick 

An organisation which provides independent certification for products, services and corporations. In order to achieve the green tick of sustainable certification or label, products or services need to meet requirements and are audited against standards set by the organisation such as sustainability, carbon neutrality, organic, natural and green characteristics.​

Not sure where to start and want a quick reference?

The 'ecolabel index' is a good place to start - with a massive directory of eco labels found in many different countries for products and services. You’ll find a link below.

http://www.ecolabelindex.com/ecolabels/

If you have had a look at the link above, you might just be starting to understand the enormity of the number of independent organisations that exist and what information is available to you. We recommend doing the ground research so that you can make quality and safe consumer choices. 


But hey - the ultimate question still begs - are commercial green cleaning products actually effective when compared to regular cleaning products?

A

Well - all products have to comply with consumer acts that are generally set by a government organisation. This is to ensure that companies cannot give false or misleading information to consumers. Essentially - it is up to you to do the test and trust the companies as a consumer, but we know that there are natural alternatives to chemicals that are just as effective.


Packaging alternatives

Ever heard of a co-op, bulk food store, or waste-less pantry? If you are wondering what in the world these terms mean, following closely and BYO jar. 

BYO (Jar) bulk food or grocery stores have been popping up everywhere. These are essentially businesses that sell bulk products with BYO packaging. Pretty self explanatory but the premise is that you go and weigh your container first, then you fill it, then you weigh it and pay for the contents!

What a way to reduce the amount of waste we produce!

Jars, bottles, bags - these businesses encourage to bring your own packaging of any kind. Not only do they sell grains, seeds, nuts, spices, and coffee but some of them also sell honey, oils and even household products like dishwashing liquid and laundry soaps. Almond butter anyone?


If you want to be the ultimate consumer recycling legend, minimise chemical effects on human health, and positively impact the environment? Make the switch - consume responsibly and get creative with DIY projects at home! 


If you have any further comments or would like to ask a question, we would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!

A guide to non toxic, environmentally friendly and natural alternatives to chemical commercial cleaning products. DIY cleaning recipes and more

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