Now that you know what ingredients to avoid, and will therefore know which products to avoid by reading ingredient lists, it might be helpful to know what to use in place of all those items that should really be thrown out (and by “thrown out” I, of course, mean disposed of properly).
There are many natural (in the true sense of the word) products that I have come to love so much that I wouldn’t go back to former favorites even if the manufacturers removed all of the toxic ingredients and promised to think of consumer safety above the bottom line, no matter the cost. The good news is, the market is finally recognizing that consumers actually want products that don’t contain synthetic, petrochemical-based in their homes or on themselves, though you won’t find these in mainstream grocery stores yet. Thus, we have a choice - to purchase these new and healthier products (found in most health food stores) at a premium price, or make our own.
Over the years, I’ve amassed a sizeable collection of tips and books on natural products that can be made at home to do the work that toxic store-bought products are meant to do. Most of the following are from that collection, and I use them so often that I’ve forgotten the original source. I’ll list my favorite books dealing with the subject throughout, especially where I know I’ve acquired a tip or recipe from a book rather than simply something that was passed on to me from a friend of a friend who had a grandmother who… You get the idea.
It’s likely you may have seen many of these recipes or suggestions before, and if you have your own, I’d love to hear about them! Please share in the comment section.
HOME CLEANING PRODUCTS
For most cleaning jobs, a few tablespoons of baking soda in a quart of warm water, by itself or mixed with a bit of white vinegar or lemon juice, will do the trick. A light rinse or wipe down with a clean, damp cloth will be all that’s needed.
If the job is a bit tougher, try using just baking soda, or even salt. Adding a little borax (equal parts of each) and some hot water can work wonders.
A 3% hydrogen peroxide and water solution can handle any area where there might be concern. Just be mindful of fabrics, as the mixture can bleach them.
Commercial glass cleaners contain ammonia, to which I am highly reactive. Warm water and vinegar, or even plain ol’ club soda, can do the job without the respiratory distress or headache.
Equal parts white vinegar and hot water is usually all that’s needed, no rinse required. However, if the job is a bit tougher, try adding a little Murphy’s Oil liquid soap and rinse with hot water.
Sprinkle corn starch on carpets and allow to stand for 20 minutes or so, then vacuum.
To neutralize odors, sprinkle a mixture of one part borax to two parts cornmeal or baking soda. Allow to stand at least an hour before vacuuming. (Keep pets and children off of this.) To make a fragrant non-toxic carpet freshener, mix 20 drops of your favorite essential oil into the borax mixture.
Stains can be removed by using equal parts white vinegar and hot water. Putting the vinegar solution in a spray bottle will make it easier to use: just spritz the stain, allow to stand for five to thirty minutes (use your judgment), then use a natural soap (Murphy’s oil or Castille) and water mixture. A final rinse will be needed. (While you can do this without a steam cleaner, with two large dogs and three cats, our Bissell is a cherished tool in our cleaning arsenal.)
BATHROOM TUB AND TILE
A solution of one part hydrogen peroxide and two parts water, in a spray bottle, does a fantastic job of eliminating mold and mildew, as well as disinfecting bathroom surfaces. Spray, allow to stand and rinse later. (Be sure not to drip on carpets or other fabrics, as it can bleach the color.)
A quick spritz of this mixture after each shower and you’ll never have to scrub soap scum or black mildew from your tiles again!
Equal parts white vinegar and baking soda, poured into the bowl and scrubbed with a toilet brush do a great job of cleaning. Or try mixing two parts borax with one part lemon juice instead.
White vinegar to the rescue again! That crusty calcium build-up doesn’t stand a chance against it. To remove it from a shower head, fill a plastic baggie with white vinegar and immerse the shower head, tying the baggie in place with a rubber band or twist tie. Allow to stand over night and in the morning, rinse and marvel.
The best tool to use when clearing a drain is the tried and true plunger, after which equal parts of white vinegar and baking soda can be poured into the drain, allowed to stand (15 minutes or so), followed by boiling water. Using the baking soda/vinegar mixture followed by boiling water once a week can keep drains clear and your plunger dry.
DRAINS and GARBAGE DISPOSAL ODORS
Any aromatic oil and hot water will eliminate odors in the drain or disposal. Lemon, orange, or grapefruit juices and oils work well. So does baking soda. Just pour down the drain and flush with hot water.
Olive or almond oil and a bit of lemon juice or vinegar (be sure to use white on dark wood, and always test on an inconspicuous area first) will both clean and lubricate wood.
Water rings on wood can often be removed by simply rubbing with a damp cloth to which a dab of toothpaste has been applied. Buff the area with a soft clean cloth after rinsing the area with a lightly damp cloth.
Club soda can take out most stains on fabric, but the trick is in acting quickly to make sure the stain does not set.
There are many indoor plants that purify the air while also making a room more beautiful. A good resource for finding the right plants for you is Dr. B.C. Wolveton’s How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office.
If the air indoors needs some more immediate freshening, and opening windows isn’t an option, steeping cinnamon or cloves on the stove top can fill your home with a lovely scent. Leaving bowls of white vinegar in inconspicuous areas (that pets or children can’t access) can take care of odors overnight.
Baking soda can be sprinkled on carpets and, allowed to stand overnight, should remove odor when vacuumed.
Don’t bother with those expensive laundry disks, purported to clean clothing without detergent. They may work the first few times, as they beat out the commercial detergent residue left in the clothing (which attracts dirt), but once that’s done their effectiveness is too.
Simple borax powder does an excellent job of cleaning and brightening clothes, and inexpensively, too. Use as you would regular detergent, though most people use much too much detergent (as the detergent company instructs). As in most things, less is more.
Add lemon juice to the rinse cycle.
The sun is also good for this task. Lay wet clothing out on a sunny day and watch those whites brighten!
Borax mixed into a paste with water and applied to fabric can tackle almost any stain. Allow to stand at least an hour before laundering.
Hard water minerals can cause clothes to gray over time. Add white vinegar to the rinse cycle to soften the water and freshen clothes.
Aside from being particularly toxic, commercial fabric softeners leave a residue on clothing that attracts dirt. Try adding baking soda to the wash cycle and/or white vinegar to the rinse. If fragrance is desired, add a few drops of pure essential oil to the rinse receptacle along with the vinegar, just be careful in doing this as many essential oils can stain some fabrics.
Cornstarch and water make an excellent starch. Just mix 1 tbs cornstarch to a spray bottle filled with distilled water, spritz lightly on clothing and iron at the recommended setting.
Washing Machine Care
Vinegar in the rinse water not only freshens and brightens clothes, but also cleans the washing machine, cutting any residue leftover from commercial detergents.
Never mix any of the above with commercial bleach.
PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS
There’s a reason restaurants garnish dishes with parsley; it’s meant to be used as a breath freshener after the meal. Not only does parsley freshen breath, but it also aids in digestion, helps the body detox, and is rich in vitamins A, B and C. Another good breath freshener, cloves can be chewed whole or the essential oil diluted and swished in the mouth for a fresh and tingly feeling. (If bad breath persists, this is a sign of illness. See your Naturopath pronto.)
Sage and strawberries are both great and great-tasting natural products that can whiten your teeth. Brush with the crushed leaves or berry of either, allow to remain on teeth for five minutes, then rinse.
While lemon juice can whiten teeth, it can also eat away at tooth enamel, causing sensitivity and weakening the tooth over time.
Fill a small container with coconut or almond oil with a well-fitting lid. That simple!
If you want to get fancy and add color, many natural ingredients can be used to give your balm a tint. Cherries and pomegranate both stain lips a lovely shade. Be careful though, they also stain everything else!
Coconut, olive, almond or other organic oils are very effective for removing makeup. Massage gently onto skin and wipe off with a soft clean cloth (flannel is my favorite).
Exfoliants are used to remove dead skin and give you that all-over glow, but they are often filled with ingredients we don’t want on our skin. It’s easy to give yourself the spa treatment and economical too. Mix 2 ounces of organic oil (almond, apricot kernel, coconut) with ½ ounce of sugar or table salt. (This is a great way to use that sugar and salt you were going to throw out now that you know how unhealthy they are for you!) Gently massage over the entire body, avoid the face, neck and upper chest if you are sensitive. Shower and pat dry with a freshly-laundered towel.
TONE and FRESHEN FACE
Organic apple cider vinegar or witchhazel (my favorite is witchhazel with rose water), make excellent astringents. Adding sprigs of herbs, such as thyme, sage or rosemary to plain witchhazel (let stand a few days, then strain and keep in a dark glass jar) will give your astringent a lovely (nontoxic) fragrance.
You can make your own deodorant by mixing one part baking soda with one part cornstarch, and adding a favorite essential oil, if you like. Blend and keep in a tightly sealed jar away from moisture. Apply to well-dried skin.
From personal experience, it’s best not to expect the often instant results of the harsh synthetic chemical-laden products found in stores. The majority of homemade concoctions are more subtle, take more time, patience and/or elbow grease. My best advice is to be proactive with cleaning, rather than waiting for a problem to present itself. For instance, spraying shower walls with a hydrogen peroxide solution after each shower, rather than waiting for mildew to grow between tiles, goes a long way toward saving yourself both time and frustration. Treating a drain every other week, instead of only considering it when there is a clog, can keep things running smoothly and only takes a few minutes of time.
Here are two of my favorite books on the subject. I’d suggest checking your local library for a copy to see if you might find them as useful to have around as I do:
Replacing toxins used on our lawn and garden, as well as pest prevention or eradication, is an issue I’ll address in an upcoming article.