Back to Basics: Eco-Friendly DIY Cleaners You Need to Try

Non-toxic DIY recipes for the home, body and kids.

by SHFamily | Fri, March 02, 2018

By Sherry Poon

Every day, we expose ourselves to dangerous, toxic chemicals – from the air we breathe to the foods we eat, and it’s frightening to know that many can be found within our homes and the daily products we use. 

According to the Environmental Working Group, the average household contains over 60 toxic chemicals, with ingredients in common household products being linked to health issues like asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity (damage to the nervous system).

Chemical reaction

While a few chemicals cause immediate reactions, such as headaches from fumes and skin burns from accidental contact, different problems arise with repeated contact. Daily exposure adds to the body’s “toxic burden” – the number of chemicals stored in your body at a given time. This is the main concern in regard to household chemicals, as the toxins are not just in the air we breathe, but inside us as well.

Cleaning

No one can avoid exposure altogether, but it is possible to reduce it, and it’s easier than you might think. There’s no better way to learn exactly what’s found in your household products than by rolling up your sleeves and making them yourself – perfect for ensuring a toxin-free home, supporting the environment and being kind to your wallet as well! Although homemade items are all non-toxic and safe for even sensitive skin, you should still always do a skin test on a small patch of skin (like your inner arm or behind your ear) just to make sure.

Perfect pantry

To get started, you’ll need a few spray bottles, glass jars, sponges or cloths, as well as some staple ingredients: 

1. Baking soda: Also known as sodium bicarbonate, this wonder powder is the key ingredient in many homemade products for eliminating odor and exfoliating.

2. Coconut oil, olive oil and mild vegetable oils: These are often used as carrier oils in lotions, salves and balms. 

3. White vinegar: Vinegar is a mild acid that cuts through grease and disinfects. The smell may be strong but will dissipate. Choose a sugar-free option. 

4. Lemon: Replace heavy-duty chemical cleaners with lemons, a natural cleanser with antibacterial and antiseptic properties. 

5. Brown sugar: This makes for a gentle exfoliator in scrubs. 

6. Salt: Sea salt is an excellent abrasive exfoliator and helps to remove impurities. 

7. Honey: Used in ancient beauty routines, honey is known for its natural antibacterial, antioxidant and moisturizing properties. 

8. Beeswax: Sweet-smelling beeswax is a natural thickening agent. A small bar goes a long way. 

9. Liquid castile soap: Derived from olive oil, castile soap like Dr. Bronner’s is indispensable in green cleaning recipes for removing dirt and grease.  

10. Essential oils: Apart from having antibacterial properties, essential oils like tea tree, mint, lavender and lemon give great natural scents to homemade recipes.

For health and beauty

Skin is our largest organ, and – as it’s porous – anything absorbed goes directly into our bloodstream. Some cosmetics ingredients are so potent that they have even been linked to carcinogenic effects (substances that contribute toward cancer).

In particular, look out for formaldehyde, recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a strong, colorless gas used in many cosmetics such as nail varnish and hairstyling products. Burning cigarettes release this gas, and home products can also give off small amounts, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

Another chemical is triclosan, an antimicrobial pesticide found in soap (liquid or bars) that can alter thyroid function and affect reproductive hormones. Exposure makes us susceptible to skin irritation and infection, plus we risk damaging the vital defense mechanisms that keep our bodies functioning.

Homemade toothpaste

Just read the label on any major brand toothpaste, and you’ll see that it’s loaded with dangerous ingredients like sodium fluoride, triclosan, FD&C Blue Dye #1 and 2, sodium lauryl sulfate and hydrated silica. These common ingredients have been found to be very harmful, in particular to children who may swallow toothpaste. Try this safe and zingy alternative adapted from familysponge.com.

Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

• 3 tbsps coconut oil

• 3 tbsps baking soda

•10-15 drops essential oils (peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon or grapefruit work well)

•1/2 tsp stevia powder (optional if you want a sweet taste)

Directions: Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with a fork until it becomes a smooth paste. Scoop it into your container, and it’s ready to use. Note that you need to watch for dribbling and should stay stationed over the sink.

Storage: Keep in a small, covered glass container or squeeze bottle for easy application.

His and hers shaving cream

Conventional shaving cream includes a fistful of toxic baddies, including propolene glycol, triethanolamine, benzaldehyde, phthalates, parabens and perfume. Whip up your own batch using this recipe from everydayroots.com

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

• 2/3 cup beeswax or shea butter

• 2/3 cup coconut oil

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 1 tsp honey (optional but great for sensitive skin)

•10-20 drops essential oils (try peppermint, chamomile, lavender or grapefruit)

• 2 tbsps baking soda (optional)

Directions: Melt the coconut oil and beeswax together in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and transfer to a heat-safe bowl. Stir in olive oil, honey and essential oils. Place bowl in refrigerator and chill until solid (about 15 minutes). Remove from fridge and let it soften slightly. Add baking soda and, using an electric mixer or hand beater, whip until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Spoon into a 50g glass jar. 

Storage: If kept in a cool, dark place when not in use, it can keep 3-5 months. Be careful to not get water in your shaving cream, or it will grow mold. Use dry, clean hands or a spoon to apply.

For home care

Cleaning is about maintaining a healthy, dirt-free home, yet some common household products contain chemicals that can harm not only your personal health but also the environment. When using these products – which include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – they linger in the air or leave residue on dishes and cutlery, making it easy to ingest though the air we breathe or direct contact. Formaldehyde appears again in household products like grocery bags, carpet cleaner and fabric softener, so stay vigilant when buying from the supermarket.

Furniture and wood polish

Wooden furniture is an investment, and it’s important to take care of these pieces as well as wooden flooring that appears in many Shanghai homes. Commercial furniture polish is riddled with chemicals that irritate our skin, eyes and airways. Make sure your surfaces sparkle safely with this simple homemade wood polish from lovelygreens.com, perfect for everything including the coffee table, cutting board and kids’ wooden toys.

Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

• 1 cup coconut oil or olive oil

•1/3 cup beeswax (or use 1 part beeswax to 3 parts oil)

• 5 drops essential oils (cedar, tea tree)

Directions: Melt the beeswax in a double boiler over medium heat. Once the wax has melted, stir in the olive oil until completely blended. Remove from heat and pour into a wide-mouth glass jar. Set aside for an hour to let it cool and harden.To apply, first clean your wood item lightly with a duster. Use your fingers to rub in a small amount of the polish. Let the wood soak in the polish for about an hour; then buff the wood with a soft cloth.

Storage: Kept in a glass jar with a tight lid, it can last 1-2 years (longer if refrigerated).

Mold and mildew scrub and spray

Mold is extremely harmful to the lungs and can be almost impossible to get rid of, causing serious respiratory problems like asthma and lung fibrosis. Prevention and wiping away extra moisture is key. This spray from diycleaningproducts.org is ideal.  

Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

• 1/4 cup vinegar

• 1/2 cup baking soda

• 5 drops tea tree oil

• 1 cup water

Directions: Add vinegar slowly to the baking soda in a bowl. Mix until it becomes a thick paste. Apply the paste generously over mold spots and let dry for at least an hour (preferably overnight). Wash off the paste with a cloth and water. Tip: To stop mold from occurring, mix water and tea tree oil in a spray bottle. Once a week, spray your shower and walls liberally with this solution. Let sit for 15-30 minutes and wipe away with a cloth. This mixture fights stains, and the natural antiseptic qualities of tea tree oil fight mold and mildew.

Storage: The scrub should be made as needed, while the spray can keep up to 4-5 months in a cool, dry place.