According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is ranked among the top five environmental health-risks.
The EPA’s Office of Research and Development’s “Total Exposure Assessment Methodology Study” found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be two to five times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas.
A variety of factors contribute to poor indoor air quality. Some of the main culprits may surprise you. For instance, many commonly sold house-cleaning agents contain harmful volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that release gases, ranging from mildly to extremely dangerous, into your home.
Another unexpected source of harmful VOCs that can offer continuous exposure is indoor air fresheners — especially the ones that continuously release perfumes.
The main point seems to be that when a product is heavily perfumed with chemical scents, be wary. Whether that product is a floor-mopping solution, a room spray or a shampoo, it is worth double-checking whether there might be better options available.
If the product is scented using natural plant-oils or essential oils, then you are safe from VOCs.
Luckily, there is a variety of natural alternatives to commercial cleaning-products.
During my graduate program in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, I was introduced to the idea of “green” cleaning. Using some of these recipes can actually be far less expensive than depending on conventional, store-bought cleaning agents, and they do not “off-gas” harmful chemicals into your indoor air.
If you like the recipes provided below, consider checking out the book “Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living” by Annie Berthold-Bond. All these recipes are from this book. The author also dives into cleaning solutions for almost any surface in the home, including upholstery, leather, windows and other glass, and soft scrubs, and for disinfecting cutting boards.
Another great book to look into is “The Naturally Clean Home: 150 Super-Easy Recipes for Green Cleaning” by Karyn Siegel-Maier.
I also highly recommend checking out the EPA’s resources on indoor air quality.
The EPA’s introduction to indoor air-quality considerations:
An introduction to volatile organic compounds: www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html
Ingredients you will need for green cleaning
You can make nearly all the necessary cleaning agents with these simple ingredients:
White distilled vinegar (do not use other vinegars, as they may stain)
Castile (vegetable oil-based) soap — Dr. Bronner’s is a well-known castile soap, but it is almost always pre-scented with essential oils.
Tea tree oil
A handful of other essential oils for fragrance, such as lavender, rose or sweet orange oil.
Why essential oils? There is a variety of antiseptic essential oils that do a great job of fighting germs around the house and may, arguably, be as effective as the VOC phenol that is commonly used in many commercial cleaning-products. These antiseptic essential oils include thyme, sweet orange, lemon grass, rose, clove, eucalyptus, cinnamon, rosemary, birch, lavender and tea tree oil.
Some other ingredients that you may need occasionally
A natural detergent
Cream of tartar
Here are some recipes for basic cleaning-solutions that should cover the majority of your cleaning-product needs.
Basic floor-cleaning solution
This is good for mopping any surface.
1/4 cup liquid castile soap
1/2 cup of white distilled vinegar
2 gallons warm water
Optional: Add 20 drops of your favorite essential oil to counteract the smell of vinegar
Mix all the ingredients into a mop bucket or tub. Use your sponge or mop to wipe your floors as usual. If you have extra-greasy floors, then add 1/4 cup washing soda to the mix — but do not use this solution on waxed floors.
Note: if you have hard water, it may react with the soap to create a film when mopping. If this begins to be a problem, you can substitute a natural detergent for the soap.
Fizzy toilet-bowl cleaner
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
Pour the baking soda and vinegar into your toilet bowl and watch the fizzing begin. After the fizzing has stopped, scrub your toilet bowl, and flush. Finish by spraying down the rest of your toilet with the following antiseptic toilet-cleaner spray.
2 teaspoons tea tree essential oil
2 cups warm water
Mix in a spray bottle, label and store indefinitely.
Let sit for 30 minutes
Spray down the tops and undersides of toilet seats and the toilet rim with this spray after using the fizzy toilet-bowl cleaner. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes, then use a sponge to wipe it off. Your bathroom will smell strongly of tea tree oil for a few hours, but it will dissipate over time.
The great thing about this spray is that tea tree essential oil is highly antibacterial/antimicrobial.
This solution also kills mildew. You can spray it in your shower, on tiled bathroom surfaces and around your windows where mildew may be growing, to kill it. Let the spray sit for about 24 hours to get the best results, then scrub it off with a sponge. Repeat weekly until your mildew is gone.
Also consider increasing air flow and ventilation if mildew becomes a repeat offender in a specific area.
Antibacterial spray for general use
2 1/2 cups water
10 drops sweet orange essential oil
5 drops lavender essential oil
5 drops eucalyptus essential oil
This mixture stores indefinitely.
Pour all ingredients into a spray bottle, shake vigorously and label the spray bottle. To use, spray the solution on the surface you wish to clean, and let it set for at least 15 minutes. Let the solution dry and leave it, or wipe it off, as you see fit.