Detox Your Cleaning Routine
You may already know that most commercial cleaners emit toxic fumes into your air. And if you’ve ever felt your eyes burning while cleaning the bathroom or had to leave the room just to catch a breath, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Like me, you may have also decided to pay extra for healthier cleaning products from places like Whole Foods because, well… it’s Whole Foods! Unfortunately, it turns out that a lot of so-called “green cleaners” aren’t much safer than what we were buying from the regular supermarket, even when you buy them from healthy supermarkets or natural cleaning influencers on Instagram.
Sure, many are safe and natural. But how can you tell? Even if you’re an avid label reader, it’s often difficult to distinguish the good from the bad.
There are a few reasons for that.
- Marketers are smart. They know that if the packaging is pretty and the wording on the front-side of the label is convincing enough, most of us won’t bother to flip it over to read the ingredients.
- The ingredients aren’t always listed. If you do look at the back-side label, you might find descriptors like “plant-based surfactants” or “biodegradable ingredients”. But you won’t always find the ingredients themselves. (That’s a red flag.)
- The ingredients aren’t always recognizable. The ingredients in cleaning products may have scary-looking names, yet are perfectly safe (e.g., sodium chloride). Meanwhile, others have ingredients you’d recognize (e.g., “fragrance”) but that have been associated with things like cancer or neurotoxicity.
So, how do you know whether you want to buy that cleaner or leave it on the shelf?
In this course, not only will we make our own cleaning products, but we’ll also learn about an easy online tool that shows the safety ratings of cleaners and their ingredients, as well as their healthier alternatives.
The Cleaning Recipes
If you’re as busy as I am, you probably don’t want recipes that are cumbersome or take forever to make. With that in mind, I focused on natural cleaning recipes that are…
- Fast to make. In fact, most recipes have just 1 or 2 ingredients and require nothing more than adding them to the jar or spray bottle and giving them a good shake. (There are a few exceptions.)
- Highly effective at killing germs, scrubbing away grime, getting your laundry clean, or otherwise taking care of whatever it was meant to without a whole lot of effort.
- Inexpensive. There are a handful of key ingredients you’ll see throughout the course that are inexpensive AND come in bulk-sized containers that last a while.
- Completely safe. Unlike most supermarket cleaners (including many from Whole Foods), the ingredients won’t damage your eyes or lungs and won’t irritate your skin.
What You’ll Learn
Lesson 1: Getting Started
After a quick overview of the class, you’ll find the Ingredients & Supplies List that includes the 3 key ingredients you’ll want to have handy for everyday cleaning. It also lists the ‘good to have’ ingredients for those who want to make their own wood cleaners and laundry products or add essential oils to their recipes.
Lesson 2: Commercial Cleaners
Learn how to spot the clever marketing that can make a product seem healthier than it really is. You’ll also test out the two most common (and inexpensive) natural cleaning ingredients, so you can see firsthand how they work.
Lesson 3: Safety Ratings
Learn how to find the safety rating for cleaning products you have at home using a handy online tool. And if you want to buy replacements instead of making them, no problem! You’ll also learn how to use the tool to surface healthier alternatives. We’ll also cover a quick and easy hack to disinfect your kitchen sponges.
Lesson 4: ‘Green’ Cleaners
On a good-better-best scale, the “green cleaners” you find at places like Trader Joes or Whole Foods often “better”… but not always. Unfortunately, you may be surprised by some of the cleaning and laundry products that earn a “D” or “F” rating, even at these healthier stores! We’ll take a quick look at what’s in them.
Lesson 5: Kitchen and Bath
Ready to do some real cleaning? First, we’ll take a quick peek at the ratings and prices of common cleaners vs. their natural alternatives for the kitchen & bath. Then you’ll make a few multi-ingredient recipes and put them to the test to see how effective they are.
Lesson 6: Time to Do the Dishes!
This lesson is all about the recipes. We’ll make a simple dish soap, as well as a great-smelling dishwashing powder. You’ll also learn a few easy hacks for removing stuck-on foods and getting streak-free glasses in the dishwasher.
Lesson 7: Bedroom and Living Areas
We’ll take a quick look at the safety ratings and prices for common supermarket cleaners vs. their natural alternatives, as we did in the kitchen & bath lesson. Then we’ll make a few fun and easy recipes to clean your wood furniture and flooring, as well as deodorize your rugs and carpets.
Lesson 8: Essential Oils
We dabble in essential oils in the earlier lessons, but here is where you’ll really learn what they do and how they do it. Then we’ll make some amazing smelling air freshener sprays and craft a range of amazing smelling blends for the diffuser.
Lesson 9: Clean Laundry
Learn about Mother Nature’s laundry ingredients and how to use them to wash, whiten, and soften your clothes and linens without harmful toxins. We’ll also make a liquid laundry detergent that works for regular and HE washers, as well as a natural stain remover.
Lesson 10: Bonus Recipes
Here you’ll find a few extra recipes that you might not use every day but are great to have. For example, we’ll make a great smelling spray to disinfect your yoga mat and you’ll learn a cool trick to clean silver jewelry and flatware naturally.
When does the course start and finish?
This course is self-paced, so you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like – across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
If you are unsatisfied, contact us within the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.
What will I need to get started?
You’ll want to have these three key ingredients on hand: baking soda, white vinegar, and liquid castile soap. You can check the Ingredients & Supplies List ahead of time to decide what else you may want to get now — or wait until you find a recipe that you really want to try.
Founder of Greenopedia.com and The Greenopedia Academy
An insatiable research nerd and label reader, I am obsessed with removing toxins from my life wherever I can!
My toxin-ditching journey started years ago when I realized my breakfast cereal had more synthetic chemicals in it than food ingredients. Disgusted by what I’d been putting into my body, the ensuing transition toward a healthier diet ended up cracking my world wide open and I’ve been on a never-ending search for natural alternatives across every aspect of my life ever since.
My passion for learning is matched only by my passion for sharing what I learn — from both my research and personal experience — with others who have embarked on a similar journey. I started Greenopedia.com about a decade ago to do just that.
When I remember to step away from my laptop, you’ll usually find me hiking, brunching, or yoga-ing… pretty much in that order.
If you’re ready to lighten your body’s toxic load, cleaning products are an easy and impactful place to start. In this course, you’ll:
- Use an online tool to check the safety ratings for cleaning products you own, so you can decide which you want to keep or ditch.
- Learn how to distinguish the truly green cleaners from those that only appear healthier, so you can make better buying decisions at the store.
- Learn to make your own cleaners with simple and inexpensive ingredients.
- Learn to clean your home effectively with natural products — whether you buy them or make them.
- Gain the confidence to ditch your chemical cleaners for good.
Added feel-good: For those who continue making their own cleaners after the course is done, did you know that the switch to bulk ingredients and reusable bottles is considered a zero-waste solution? I love that!
Make vs. buy? Here’s why we cover both options.
Most natural cleaners are fast and easy to make, but you should be able to buy pre-mixed cleaners with confidence as well.
1. DIY cleaning recipes
You’ll walk away with an arsenal of healthy cleaning recipes using natural, toxin-free ingredients. Life’s busy, so we’ll focus mostly on recipes that take no more than a couple of minutes to make and use just 1 to 3 ingredients that you can buy in bulk.
2. Store-bought cleaners
Pretty images and skillful wording on product labels can make manty ‘green’ cleaners seem healthier than they really are. We’ll use an easy online tool to distinguish the truly green cleaners from the marketing hype.
What’s actually in these ‘green’ cleaners? And are they as natural as you thought? (Spoiler alert: I wouldn’t use these in my home!)
At your pace, one room at a time
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own journey, it’s that the transition to toxin-free cleaners is far easier than I had imagined… not to mention far healthier. And if you choose the DIY route, it’s also far less expensive!
But getting started can feel a bit overwhelming and trying to make big changes all at once isn’t always sustainable.
I’ve found that small shifts are much easier to manage and tend to create healthier habits that stick. With that in mind, we’ll move through this course room-by-room and at a pace that feels comfortable to you.
You’ll save quite a bit with DIY cleaning supplies, but there is an initial cost to get started. I’ve broken the list into 5 categories to help you prioritize more easily.
1. The Essentials
These are your cleaning besties! If you’re going to buy anything, make it these. And I’d recommend getting them in bulk sizes because you’ll use them A LOT.
- Baking soda: Bulk size is $25.99 on Amazon.
- Distilled white vinegar: Buy at the supermarket or it’s $5.49 on Amazon.
- Liquid Castile Soap**: Hard to find at the supermarket. The bulk size is $49.95 on Amazon.
** The harvesting of palm oil often leads to the devastation of rainforests and slaughtering of the orangutan who live there. Please aim for a Castile soap that is free from palm oil or uses palm oil that’s been ethically harvested.
2. Optional Ingredients
These ingredients are great to have on hand, but you may or may not need them. For instance, if your home is full of wood, the olive oil is probably a good buy. Or if you constantly battle mold, you may want a much larger bottle of hydrogen peroxide than the spray I link to below (easy to find on Amazon).
Otherwise, if you’re on a tight budget, maybe hold off on these ingredients until you run out of the cleaners you already have and have to replace them anyway.
- Hydrogen peroxide: Buy this natural mold killer at the supermarket or drugstore. Or this spray bottle is $5.98 on Amazon.
- Corn starch: Makes glass cleaner streak-free. Buy at the supermarket or (if you’ll also use it for organic baking) this one is $10 on Amazon.
- Olive oil: Depending on how much wood you have in your home, you might choose a smaller and less expensive bottle of olive oil (a natural wood conditioner) at the supermarket. Or this larger 50-ounce (1.5 quart) bottle is $16.87 on Amazon.
- Witch hazel: I combine witch hazel with essential oils to make deodorizing sprays. You can buy it for less at the supermarket or drugstore. This fancier version is $11.95 on Amazon.
You’ll love washing your laundry with soapnuts and softening it using wool dryer balls. They’re inexpensive over time since you can reuse them over and over, but they are a small investment upfront. So if you’re on a tight budget, consider holding off on these natural laundry products until you’re ready to replace those you already have. (You’ll also learn to make a liquid detergent using the “essential ingredients” above.)
- Soapnuts: Replaces several bottles of laundry detergent. This one is $16.95 on Amazon.
- Wool dryer balls: Replaces roughly 2,000 dryer sheets. This 6pk is $23.95 on Amazon.
- Oxygen bleach: Buy at the supermarket or this 2-pack is $16.91 on Amazon.
4. Cleaning Supplies
You can probably get away with not buying anything on this list, except maybe the spray bottles.
- Spray bottles: Find plastic bottles** at the dollar store. Or this 8-pack of glass comes in 4 sizes for $18.99 on Amazon.
- Glass jars: Empty tomato sauce or olive jars are great for this purpose. This 6-pack of mason jars is $16.99 on Amazon.
- Funnels: Go funnel-free, if you don’t mind a small mess (Just be sure to pour your ingredients over the sink.) Or grab these for $8.99 on Amazon.
- Cleaning rags: Cut up an old towel or some old t-shirts. Or these are $19.95 on Amazon.
- Scrub pads: Use whatever you’ve already got at home. Or these are $6.87 on Amazon.
- Bucket: Honestly, I just use the kitchen sink. But this one is $10.43 on Amazon.
** Please do NOT reuse spray bottles from your old commercial cleaners, as this can be dangerous.
5. Essential Oils (optional)
I love using essential oils (“EOs”) in my cleaning and laundry products but, unlike the other natural ingredients, these aren’t cheap. If you’re on a budget, you might start with just one or two of your favorites (or none at all).
If it helps you to choose, I’m obsessed with clove and/or peppermint to freshen the air in my home and I tend to use lavender the most in my DIY cleaners. (I probably use tea tree or rosemary the second-most.)
EOs are not appropriate for those who have become sensitive to them. (We’ll talk about why that happens in the EO lesson, as well as how to buy and use EOs safely.)
|Essential Oil||Disinfects||Cuts grease||Purifies||1 oz|
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The clever marketing of commercial cleaners
When I was a kid, I remember having all the well-marketed cleaning products under our kitchen sink. Even today, years after switching to natural cleaners, I can see why folks buy them.
Who doesn’t want to protect their family from germs or ‘Snuggle’ up for some cozy family time? These feel-good ads tell me that greasy messes can disappear like magic and I’ll find bliss in their fresh scents.
Who wouldn’t want that?!
And while the ads never seem to mention how they achieve these amazing feats, they often include kids and cute puppies. So surely their products must be safe, right?
Trustworthy celebrities use these products too… sometimes with kids AND while pregnant. With a reputation and their kids at stake, obviously they would know better than to promote harmful products!?
And yet… I wouldn’t use any of these cleaners.
Yes, they soften laundry, cut grease, and kill germs as they claim. But their superpowers come at a cost I’m not willing to pay.
We’ll learn more about safety ratings throughout the course but, for now, click any of the letter-grade ratings below if you’re curious to see why a product has earned a particular score.
Thankfully, there are plenty of healthier alternatives that are just as effective. With that in mind, let’s take a quick peek at:
- The harmful ingredients to avoid in cleaning products
- And common natural alternatives
After that, we’ll jump into our first bit of healthy cleaning!
How to Recognize & Avoid the Marketing Hype
Before we jump into some of the common tricks employed by marketers, let’s take a look at a few of the all-too-common ingredients in cleaning products that you’ll want to avoid.
Chlorine Bleach & Ammonia
As far as household cleaners go, chlorine bleach and ammonia (separately**) tend to be the biggest offenders. Well-marketed supermarket cleaners often contain one or the other, yet both are toxic.
The strong fumes can burn your eyes and lungs, trigger asthma attacks, and cause long-term damage with repeated exposure. These ingredients are particularly harmful to kids and pets, as the fumes are more concentrated in their small lungs.
** You’ll never see bleach + ammonia in the same cleaner, as combining them can be lethal. Please, don’t ever combine them at home either.
Lurking behind this single, innocent-sounding word is a concoction of dozens (sometimes thousands!!) of synthetic chemicals… none of which are required to be disclosed by the manufacturer. Why? Because the “fragrance” recipe is considered a trade secret.
Ridiculous, I know.
Fragrance is a known skin and respiratory irritant and is a serious trigger for those with an acute sensitivity to chemicals. And here’s the kicker. You’ll often find it in popular “green” cleaners, as well.
I’m always wary of unrecognizable ingredients that make me wish I’d paid more attention in chemistry class. Of course, there are plenty of lab-made chemicals that are safe (e.g., sodium bicarbonate is harmless baking soda) — as well as plenty of naturally occurring chemicals that are toxic (e.g., sulfuric acid).
Again, we’ll learn to use the online tool you saw earlier to easily look up the safety ratings of cleaning products and their ingredients. But if you’re unsure of a product’s safety (and you’re like me and couldn’t be bothered to check the safety database while you’re in the store), err on the side of caution and consider putting the product back on the shelf.
Ingredients are often not listed at all
Perhaps unsurprisingly, you’ll usually find that supermarket cleaners don’t list their ingredients at all. Makes sense. I mean, if I wanted to sell a harmful product, I wouldn’t list what’s in it either.
With that in mind, if I don’t see the ingredients listed on the product (or at the very least, if I can’t easily find them on their website), I put it back on the shelf. Full stop.
Vague marketing claims
Sometimes you’ll find vague descriptions that really make the product look healthy. And yet these descriptors don’t actually mean anything. I often see that with cleaners pretending to be green.
The wording you’ll see might include: **
- ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ ingredients
- ‘plant-derived’ or ‘plant-based’ ingredients
- ‘biodegradable’ or ‘earth-friendly’ ingredients
- ‘non-toxic’ or ‘toxin-free’ ingredients
** Many terms found on cleaning product labels are not legally defined or regulated, so marketers are free to use them however they wish. Some brands use the terms responsibly and others do not, so don’t rely on the front label alone. Always check to see what’s inside!
Actual ingredients in Purclean include:
- Sodium laureth sulfate: irritant & possible system toxicity (source)
- Propylene glycol: irritant & possible system toxicity (source)
- Laureth-9: possible contamination from ethylene oxide & 1,4-dioxane (source)
- Sodium hydroxide: irritant & possible system toxicity (source)
No thanks, Tide!!
TRY IT: White vinegar as an everyday spray cleaner
Plain ol’ white vinegar is an effective alternative to bleach and ammonia. It kills nearly all household germs and it’s highly economical. The fumes can be bothersome at first, but they are not harmful and they dissipate quickly. Vinegar is also completely safe to use around children and pets.
Later, we’ll add white vinegar to our recipes to disinfect counters, clean glass, soften laundry, and more. But for now, let’s give it a try on its own, so you can see how easy and effective it is for everyday cleaning.
Diluted White Vinegar Spray
- White Vinegar
- Spray bottle
Fill a medium or large-sized spray bottle with equal parts water and white vinegar. Give it a quick shake. Spray the surface and let it sit for a few seconds. Wipe with a clean rag.
Use this diluted mixture for everyday cleanups of counters, floors, tables, stovetops, microwaves, refrigerators, etc.
TRY IT: Baking soda as a natural scrubbing powder
You’re probably aware that baking soda is an effective deodorizer for everything from sneakers to freezers. But did you know that it is also highly effective as a scouring powder?
Yep. It’s “no-scratch”, so it’s safe to use on dishes, cookware, counters, sinks, tubs, ovens, and other hard surfaces around your home.
You can also use it in the laundry to boost the effectiveness of your detergent. (Side benefit: Using it in the laundry also helps to keep the pipes clean.)
We’ll learn a few baking soda recipes throughout the course. For now, let’s just try scrubbing the sink with it, so you can see how well it works even on its own.
Baking Soda Scouring Powder
- Baking soda
- Glass jar
Fill a small jar with baking soda and store it next to your kitchen sink. (I keep a second jar under my bathroom sink.)
Sprinkle a little into the sink every few days after doing the dishes. Give it a little scrub with a sponge to remove stains and metal scratches on porcelain sinks or to shine stainless steel sinks.
** Instead of buying bottles to store baking soda & other DIY cleaners, I just peel the labels from empty olive, mustard, and tomato sauce jars. They work perfectly and look great on the counter. Some labels are easier to remove than others. Citrisolv is my secret weapon for removing the stubborn sticky bits.
I make my own charcoal-based toothpaste with coconut oil, which really clings to the sink! So I keep a jar of baking soda in the cabinet below the sink and sprinkle it on every 2 or 3 days. (We’ll learn to make a charcoal toothpaste and a charcoal toothpowder in the Detox Your Morning Routine course.)
p.s. Below is my bathroom sink. I swear, I never let the sink get THIS dirty! I let it go several extra days without a cleaning, so I could get this exaggerated image for the course. 😆
How to find safety ratings + healthy alternatives
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has an easy-to-use search tool that helps you find the safety ratings for more than 2,500 cleaning products, as well as the individual ingredients they contain.
Their scientists use a variety of resources to grade the products and ingredients on a scale from A (low-hazard) to F (high-hazard).
You can type just about anything into the search bar. For example:
- A brand: Lysol, Clorox, Method, Seventh Generation, etc.
- A product: Lysol wipes, Ecos laundry detergent, etc.
- An ingredient: Chlorine bleach, fragrance, sodium bicarbonate, etc.
What is the Environmental Working Group?
Founded in 1992, EWG is a “non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment“. With their team of scientists and policymakers, “EWG is educating and empowering consumers to make safer and more informed decisions about the products they buy and the companies they support.”
Let’s look at Lysol as a quick example
- How does Lysol fare overall as a brand?
- Which products are more/less hazardous?
- Are there particular ingredients that concern you more than others?
Here’s that link again, if you want to give it a try. Otherwise, here’s what it’ll look like…
Click the “Brands” button
The search results will list ALL of Lysol’s products right off the bat. But sometimes I like to click the BRANDS button to see a high-level overview first…
Notice that you’ll see Lysol’s overall product ratings at the top:
We can see that Lysol actually has a few products that score As and Bs. That’s great! And a bit surprising, if I’m being honest. Maybe they’re evolving? I hope so. Still, I reserve the right to remain skeptical. 😉
** Brands create new products all the time and it takes a lot of work to keep up with the new safety ratings. With that in mind, I doubt this list includes ALL of Lysol’s products and it’s possible that a few of these are now discontinued. Still, I think EWG has done a pretty good job.
Check out the products
Below are several of the products that are included. (There were 88 products, so I just pasted the first and last pages for context.) This partial list below should give you a good idea of what you’d see as you scroll through the initial search results. Pretty simple, right?
What about the ingredients?
If you click on their Disinfecting Wipes, you’ll see that you get a quick summary of concerns at the top.
Scroll down and you’ll see the individual ingredients, as well as the details that help to explain those overall concerns in the summary section.
For example, ammonium chloride (see below) and whatever that 2nd ingredient is are both associated with possible “developmental/ endocrine/ reproductive effects”. Yikes! Sounds like something you wouldn’t want to have around the house, especially if you’re pregnant or have small children or elders in the house!
Disinfectants are important, especially these days, right? But the tradeoff here seems to be toxins such as these that can harm our organs and vital systems…or a virus such as the flu or COVID. Awesome. 😖
Thankfully, there are natural options. But here’s the thing…
A lot of green websites will tell you that hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar** (separately, please!) are highly effective at killing a myriad of harmful germs.
And they’d be right! Except that the flu virus isn’t one of them. (And I suspect vinegar isn’t a match for the coronavirus either, though I’m not sure that’s been specifically tested as of yet.)
There are ‘green’ cleaners and then there are green cleaners
When I first started transitioning to healthier cleaning products, I’d buy brands like Method, Mrs. Meyers, and Seventh Generation. The claims on the packaging sound convincing. Plus, they sell them at places like Whole Foods, so they’ve gotta be healthy, right?
But I bought it at Whole Foods!
It turns out that even if you buy your cleaning products from healthier supermarkets or green living websites, you still need to check to see what’s inside.
Most ‘green’ cleaning products will list their ingredients on the label — or at least on the individual product pages on their website. But not always.
Of course, you can look up the ingredients on EWG just like you can the commercial cleaners. And I recommend you do just that, as you may be surprised by what you find.
Each of the above brands has well-rated products that I would use – and have used. And yet each of the brands also has cleaners with poor safety ratings as well.
Seventh Generation was probably the biggest surprise for me.
One of their D-rated products is a baby detergent (ingredients/ratings), if you can believe it! To be fair, they do have a slightly better version for babies (ingredients/ratings), which gets a grade of ‘C’. The C isn’t terrible but given that it’s marketed for sensitive skin AND it’s for babies AND it’s Seventh Generation, I would have thought they’d do better.
A few thoughts on the “D” safety rating…
Remember the Lysol product we saw earlier that received an A-rating? That top score surprised, given it has so many C-rated ingredients. On the flip side, I was similarly surprised to see this 7th Gen product with a D-rating, given there are only 2 ‘D’ ingredients and soooo many B & C ingredients. Had I only looked at the ingredients ratings, I would’ve guessed the overall score to average out as a C.
Personally, I still wouldn’t buy it because I don’t like what’s in it. But I bring this up because I see it a lot… an overall score that is higher OR lower than I would have expected. Which is to say, I do trust EWG’s rating process. But I ultimately use my own judgment by looking at the individual ingredients to choose whether to buy or avoid a particular product.
The moral of the story is to always check the ingredients even if…
- a cleaner has a natural-looking label with ‘green’ claims,
- you can buy it at Whole Foods,
- a green blogger is promoting it on Instagram,
- or it has a high overall rating on EWG
How do essential oils affect a product’s safety rating?
As you start looking at the ratings for green cleaners that contain essential oils, you’ll notice that, so long as the other ingredients are safe, a low-rated essential oil won’t usually affect the overall score for the product.
As mentioned earlier, it would depend on how strong the oil is and how much it contributes overall to the product’s toxicity. I have yet to find a case where EWG’s score seemed to be adversely affected by essential oils, even when there are several of them and they are all rated a C, D, or F.
Still, even well-rated cleaners with essential oils may not be appropriate for everyone.
Essential oils are controversial in the healthy living community.
It was interesting — from the countless (and often heated) Reddit and Facebook threads I’ve read over the years — to learn how polarizing essential oils can be.
- Those who love EOs (I’m one of them) often rely on them as a natural alternative to improve their health.
- Meanwhile, there are others who are highly sensitive to EOs and feel they are as dangerous as their synthetic ‘fragrance’ counterparts.
Honestly, both sides are right.
Essential oils are powerful extracts, so you have to use them with care. The same essential oils that can benefit one user can trigger allergies or sensitivities in another.
We’ll discuss in-depth about how and why this happens in a later lesson dedicated to essential oils. For now, I’ll just say that it’s up to you to decide whether to use or avoid cleaning products that contain them.
You’ve already seen the health ratings for quite a few popular cleaners along with the details behind their scores. In this lesson, you’ll see a few simple charts that show ratings AND prices, so you can quickly see what you’d pay for cleaners in each category: supermarket vs. ‘green’ vs. DIY.
Please note that each of the brands you see on the Supermarket chart and the Green Cleaners chart (including Clorox) has products that do rate well. The fact that brands can garner both very high and very low ratings (again) underscores the main theme of this course:
Please don’t ever assume that a product is safe just because the label says so, or the brand has a good reputation, or because you found it at Whole Foods. Always check to see what’s inside!
- With more effort, I probably could have found more green cleaners priced roughly the same as the supermarket cleaners.
- I also tried to find bulk sizes where possible (but didn’t always succeed), in order to be fair when comparing supermarket and green cleaners to DIY prices.
- I used Amazon to choose the product sizes and to find pricing since it’s the one place you can find everything.
The above chart contains affiliate links. This means, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. This helps to cover the discounted class prices, as well as the research costs over at greenopedia.com
EXERCISE: What’s Under Your Sink?
It’s time to ditch those toxins for good!! Are you ready? In this lesson, we’ll focus on your kitchen and bathroom cleaners. (We’ll look at your other cleaners within the Bedroom & Living Areas lesson and the Laundry lesson.)
- If you want to jot down your results, open this Google spreadsheet. and make a copy by simply going to the File menu and clicking Make a Copy. Done! You now have your own copy that you can play around with (fill it in, change the fonts & colors) however you like.
- Next, use the EWG search tool to:
- Assess the cleaners you use most **
- Decide which to keep vs. ditch
- Decide to make vs. buy a replacement, if needed
** There’s really no reason to rate every single cleaner you own. This exercise is mainly to decide what to keep or ditch and you’ll get the picture pretty quickly!
IMPORTANT: Before you ditch those toxins…
You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that many supermarket cleaners are considered hazardous household waste. That means any leftover cleaners labeled as poisonous, toxic, corrosive, flammable, combustible, or irritant cannot be rinsed down the drain or poured onto the ground. And any non-empty containers cannot be tossed into the trash bin.
Instead, these items must be taken to your local hazardous waste facility. Many cities also offer convenient pickup services a few times a year.
Let it go!
You may find several cleaning products under your sink that you really wish you didn’t own. Don’t worry about it. This exercise is about moving forward, not about looking back!
Did you find cleaners you want to replace? Great! Let’s look at a few recipes that can help.
TRY IT: Simple Dish Soap
Simple castile soap is made by saponifying (‘making soap from’) oils. Traditionally, castile soap was made from olive oil, but these days brands often add coconut and/or other oils as well.
Both are great. Just please be sure to buy castile soap that is free from palm oil or made with palm oil that has been sustainably harvested. The harvesting of most palm oil is highly destructive to the rain forests and often involves horrible cruelty for the orangutan that live there.
You’ll find castile soap as an ingredient in countless natural cleaning and body recipes online — and in this course. But I often use it entirely by itself (or diluted in a bit of water) for washing my dishes… as well as a handwash on my bathroom sink.
Simple dish soap
- Pure castile soap
- Soap dispenser
Pump a little bit onto a sponge and wash your dishes, as usual.
GOOD TO KNOW: Castile soap won’t lather as much as commercial dish soap, so you may think you need more than you actually do. Truth is, you don’t need a big lather to get the dishes clean and a little goes a long way!
OTHER USES: I also keep a pump bottle of castile soap at the bathroom sink to wash my hands. And I have a larger pump bottle in the shower to wash my body.
Natural cleaners in the bedroom & living areas
Let’s start this lesson with a quick price and rating comparison, just like we did in the kitchen & bath lesson. You can easily find green cleaners with better ratings than these, using the EWG tool. Or you can make your own. Check the ingredients on the 3rd slide below to see what you’d need.
EXERCISE: What’s under your sink?
Remember the worksheet you used to assess your kitchen and bathroom cleaners in a previous lesson? Go ahead and open it — as well as the EWG database — to assess the cleaning products you use for the bedroom and living areas.
(Here’s the original worksheet, if you didn’t make a copy for yourself in the kitchen & bath lesson. Just go to the File menu and click “make a copy” so that you can add your cleaners and ratings.)
Once you’re done assessing your cleaners, click over to the next lesson to make an easy and all-natural furniture dusting spray.
The incredible power of essential oils
Essential oils have been used for aromatic and therapeutic benefits since ancient times. But as we briefly discussed in an earlier lesson, they are a controversial ingredient today.
Some folks tout their benefits and rely on essential oils as a natural alternative to improve their health. Meanwhile, others have developed a serious sensitivity to them and argue they are dangerous.
Here’s the thing.
Essential oils are powerful plant extracts, so their quality and proper use cannot be overstated.
The amazing aromas and benefits of essential oils are derived from the naturally occurring chemical compounds within them. It can take thousands of plants to extract a single ounce… and that’s nothing to mess around with.
Natural as they may be, these aromatic chemicals are highly concentrated and it’s important to use them with caution. The same compounds that benefit some users can trigger skin rashes and other allergic reactions for others.
When you’re trying a new product that contains essential oils (whether it’s a cleaning product or body care), be sure to only use a small amount at first to make sure you don’t experience a reaction.
How we can develop or experience a sensitivity to an essential oil.
There are 5 things to consider.
1. Not diluting a strong EO enough
You become sensitive to an essential oil if you do not properly dilute it. Worse yet, by not properly diluting that essential oil, you can also become sensitive to other EOs that share a similar chemical profile.
2. Synthetic additives
It can take thousands of plants to extract a small amount of essential oil, which is expensive. To lower their cost, some brands will add synthetic fragrances to their oils. These additives can trigger skin or respiratory reactions for some users.
Pesticides and other soil or manufacturing contaminants can make their way into the essential oil, which can also trigger a reaction.
4. Natural salicylates
Some oils contain natural salicylates, which protect the plant from bacteria and insects. If you cannot tolerate aspirin, you may not be able to tolerate these EOs. Note that birch & wintergreen contain the highest concentration of salicylates. Ylang ylang and some clove oils can contain trace amounts.
5. Extraction method
Most EOs are extracted through steam distillation. But some extra delicate flowers (e.g., vanilla and jasmine) cannot withstand the heat and are extracted using either CO2 (preferred) or chemicals (not my choice).
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) is chemical-free. However, it is expensive and, therefore, less commonly used to extract the essential oils from the plants.
- Chemical solvents such as hexane, petroleum, or ethanol (the least expensive and most common). Up to 5% of the solvent may remain in the final product, so folks who are sensitive to even small amounts of these chemicals can experience a reaction.
Always use essential oils responsibly and choose quality oils from trusted brands who source and manufacture their products responsibly.
To ensure quality, check that the oil has been independently tested for purity and consistency. Brands who are confident in their products and properly test them are more than happy to share the results on their website.
Tip: Proper care slows the aging of your essential oils
In addition to choosing quality oils and properly diluting them, we also have to take care of them.
Like any natural product, they break down with age. This aging (spoiling) leads to a loss of quality and beneficial properties. This can also cause an adverse reaction for some users, including hypersensitivity to that oil – and similar oils.
The aging process can be accelerated by heat, light, and moisture, so be sure to:
- Keep your oils away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
- Put the cap back on as soon as you’re done using the oil.
- Avoid opening the bottle in a steamy bathroom.
MAKE IT: Room freshener spray
I never quite understood how Febreze, Glade plugins, and similar products earned the name air (or room) “fresheners”. They just smell like chemicals to me and there’s nothing “fresh” about that.
Also, I can actually taste them when I breathe them in. Does that happen to you too? So gross.
Here’s a better alternative.
- ¼ cup witch hazel**, vodka or grain alcohol
- 20 to 30 drops of your favorite essential oil(s)
For the bedroom, I like:
- lavender only (great for sleep)
- frankincense + bergamot
For living areas, I like:
- sage + bergamot
- clove + peppermint (my go-to blend)
Combine in a small spritzer bottle & shake to mix. Spritz into the air, away from your face.
** Essential oils separate easily from witch hazel, so be sure to shake well before each use. They don’t separate as easily in vodka or, especially, grain alcohol.
MAKE IT: Bathroom detox spray
Spray this mixture in the toilet before you sit down and it’ll prevent a lot of the stink, to begin with. Spray it after (away from your face) to clear the odors that do escape.
Bathroom Detox Spray
- ¼ cup witch hazel**, vodka or grain alcohol
- 10 drops of each essential oil: tea tree + eucalyptus + grapefruit + peppermint
Combine ingredients in a small spray bottle & shake to mix. Spritz into the toilet before using it. Or spray into the air (away from your face) to clear any malodors.
** Shake well before each use.
TIP: This essential oil combo can also help to rid the smell of cigarette smoke from the air.
Mother Nature’s Laundry Ingredients
I used to associate the smell of fresh laundry with the fragrance in my detergent or fabric softener. Or if I’d just washed my whites, then it was the smell of bleach that assured me everything was as clean as it could get.
Today, that’s the opposite of what I think. Now I associate the smell of fresh laundry with no scent at all.
Think about it: if you can smell the detergent, bleach or softener, then it’s still lingering on your clothing, sheets, and towels… which means it’s laying against your skin.
Let’s take a look at some of Mother Nature’s alternatives.
Natural Soap Nuts
Soapnuts grow on trees! The sapindus mukorossi (soapberry) tree in the Himalayas, to be exact. Their shells contain a natural soap, called saponin, which is released when the berries are swished around in the washing machine (you’ll see a video of this on the next page). And as a long-time user, I can tell you… yes, they are effective at cleaning laundry!!
Wool Dryer Balls
I’ve been using wool dryer balls to soften my laundry for as long as I’ve been using soap nuts to wash it. Which is to say, I’ve been using both for several years now. And I love them. They’re made from 100% wool, usually from New Zealand.
The sun is the best bleach around — even better than natural oxygen bleach. That said, drying laundry in the sun is a bit more work since you have to hang everything wet and set a timer to make sure nothing sits out longer than needed. That’s because the sun can actually weaken some fabrics if they’re left to dry too long. If you don’t have a yard or balcony, a sunny window will do.
How to soften laundry with wool dryer balls
Wool dryer balls may seem expensive at first when compared to a box of dryer sheets or a bottle of liquid softener. But they last dozens of loads, so you actually save quite a bit.
They also reduce static and pet hair on your clothing, as well as help the laundry to dry faster, which saves on the energy bill.
To soften laundry
- Toss 2 to 3 wool balls into the dryer.
- Reuse them for dozens of loads and replace them every 4-6 months.
OPTIONAL: Add a few drops of essential oil to each wool ball before use. I like lavender and/or lemon.
How to whiten laundry without chlorine-bleach
Whiten your laundry with oxygen bleach (chlorine-free)
- Sprinkle 2 Tbsp of oxygen bleach into the washer, alongside your detergent.
- Add your laundry and wash as usual.
Let the sun whiten your laundry
- Fabrics whiten better in the sun when they are wet, so wash or wet the items first, then hang them on a clothesline or drying rack.
- Straighten any wrinkles as best you can, so the sun hits everything evenly.
- Only keep your laundry in the sun for 2-3 hours at a time, as leaving them too long can weaken the fabric.
- Especially dingy clothing or dark stains may require another sun-soak or two before fully whitening.
TRY IT: Garbage disposal freshener
I use this hack whenever I’ve left a cut lemon in the fridge for too long. The slices can become dehydrated and unappealing to squeeze into my salad, but that doesn’t mean they have to go to waste!
Garbage disposal freshener
- ½ cup baking soda
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- Half a lemon (cut into slices, leave the peel on)
Drop the baking soda down the drain. Drizzle vinegar over the top and let it fizzle for a few minutes.
Drop in the lemon slices. Turn on the water (light pressure, not full blast) and flip on the garbage disposal switch.
Let the disposal run 30 seconds or so, as it cuts up the lemon. Turn off the switch and increase water pressure to rinse it down the drain.